Consider first, how different judgment the soul will make of all things at the approach of death, from that which she is apt to make in life. O how shall the world then turn upside down before her eyes! Ah! my soul, how wilt thou then despise all worldly honours ad preferments, when thou shalt see thyself at the brink of the grave, where the worms shall make no distinction between the king and the beggar! How little account wilt thou then make of the praise, esteem, or love of men, who will now think no more of thee! How wilt thou then undervalue thy riches, when thou shalt see them slipping away from thee, and leave thee nothing but a coffin and a shroud! How contemptible will all worldly pleasures then appear in thy eyes, which at the best could never afford thee any true satisfaction, and now will show what they really are, and dissolve into smoke! O let us make the same judgment now concerning all these things as we shall do then! Let us weigh them all in these scales, and we shall not be cheated. For why should we set our affections upon such short-lived slippery toys? Why should we admit of a love that cannot stand the test of death?
Consider 2ndly, O my soul, what shall then be thy sentiments with regard to thy sins, of which perhaps thou hast hitherto made but small account? O how hideous, how odious will they begin to appear to thee, how numerous, how enormous – when the curtain shall begin to be withdrawn, with which thy busy self-love has industriously hidden them, or disguised the deformity and malice of them, and they shall be set before thy eyes in their true light – when that false conscience which thou hast framed to thyself, and under the cover of which thou hast passed over many things in thy confessions as slight and inconsiderable, which thou wast ashamed to declare or unwilling to forsake, shall no longer be able to maintain its ground, at the approach of death? O what anguish, what remorse, what dread, what confusion, what despair, will invade a poor dying sinner at the sight of this dreadful scene, of this army of his sins drawn up in battle-array against him! Ah! Christians, let us be wise in time, and prevent so great an evil by taking all such precautions now, with regard to our sins, as we shall certainly wish to have taken then.
Consider 3rdly, my soul, what thy sentiments will be at the time of thy death, with relation to the service of God, to virtue and devotion? O how lovely then shall the way of virtue appear to thee! O how wilt thou then wish to have always followed that charming path! But what shall thy sentiments be with regard to the value of grace? How bitterly shalt thou then regret the neglect of so many calls and invitations of thy gracious God; the loss of so many favourable opportunities of storing up eternal treasures, the squandering away so much of thy precious time, the misemploying of so many of God’s gifts and talents, the abuse of the sacraments, &c. Ah! how many great but disregarded truths shall then be unveiled to the sinner, against which he had shut his eyes before! How shall the false reasonings of the world, the delusions of his passions, and the subtilties of his self-love, together with the affected ignorance of such things as he had no mind to know, all forsake him at the approach of death and leave him in despondence at the time of his greatest distress?
Conclude to enter into those sentiments now, with regard to all these things, that shall stand by thee at the hour of thy death. For why shouldst thou any longer suffer thyself to be the dupe of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and give in to their impostures, with evident danger of the loss of thy immortal soul?
Consider first, these words of the royal prophet, Ps. cxv., ‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.’ And reflect how true it is that the death of such as have served God in good earnest, is indeed both precious in the sight of God and edifying in the eyes of men, because of those happy dispositions with which they meet death, especially that faith and confidence which they have in the goodness and mercies of their heavenly father, and in the infinite merits of Jesus Christ their redeemer, and that perfect conformity to the divine will, accompanied with a profound humility, a deep sense of sorrow for sin, and an ardent love of God, with which they close their eyes and yield up their souls into their creator’s hands. O what a happiness it is for a dying man to be in these dispositions! With what willingness does such a Christian as this leave the world! What peace and tranquillity does he find in his soul from the testimony of a good conscience! How joyfully does he fling himself into the arms of his tender father, who, he is well assured, will never reject his loving children, that cast their whole care upon him! O
‘let my soul die the death of the just, and let my last end be like to theirs!’
