Preparation for Death
The Shortness of Life
by St. Alphonsus de Liquori
“What is thy life? It is a vapor, which appeareth for a little while.”
St. James 4,15
First Point - Death Comes QuicklyWhat is your life? It is vapor, which is dissipated by a blast of wind, and seen no more. All know that they must die; but the delusion of many is, that they imagine death as far off as if it were never to arrive. But Job tells us that the life of man is short.
“Man born of a woman, living a short time … who cometh forth like a flower, and is destroyed.” (Job 14, 1)
“Cry … All flesh is grass … Indeed, the people is grass. The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen.” (Isa. 40, 6-8)
“My days,” says Job, “have been swifter than a post.” (Job 9, 25) Death runs to meet us more swiftly than a post, and we at every moment run towards death. Every step, every breath brings us nearer to our end.
“What I write,” says Jerome, “is so much taken away from life.” “During the time I write, I draw near to death.”
“We all die, and, like the waters that return nor more, we fall into the earth.” (2 Kings 14, 14)
“And only the grave remaineth for me.” (Job 17, 1)
Ah! At that hour all earthly goods are viewed only with pain by those who have had an attachment for them. And this pain will serve only to increase the danger of their eternal salvation; for we see by experience, that persons attached to the world wish at death to speak only of their sickness, of the physicians to be called to attend them, and of the remedies which may restore their health. When any one speaks of the state of the soul, they soon grow weary, and beg to be allowed repose. They complain of headache, and say that it pains them to hear any one speak. And if they sometimes answer, they are confused, and know not what to say. It often happens that the confessor gives them absolution, not because he knows that they are disposed for the sacrament, but because it is dangerous to defer it. Such is the death of those who think but little of death.
Second Point - The Lighted Candle at DeathKing Ezechias said with tears:
“My life is cut off as by a weaver; while I was yet beginning, He cut me off.” (Isa. 38, 12)
At present, our passions make the goods of this earth appear different from what they are in reality. Death takes off the veil, and makes them appear what they really are - smoke, dirt, vanity, and wretchedness. O God! Of what use are riches, possessions, or kingdoms at death, when nothing remains but a wooden coffin, and a simple garment barely sufficient to cover the body? Of what use are the honors, when they all end in a funeral procession and pompous obsequies, which will be unprofitable to the soul if it be in hell? Of what use is beauty, when after death nothing remains but worms, stench, and horror, and in the end a little fetid dust?
“He hath made me,” says Job, "as it were a byword of the people, and an example before them.” (Job 17,6)
“The small and great are there.” (Job 3, 19)
Third Point - Importance of the Last MomentHow great, then, the folly of those who, for the miserable and transitory delights of this short life, exposes themselves to the danger of an unhappy eternity. Oh! How important is that last moment, that last gasp, the last closing of the scene! On it depends an eternity either of all delights or of all torments - a life of eternal happiness or of everlasting woe
Let us consider that Jesus Christ submitted to a cruel and ignominious death in order to obtain for us the grace of a good death. That we may at that last moment die in the grace of God, is the reason why He gives us so many calls, so many lights, and admonishes us by so many threats.
Antisthenes, though a pagan, being asked what was the greatest blessing which man could receive in this world, answered, “A good death.”
And what will a Catholic say, who knows by faith, that at the moment of death eternity begins, and that at that moment he lays hold of one of two wheels, which draws with it either eternal joy or everlasting torments? If there were two tickets in a lottery, on one of which might be written Hell and on the other Heaven, what care would you not take to draw that which gives you a right to Paradise, and to avoid the other, by which you would win a place in Hell! O God! How the hands of those unhappy men tremble who are condemned to throw the dice on which their life or death depends! How great will be your terror at the approach of that last hour, when you will say: On this moment depends my life or death for eternity; on this depends whether I shall be forever happy or forever in despair!
St. Bernardine of Sienna relates, that at death a certain prince exclaimed, with trembling and dismay:
“Behold, I have so many kingdoms and palaces in this world; but if I die this night I know not what apartment shall be assigned to me.
St. Andrew Avellino said with trembling:
“Who knows what will be my lot in the next life? Shall I be saved or damned?”
Oh! Hasten to apply a remedy in time. Resolve to give yourself sincerely to God, and begin from this moment a life which, at the hour of death, will be to you a source, not of affliction, but of consolation. Give yourself to prayer, frequent the sacraments, avoid all dangerous occasions, and, if necessary, leave the world, secure to yourself eternal salvation, and be persuaded that to secure eternal life no precaution can be too great.