THE UNCERTAINTY OF THE HOUR OF DEATH
Be you, then, also ready; for at what hour you think not, the Son of man will come (Luke xii. 40).
All know that they must die, but the misfortune is that many consider death at such a distance away that they lose sight of it. Even the old, the most decrepit and the most sickly flatter themselves that they will live three or four years longer. At what hour you think not, the Son of man will come.
It is certain that we shall die, but the hour of death is uncertain. “Nothing,” says the author who styles himself Idiota, “is more certain than death; but nothing is more uncertain than the hour of death.” God has already fixed the year, the month, the day, the hour, and the moment, when I and you are to leave this earth and go into eternity; but the time is unknown to us. To exhort us to be always prepared, Jesus Christ tells us that death will come unawares, and like a thief in the night. The day of the Lord shall so come as a thief in the night (1 Thess. v. 2). He tells us to be, then, 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. St. Gregory says that for our good, God conceals from us the hour of death, that we may always be prepared to die. “Since, then,” says St. Bernard, “death may take away life at any time and in any place, we ought, if we wish to die well and save our souls, to live always in expectation of death.”
All know that they must die: but the misfortune is, that many consider death such a distance off, that they lose sight of it. Even the old, the most decrepit, and the most sickly, flatter themselves that they will 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 suddenly, and on the day he died. 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.
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 iii. 9). Then Thou hast had so much patience with me, and hast waited for me, because Thou didst wish me not to be lost, but return to Thee by repentance. My God, I return to Thee. I cast myself at Thy feet, and supplicate for 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 favoured with special light. Other sinners also have offended Thee, but they have not received the light Thou gavest me. But in spite of all my sinfulness and ingratitude, Thou commandest 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.
When, therefore, Christian soul, the devil tempts you to sin by saying, — Tomorrow you can go to confession — let your answer be, — How do I know but this will 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 (Eccles. ix. 12). The evil time is that in which the sinner actually offends God. The devil tells you that this misfortune will not happen to you; but you should answer him: If it should happen to me, what would become of me for all eternity?
O my Jesus, though innocent, Thou hast wished to die like a criminal on the Cross, and to shed all Thy Blood to wash away my sins. O Sanguis Innocentis, lava culpas poenitentis! O Blood of the Innocent, wash away the sins of the penitent! O Eternal Father, pardon me for the sake of Jesus Christ. Hear His prayers now that He intercedes for me and makes Himself my Advocate. 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 offences. I will fly from all occasions of sin. 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 mayest be pleased to send me: it is enough for me not to lose Thy grace and Thy love. Ask and you shall receive (John xvi. 24). Thou promisest to grant whatever we ask; I ask these two graces — holy perseverance and the gift of Thy love. O Mary, Mother of Mercy, thou dost pray for me: in thee do I put my trust.