Numb. xxiii. 10
Consider 2ndly, what a comfort it is to a good man, at the approach of death, to see himself now so near to the end of all his labours, of all the miseries of this wretched life, and of all those dangerous conflicts and temptations to which he has hitherto been exposed from those mortal enemies of his soul, the world, the flesh, and the devil; and to find himself just upon the point of being delivered from his long prison, from the body of this death, from the servitude of corruption, and from sin that surroundeth him on all sides in this vale of tears, and of being called home from his banishment to his true country, which he has always longed for. O what a satisfaction it is to a lover of God to see himself now at the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem, where he is to see, love,and enjoy his God for ever! What a pleasure to look forward into that blessed eternity into which he is just now entering; and to sing with the psalmist, Ps. cxxi. ‘I rejoice at the things that are said to me, we shall go into the house of the Lord,’ ‘O blessed are they that dwell in thy house, O Lord, they shall praise thee for ever and ever.’ Ps. lxxxiii. To such souls as these, when they are near their death, those words of our divine Saviour are directed, Luke xxi. 28. ‘Look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.’
Consider 3rdly, the particular providence of God in favour of his servants at their death, expressed by the prophet, Ps. xl. 4, in these words: ‘The Lord helps them upon the bed of their sorrow, he turns all their couch from them in their sickness.’ He restrains their enemy at that time, he mitigates their fears and apprehensions, he supports them under their pains and agonies, he encourages them against the terrors of death and judgment, he protects them in that critical hour under the shadow of his wings, that they may be able to say with the psalmist, Ps. xxii., ‘Though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils for thou are with me.’ In fine, he never forsakes them in death, who in their life have been faithful to him; but more particularly helps them then, when they stand most in need of his assistance, and when all the world besides forsakes them. O blessed be his goodness for ever!
Conclude, if thou desirest to die the death of the just, to live the life of the just, and to do the works of the just; for such as thy works are during life, such will thy death also be. ‘Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord. From henceforth now, saith the Spirit, they may rest from their labours, for their works follow them.’ Rev. xiv. 13. See then that thy works be such as may make thy life holy, and thy death will not fail to be happy.
Consider first, that as nothing is more desirable than the death of the just man, by which he puts a happy conclusion to all the labours and miseries of that life which we are leading here below, and enters into the never-ending joys of the Lord; so on the other hand, nothing can be conceived more wretched, more dismal and deplorable than the death of the wicked.
‘The death of the wicked is very evil,’ saith the Holy Ghost, Ps xxxiii. 22. It is very evil indeed, as often as they are unexpectedly hurried away in their sins, and go down in a moment into hell; it is very evil also, as often as they die hard, and with little or no sense of God or eternity. But supposing neither the one nor the other to be the case, the death of the wicked is still every evil, from the torture of their conscience, from the sense of present misery, and the dreadful apprehensions of a miserable eternity; and whatever way they look, all things seem to conspire against them; to denounce the judgments of God to them, and to set before their eyes a dismal scene of woe. Ah, how feelingly do they now experience that of the Psalm (cxiv.)
‘The sorrow of death have compassed me, and the perils of death have found me!’
Consider 2ndly, more in particular, the principal ingredients of his bitter cup, which the wicked, who will not think of it during life, are so often constrained to drink of in death. And first the remembrance of their past sins, appearing now in quite other colours than they had represented them to themselves before; all staring them now in the face, in their most ugly shapes, and with their united forces making a vehement assault upon them, to push them down headlong into the bottomless pit of despair. O how gladly would the dying sinner rid himself now of this odious company! What would he not give to shake off from his breast this viper’s brood of his own offspring? But all in vain, they will not be shaken off. O how sensibly do they make him feel the gripes of their gnawing; not unlike those of that never-dying worm, which is one of the worst of the torments of hell! Then the remembrance of the races they have so long resisted; of the opportunities of good they have so often neglected; of the talents they have buried; of the time they have squandered way, (one hour of which they cannot now recall, though they would give ten thousand words for it); of their past abuses of the sacraments, of the Word of God, and of prayer these great means of salvation; and the little good they can find in their whole lives to put in the scales against so much evil, must add very much to their unspeakable anguish and distress, coming in upon them at this sad time, when they have so little presence of mind, so little leisure, opportunity or ability of doing anything themselves, and have too much reason to apprehend that God has forsaken them.
