THE SHORTNESS OF LIFE
All flesh is grass. The life of man is like the life of a blade of grass. Death comes, the grass is dried up. Behold, life ends, and the flower of all greatness and of all worldly goods falls off! The grass is withered and the flower is fallen!
What is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while (James iv. 15).
What is your life? It is a vapour, which is dissipated by a blast of wind, and is seen no more. All know that they must die; but the delusion of many is, that they imagine death to be so far off as if it were never to arrive. But Job tells us that the life of man is short. Man born of woman, living for a short time, … who cometh forth like a flower, and is destroyed (Job xiv. 12). The Lord commanded Isaias to preach this truth to the people. Cry … All flesh is grass. … Indeed, the people is grass. The grass is withered and the flower is fallen (Is. xl. 6 sqq.). The life of man may be likened to that of a blade of grass; death comes, the grass is dried up: behold, life ends, and the flower of all greatness and of all worldly goods falls off.
My days, says Job, have been swifter than a post (Job ix. 25). Death runs to meet us most swiftly and we at every moment run as swiftly towards death. Every step, every breath brings us nearer to our end. “What I write,” says St. Jerome, “is so much taken away from life.” During the time I write, I draw nearer to death. We all die, and, like the waters that return no more, we fall into the earth (2 Kings xiv. 14). Behold how the stream flows to the sea, and the passing waters never return! Thus, my brother, your days go by, and you approach death. Pleasures, amusements, pomps, praises and acclamations pass away; and only the grave remaineth for me (Job xvii. 1). At the hour of death the remembrance of the delights enjoyed, and of all the honours acquired in this life, will serve only to increase our pain and our diffidence of obtaining eternal salvation. Then the miserable worldling will say: “My house, my gardens, my fashionable furniture, my pictures, my garments, will in a little time be no longer mine, and only the grave remaineth for me.”
Ah, my God and Lord of infinite majesty! I am ashamed to appear before Thee. How often have I dishonoured Thee by preferring a sordid pleasure, the indulgence of anger, caprice, or vanity, to Thy grace? O my Redeemer, I adore and kiss Thy holy Wounds, which I have inflicted by my sins; but through which I hope for pardon and salvation. O my Jesus, make me understand the great injury I have done Thee in leaving Thee, the Fountain of every good, to drink putrid and poisoned waters. Nothing now remains but pain, remorse of conscience, and fruits for hell. Father, I am not worthy to be called thy child (Luke xv. 21). My Father! do not cast me off. It is true that I no longer merit the grace which would make Me Thy child; but Thou hast said: Turn ye to me, … and I will turn to you (Zach. i. 3). I wish to love Thee during the remainder of my life, and I wish to love nothing but Thee. Assist me; give me holy perseverance, and Thy holy love. Mary, my refuge, plead with Jesus Christ for me.
How great is the folly of those who, for the miserable and transitory delights of this short life, expose themselves to the danger of an unhappy death, and afterwards of an unhappy eternity. Oh! how important is that last moment, that last gasp, that last closing 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.
If there were two tickets in a lottery, on one of which was written Hell and on the other Heaven, what care would you not take to draw that which would give you a right to Paradise, and to avoid the other, by which you would be condemned to a place in hell! O God! how the hands of those unhappy men tremble who are condemned to throw the die on which 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. Berardine 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 in the next.
Brother, if you believe that you must die, that there is an eternity, that you can die only once, and that if you then err, your error will be forever irreparable, why do you not resolve to begin at this moment to do all in your power to secure a good death? 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 up 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.
O my dear Saviour, how great are my obligations to Thee! How hast Thou been able to bestow so many graces on so ungrateful a traitor as I have been? Thou didst create me; and in creating me Thou didst see the injuries which I would commit against Thee. Thou didst redeem me by dying for me: and then, too, Thou didst see the ingratitude which I would be guilty of towards Thee. Being placed in the world I turned my back upon Thee by my sins. My soul was dead and Thou didst restore me to life. I was blind, and Thou didst enlighten me. I had lost Thee, and Thou didst enable me to find Thee. I was Thy enemy, and Thou didst make me Thy friend. O God of mercy, make me feel the obligations which I owe Thee, and make me weep over the offences which I have committed against Thee. O Eternal Father, I abhor and detest, above all evils, the injuries I have done Thee. Have mercy on me for the sake of Jesus Christ. Look at Thy Son dead on the Cross. Sanguis ejus super me. May His Blood flow upon me and wash my soul! Mary, my Queen and Mother, assist me by thy intercession. Mother of God, pray for me.