Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Preparation for Death

The following is an excerpt from Preparation for Death by St. Alphonsus Liguori:

King 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) Oh, how many have been overtaken and cut off by death, while they were executing and arranging worldly projects devised with so much labor! By the light of the last candle, all things in this world, applause, diversions, pomps, and greatness vanish. Great secret of death! It makes us see what the lovers of this world do not see. The most princely fortunes, the most exalted dignities, and the most superb triumphs lose all their splendor when viewed from the bed of death. The ideas that we have formed of certain false happiness are then changed into indignation against our own folly. The black and gloomy shade of death then covers and obscures every dignity, even that of kings and princes.

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 rich man, the captain, the minister of state, dies: his death is the general topic of conversation; but if he has led a bad life he will become "a byword of the people, and an example before them." As an instance of the vanity of the world, and even of the divine justice, he will serve for the admonition of others. After burial his body will be mingled with the bodies of the poor. "The small and great are there." (Job 3, 19)

What profit has he derived from the beautiful structure of his body, which is now but a heap of worms? Of what use are the power and authority which he wielded, when his body is now left to rot in a grave, and his soul has perhaps, been sent to burn in hell? Oh, what misery! To be the occasion of such reflections to others, and not to have them for his own profit! Let us then persuade ourselves that the proper time for repairing the disorders of the soul is not the hour of death, but the time of health. Let us hasten to do now what we shall not be able to do at that hour. "Time is short." Everything soon passes away and comes to an end: let us therefore labor to employ all things for the attainment of eternal life.