Consider 3rdly, what anguish it is also to the dying sinner to see himself violently torn away from all those things he had set his heart upon in this world. ‘O cruel death,’ shall he then say ‘dost thou make so bitter a separation?’ (I Sam. xv. 32.) What sad farewells will he be then constrained to bid to his honours, riches, pleasures, and all other worldly enjoyments; to his friends, kindred, house, and family, together with the whole world; and his own body too; in order to depart into an unknown country, and to take nothing with him thither but his works, which he would gladly leave behind him. O how does the sight of all about him, his wife, his children, and his worldly goods, which he has loved more than his God, now serve for nothing but to increase his misery? And if, to change the melancholy scene, he endeavours to divert his thoughts from the remembrance of his past extravagances and present miseries, and to look forward, he meets there with still more frightful objects, from the just apprehension of what will follow after death; what hands he shall fall into then, what a severe trial he must immediately go through; and what the sad consequence must be, if he be there cast. Alas! he sees himself just now launching forth with all his evil into eternity, an immense ocean, to whose further shore the poor sailor can never reach, and which he has too much reason to fear will be to him an eternity of woe.
Conclude to lead a virtuous life, and thou shalt have no share in this dismal scene of evils which attend the death of the wicked.
Consider first, that the soul is no sooner departed from the body but this wretched carcass which she leaves behind immediately becomes pale, stiff, loathsome, and frightful; insomuch that the dearest friends of the deceased can scarce endure to watch one night in the same room with it, and would not be induced by any consideration to lie in the same bed. Even the greatest beauties are now turned ugly and hideous; and their former admirers can no longer bear the sight of them. O ye children of men, how long will ye be fond of these painted dunghills! We read that St. Francis Borgia was so touched with the ghastly countenance of the corpse of the Empress Isabella, (whom he had seen a little while before in all her majesty and all her charms,) seeing the strange change that death had so suddenly wrought in her, that he conceived upon the spot an eternal disgust for this world, and a happy resolution of wholly consecrating himself to the love and service of that great king who never dies. O that the like consideration of the dismal change that death shall so quickly make in all mortal beauties might effectually move us to the like resolution!
Consider 2ndly, that a person is no sooner dead but the body begins to corrupt and smell, and in a very short time it becomes so insupportable that surviving friends are obliged to make haste to get it out of the house, and to lay it deep under ground that it may not infect the air. And were the grave, after some weeks, to be opened again, and this carcass to be brought out to view, what a filthy carrion should we meet with? what a sight, what a smell would it afford? And what should we think of a person that should be tied down to such a companion, a barbarity said to have been exercised by a certain tyrant, in binding the living to the dead, and letting them linger away in these noisome embraces? Surely the worst of torments would not be half so insupportable: so foul, so detestable a thing is a corpse that is half putrefied. O mortals, why will you then not remember what your composition is, and what you are quickly like to come to? O filth and corruption, why wilt thou be proud?
Consider 3rdly, what companions, what attendants, these bodies of ours must meet with in the grave? Ah! no others than worms and maggots, or such like foul insects. ‘Under thee shall the moth be strewed, and worms shall be thy covering,’ Isaia xiv. 11. For these, O man! thou art preparing a banquet when thou art pampering thy body. These are to be thy inheritance, or rather they are to inherit thee: whatever thou art to-day, to-morrow thou art to be the food of worms. See here, vain worldlings, what will soon be the end of all these beauties which you are so fond of, and which are so apt to draw you into sin; filthy maggots shall very shortly prey upon these pretty faces
Conclude to make small account of the beauty of the body, or of anything else that death can take away, and to turn thy thoughts towards the better part, by laying up immortal riches for thy immortal soul, and procuring for her such ornaments of Christian virtues as may be out of the reach of death.
