UNCERTAINTY OF THE HOUR OF DEATH
“Be you then also ready; for at what hour you think not, the Son of man will come.”
It is certain that we shall die; but the time of death is uncertain. “Nothing,” says Idiota, “is more certain than death; but nothing is more uncertain than the hour of death.” My brother, God has already determined the year, the month, the day, the hour, and the moment when I and you shall leave this earth and go into eternity; but this time is unknown to us. To exhort us to be always prepared, Jesus Christ tells us that death shall come, unawares, and like a thief in the night. ”The day of the Lord shall so come as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). He now tells us to be always vigilant; because, when we least expect him, he will come to judge us. “At what hour you think not, the Son of Man will come” (Luke 12:40). St. Gregory says that for our good God conceals from us the hour of death, that we may always be prepraed to die. “De morte incerti sumus, ut ad mortem semper parati inveniamur.” Since then, says St. Bernard, death may take away life at all times and in all places, we ought to live always in expectation of death. “Mors ubique te expectat: tu ubique eam expectabis.”
All know that they shall die; but the misfortune is, that many view death at such a distance, that they lose sight of it. Even the old, the most decrepit, and the most sickly, flatter themselves that they shall live three or four years longer. But how many, I ask have we known, even in our own times, to die suddenly, some sitting, some walking, some sleeping? It is certain that not one of these imagined that he should die so unprovidedly, and on the day on which the stroke of death fell upon him. I say, moreover, that of all who have gone to the other world during the present year, no one imagined that he should die and end his days this year. Few are the deaths which do not happen unexpectedly.
When, therefore, Christian soul, the devil tempts you to sin, by saying, “To-morrow you will go to confession,” let your answer be, “How do I know but this shall be the last day of my life? If this hour, this moment, in which I would turn my back on God, were the last of my life, so that I should have no time for repentance, what would become of me for all eternity?” To how many poor sinners has it happened, that in the act of feasting on the poison of sin, they were struck dead and sent to hell! “As fishes are taken with the hook,” says Ecclesiastes, “so men are taken in the evil time” (cf Ecclesiastes 9:12). The evil time is that in which the sinner actually offends God. The devil tells you that this misfortune shall not happen to you; but you should say to him, in answer, “If it should happen to me, what shall be my lot forever?” [The Saint means this figuratively. One should never converse with the devil.]
Affections and Prayers
Lord, the place in which I ought to be at this moment, is not that in which I find myself, but hell, which I have so often merited by my sins. Infernus domus mea est. “Hell is my house.’* St. Peter says, “The Lord waiteth patiently for your sake, not willing that any one should perish, but that all should return to penance” (2 Peter 3:9). Then thou hast had so much patience with me, and hast waited for me because thou wishest me not to be lost, but to return to thee by repentance. My God, I return to thee; I cast myself at thy feet, and supplicate mercy. ”Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy.” Lord, to pardon me requires a great and extraordinary act of mercy, because I offended thee after I had been favored with a special light. Other sinners also have offended thee; but they have not received the light which thou gavest to me. But, in spite of all my sinfulness and ingratitude, thou dost command me to repent of my sins, and to hope for pardon. Yes, my Redeemer, I am sorry with my whole heart for having offended thee, and I hope for pardon through the merits of thy passion. Thou, my Jesus, though innocent, hast wished to die like a criminal on a cross, and to shed all thy blood in order to wash away my sins. “O sanguis innocentis, lava culpas poenitentis.” O blood of the Innocent, wash away the sins of a penitent. O eternal Father, pardon me for the sake of Jesus Christ. Hear his prayers, now that he intercedes for me and advocates my cause. But it is not enough to receive pardon; I desire also, O God worthy of infinite love, the grace to love thee; I love thee, O Sovereign Good, and I offer thee henceforth my body, my soul, my liberty, and my will. I wish henceforth to avoid not only grievous, but also venial offenses. I will fly from all evil occasions. Lead us not into temptation. For the love of Jesus Christ, preserve me from the occasions in which I would offend thee. But deliver us from evil. Deliver me from sin, and then chastise me as thou pleasest; I accept all infirmities, pains, and losses, which thou mayst be pleased to send me; it is enough for me not to lose thy grace and thy love. Ask and you shall receive. Thou dost promise to grant whatsoever we ask; I ask these two graces–holy perseverance and the gift of thy love. O Mary, mother of mercy, pray for me; in thee I hope.
Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).
Art: Berlin-Steglitz, Skulptur vor der MatthÃ¤uskirche: Dieter Popielaty: Leid an der Mauer (Suffering at the Wall, Dieter Popielaty, Sculpture in front of the St. Matthew Church:Berlin-Steglitz), 1965, Andreas Praefcke, own work, April 2009, CCA, Wikimedia Commons.