VANITY OF THE WORLD
“What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?”
An ancient philosopher, called Aristippus, was once shipwrecked, and lost all his goods. When he reached the shore, the people, through respect for his great learning, presented him with an equivalent of all he had lost. He wrote to his friends, exhorting them to imitate his example, and to seek only the goods which cannot be wrested from them by shipwreck. Now, our relatives and friends who are in eternity exhort us from the other world to attend only to the acquisition of goods which even death cannot take from us. Death is called ”the day of destruction” (cf Deuteronomy 32:35). It is the day of destruction, because on that day we shall lose all the goods of this earth – its honors, riches, and pleasures. Hence, according to St. Ambrose, we cannot call the things of this life our goods, because we cannot bring them with us to eternity. Our virtues alone accompany us to the next life. “Non nostra sunt quae non possumus auferre nobiscum: sola virtus nos comitatur.”
What, then, says Jesus Christ, does it profit us to gain the whole world, if, at death, by losing the soul, we lose all? Ah! How many young men has this great maxim sent into the cloister! How many anchorites has it sent to the desert! And how many martyrs has it encouraged to give their life for Jesus Christ! By this maxim St. Ignatius of Loyola drew many souls to God, particularly the soul of St. Francis Xavier, who was then in Paris attached to the things of the world. “Francis,” said the saint one day, “reflect that the world is a traitor, which promises but does not perform. And though it should fulfill all its promises, it can never content your heart. But let us grant that it did make you happy; how long shall this happiness last? Can it last longer than your life; and after death, what shall you take with you to eternity? Where is the rich man that has ever brought with him a piece of money, or a servant to attend him? What king has brought with him a shred of the purple as a badge of royalty?” At these words St. Francis abandoned the world, followed St. Ignatius, and became a saint. Solomon confessed that “whatsoever his eyes desired, he refused them not” (Ecclesiastes 2:10). But, after having indulged in all the pleasures of this earth, he called all the goods of the world vanity of vanities. Sister Margaret of St. Anne, a Discalced Carmelite, and daughter of the emperor Rudolph the Second, used to say, “Of what use are kingdoms at the hour of death?” The saints tremble at the thought of the uncertainty of their eternal salvation. Father Paul Segneri trembled, and, full of terror, said to his confessor, “Father, what do you think– shall I be saved?” St. Andrew Avellino trembled, and, with a torrent of tears, said, “Who knows whether I shall be saved or lost?” St. Lewis Bertrand was so much terrified by this thought, that, during the night, in a fit of terror, he sprung out of his bed, saying, “Perhaps I shall be lost!” And sinners, while they live in a state of damnation, sleep, and jest, and laugh!
Affections and Prayers
Ah, Jesus, my Redeemer, I thank thee for making me see my folly and the evil I have done in turning my back on thee, who hast given thy blood and thy life for me. Thou didst not deserve to be treated by me as I have treated thee. Behold! If death now came upon me, what should I find but sins and remorses of conscience, which would make me die with great disquietude? My Savior, I confess that I have done evil, and committed a great error in leaving thee, my Sovereign Good, for the miserable pleasures of this world. I am sorry from the bottom of my heart. Ah! Through the sorrow which killed thee on the cross, give me a sorrow for my sins, which shall make me weep, during the remainder of my life, over the injuries I have done thee. My Jesus, pardon me; I promise to displease thee no more, and to love thee forever. I am not worthy of thy love, which I have hitherto so much despised. But thou hast said, “I love them that love me” (cf Proverbs 8:17). I love thee; love me, then, O Lord. I do not wish to be any longer in enmity with thee. I renounce all the grandeurs and pleasures of the world, provided thou lovest me. Hear me, O my God, for the love of Jesus Christ. He entreats thee not to banish me from thy heart. To thee I consecrate my whole being; to thee I consecrate my life, my pleasures, my senses, my soul, my body, my will, and my liberty. Accept me; reject not my offering, as I have deserved for having so often refused thy friendship. Cast me not away from thy face. Most holy Virgin, my mother, Mary, pray to Jesus for me. In your intercession I place unbounded confidence.
Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).
Art: Vanitas-Darstellung (Vanitas Representation), author unknown, 17th century, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.