Consider first, how the soul in death shuts her eyes in a moment to this world, and to all persons and things which she has affected here, never to take any more part in the transactions of this life, and immediately opens them to a new and surprising scene, quite strange to her, in a region of spirits, an unknown land, of which before she had no idea. She awakes, as it were, out of a dream which is now slipt away from her, and leaves both her hands and her heart empty; all is over with her as to this world, she is estranged for ever from all conversation of mortals; no one of her dearest friends can accompany her or attend her now; she finds herself abandoned by all her lovers, quite naked, and what is most frightful, encompassed with infernal furies, that use their utmost efforts to lay violent hands upon her. Good God, who shall protect us at that hour from these our mortal enemies?
Consider 2ndly, the immense difference there is found at this time between the souls of the servants of God and the souls of the wicked. For although both the one and the other are to expect that the common enemy with all his hellish forces will exert himself on this occasion, and do his worst to get their souls into his claws, yet the servants of God are defended from his assaults by the care of their guardian angels, and under the cover of their wings go forward with joy and security, being also encompassed on all sides with their good works as with a strong rampart, which both keeps the devil at a distance and gives them a comfortable assurance of coming off well at their trial. Whereas the wicked, that have made no such provision for themselves, shall now lie at the mercy of the infernal spirits, having nothing else to carry with them to the bar but the consciousness of their past crimes, which shall be more terrible to them than the devil himself. O! my soul, let us at least be more wise, and take care, whilst we have time, to lay up for ourselves a store of good works; and thus make ourselves friends to stand by us at that hour that is to decide our eternal doom. Such as these will be friends indeed that will never forsake us, but will effectually plead our cause at the bar where no other eloquence shall be regarded.
Consider 3rdly, in what a wretched plight poor worldlings shall find themselves now who have provided no such friends as these to plead for them, who have seldom or never thought of this hour, but have lived as if they were never to die. Alas! what will all their honours, riches, and pleasures avail them now? Where is now their state and retinue? Where are all their servants and attendants? What is become of the multitude of their flatterers and visitors? See how they have left them all alone in the evil day, and whatever way they now look for help or comfort, they meet with none – their time is past, they are hurried away to be immediately tried and examined at the dreadful bar of a just judge, and all things, both within and without them, declare to them the horrible sentence that is just going to fall upon their heads for eternity. Sweet Jesus, preserve me from ever having any part to act in so dismal a tragedy!
Conclude to live now in such a manner as to have no reason to apprehend this scene of dismal evils, which shall terrify the sinner at this departure hence, but that thy passage into eternity may be to the gate of a life that knows no death. O take care to carry nothing with thee hence that may give the enemy any hold of thee then.
Consider first, that besides the general judgment that shall be at the end of the world, there is a particular judgment that passes upon the soul presently after death, according to that of the apostle, (speaking of the time when we are discharged from the body,) 1 Cor. v. 10.
‘We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil.’ Thus we see, in the case of Dives and Lazarus, Luke xvi., that their doom was immediately decided after death, and the one sentenced to the torments of hell the other carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom. See then, my soul, what thou art to look for as soon as thou art parted from the body; thou must be presented before the judgment-seat of Christ, in order to give an account of thy whole life, even of all that thou hast thought, said, or done, during thy abode in the body, and to receive sentence accordingly for life or death eternal, and the sentence that shall pass then shall be ratified in the general judgment at the last day. O reflect then, how thy accounts stand at present with thy God. O what couldst thou be able to say for thyself if this night thou shouldst be cited at the bar? It may perhaps be thy case, for the judge has long ago declared that he will come when thou least expectest him – take care then to be always ready.
Consider 2ndly, the qualities of this judge by who we are to be tried after death. He is infinitely holy, and therefore cannot endure iniquity. He is infinitely wise, and therefore cannot be deceived; his all-seeing eye is ever upon all our ways; all the thoughts and motions of our hearts are naked and open to his sight; they are all recorded on his book; not one of them all can escape his notice or memory. He is also infinitely powerful, and therefore there is no resisting or withstanding his judgment; no dignity, no authority, no strength, no subtilty, no fraud, no learning or wit can be available at his tribunal; he made both great and little – king and beggar are equally his subjects – and there is no respect of persons with him, nor appeal from him. In fine, he is infinitely just, and therefore ‘will render to every man’ at that time ‘according to his works’. No favour is to be expected then for sins unrepented of. The time of merit and of acceptable repentance is now at an end. Ah! Christians, let us think well on these truths whilst it is our day in which mercy reigns; let us clear up all our accounts while we have time; let us wash away our sins now with penitential tears; let us store up to ourselves immortal treasures before the night overtakes us. All that we can then do will come too late.
Consider 3rdly, some other circumstances of this great trial, particularly the law by which we are to be tried; the accusers and witnesses that shall appear against us, and the nature of the sentence that shall be pronounced after the hearing of the whole cause. The law by which we shall be tried shall be the Commandment of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ; by this law, by these heavenly rules we must stand or fall; these shall acquit us, or condemn us for eternity. O let us then study them well, and in practice conform our whole lives to them. Our accusers shall be the devils, and the unhappy accomplices of our crimes, more especially such as we have drawn into sin, the blood of whose souls shall cry to heaven for vengeance against us. The witnesses shall be our own guilty conscience. And the sentence shall be an unchangeable, irrevocable eternal doom, either to heaven or hell. O let us remember these things, and we shall never sin.
Conclude to let thy whole life henceforward be a preparation for this great trial, and thou shalt not fail of a happy issue.
Consider first, my soul, what an account will be here demanded of thy stewardship. For thou shalt be here examined how thou hast discharged thyself of every branch of thy duty, both in general and particular to thy God, to thy neighbour and to thyself? How thou hast employed all thy precious time? What use thou hast made of the talents God has intrusted thee with? In what manner thou hast corresponded with the graces thou hast received: What profit thou hast reaped from the sacraments, from the word of God, and from the favourable circumstances in which God has placed thee? How thou hast acquitted thyself of the duties of thy calling, &c. O! poor wretch, what wilt thou be able to answer under so strict an examination, where thy all is at stake for eternity? ‘O what shall I do,’ said holy Job, (chap. xxxi. 14.,) ‘when God shall arise to judge? And when he shall examine, what shall I answer him?’ Alas! who shall be able to endure his scrutiny, or
‘to answer one thing for a thousand! O Lord, enter not into judgment with thy servants; for in thy sight no man living shall be justified,’
Consider 2ndly, that at this great trial the whole history of thy life shall be set before thee; and all thy hidden sins, all thy sins of commission or omission, even to every idle word and every thought and motion of thy heart, shall be exposed in their true colours. Ah! what treasures of iniquity shall here come to light when the veil shall be removed which hides at present the greatest part of our sins from the eyes of the world, and even from our own, and it shall be said of us – Behold the man with all his works; behold all his abominations; behold all his pride and contempt of God; behold all his filth, & c. O my soul, how shalt thou be able to bear such a sight! O let us then make it our study now to know our sins, and to efface them by penance while we have time, that they may not then appear in judgment against us and condemn us at the bar.
Consider 3rdly, that the poor soul shall not only be brought here to a strict examination with regard to all the evil she has done and to all the good she has left undone during the whole time of her pilgrimage in this mortal body, but even all the good she thinks she has done, the very best of her works, her prayers, her fasts, her alms-deeds, her confessions and communions shall all be nicely sifted, as well with relation to the intention with which she has undertaken them as to the manner in which she has performed them, & c. And all shall be weighed, not in the deceitful balance of the judgment of men but in the unerring scales of the sanctuary – that is, of divine justice – in which the works that are most admired by deluded mortals are often found to be of no weight at all. Alas! poor soul, what astonishment, what anguish, what confusion shall it be to thee to see so many things rise up in judgment against thee, now charged upon thee as heinous sins, of which in thy lifetime thou hast made but small account, and to find at the same time that those good works with which thou wast in hopes the scales should be turned in thy favour have either not been accepted for want of just weight, or have been corrupted and vitiated by pride or self-love?
Conclude to have always before thy eyes the exact account thou must one day give of every thought, word, deed, and omission of thy whole life. Remember they all pass from thy hands to the hands of God, to be recorded in his great book, by which thou art to be tried: see thou order them accordingly.
Consider first, that according to the different issue of this trial in the particular judgment, the condition of departed souls shall bee very different. For such as, like the rich glutton, (Luke xvi.,) shall be found at the time of their departure quite void of grace and charity – and in a word, all such as have died in mortal sin shall, like the rich glutton, be immediately buried in the flames of hell, where the worm never dies, and the fire is never extinguished. Ah! how strangely shall the men of riches, the great ones of this world, the ladies that have been slaves to their pleasures, here find their condition altered? A bed of fire, instead of their soft couches; the want of every thing that can afford the least comfort, even to a drop of water, instead of their former affluence; insulting devils instead of their servants and attendants; eternal torments for momentary satisfactions, &c. In fine, they that could never brook the least thing contrary to their own humour, appetite, or will, now find themselves in an instant plunged into that bottomless pit where they shall never know what it is to be indulged in any one desire or inclination. O! that the children of this world, the unhappy slaves of their passions and pleasures, would think of this whilst they have time.
Consider 2ndly, the very different condition of the souls of the children of God after their departure hence. For as many of them as like the martyrs and other saints, shall be found, when they are presented before the judge, without blemish of sin, or deb of punishment due to divine justice on account of former offences not sufficiently expiated, shall be immediately translated to heavenly joys. ‘Their earthly house of this temporal dwelling is now dissolved, but they have a building of God – a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven,’ 2 Cor. v. 1. ‘They are absent from the body, but present with the Lord,’ v. 8. They enjoy what the apostle so much longed for when he ‘desired to be dissolved and to be with Christ,’ Philip. i. 23. ‘They are now before the throne of God, and in his temple, and he that sitteth on the throne dwelleth over them, an the Lamb leads them to the living fountains of waters,’ Rev. vii. 15, 17 – even the happy waters of eternal life, which ever flow from the throne of God. ‘They follow the Lamb withersoever he goeth,’ chap. xiv. 4, ‘and they live and reign with him,’ chap xx. 4. ‘They even sit with him on his throne,’ Rev. iii. 21, ‘and exercise with him power over the nations,’ chap. ii. 26. See, Christians, if you will but dedicate yourselves in good earnest to the love of God during your short pilgrimage, what great things are prepared for you in your true country, and that immediately after your departure hence. How little reason, then, have the true lovers of God to apprehend a death that shall bring them in an instant to the very fountain-head of true and everlasting life! O what a happiness it is to shut in a moment the eyes with which we see this world and mortals, and to open them immediately to the sight of God and of Christ! – S. Cyprian.
Consider 3rdly, that as all are to be tried after their departure by their works, and to be rewarded according to their works which they carry with them hence to the judgment-seat of Christ, so those whose dead works have not been fully expiated by penance – whose devotions and other good works have been full of imperfections – who have built only with wood, hay, and stubble, though not to the destroying of the foundation of the faith and grace of Christ – shall suffer loss in this fiery trial, and instead of being immediately admitted into the presence of God in his heavenly temple, where nothing defiled shall enter, must wait till the dross they have carried with them out of the world be purged away, and they be fitted for the sight and enjoyment of their sovereign good. O how few souls shall be found at their departure so perfectly pure as to be qualified to fly up immediately to the embraces of God! How very few are there that carry with them no spot, no blemish, no debt, nor even of an idle word, into the other world, where, by the fixed decrees of heaven, every soul shall be judged and rewarded according to what she carries hence!
Conclude to spare no pains now to rid thyself by penitential exercises of all thy spots, stains, and debts whilst thou art on the way, lest if thou leave them to be discharged in another world, thou mayest be cast into that prison of which it is written, Matt. v. 26, ‘Amen, I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence till thou pay the last farthing.’
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