Of Another Means of Perfecting Ordinary Actions, Which Is to Do Every Action as if It Were to Be the Last of Our Life

by admin on March 13, 2011

THE fourth means which the saints give for doing our actions well is to do every action as though it were to be the last of our life.   St. Bernard says, directing a religious how to do his actions: “Let each one ask himself over every action: ‘If you were to die at once, would you do this? Would you do it in this manner?’ ”   And St. Basil says a thing, which another holy man also says, to put it in plain English, thus: “You should conduct yourself in every action as if you were to die at once.   In the morning think that you will not live till night; and when the night comes, do not dare to promise yourself that you shall see the morn­ing, for many die suddenly” (A Kempis).   This is a very efficacious means of doing everything well.   And so we read of the blessed Abbot St. Anthony that he often gave this reminder to his disciples, to animate them to virtue and to doing things with perfection.   Another author says: “Think that every day is your last”—Omnem crede diem tibi dilux-isse supremum. If we did things each in turn, as if we were to die at once and as though this action were to be our last, we should do them in another manner and with other per­fection.   Oh, what a Mass should I say, if I understood that that was to be the last action of my life, and that there was now no time left me to work or gain merit!   Oh, what a meditation should I make, if I understood that that was my last, and that now I had no more time to beg God’s mercy and pardon for my sins!   Hence the proverb: “If you want to know how to pray, go to sea.” Prayer is made in another manner with death before one’s eyes.

They tell of a religious, a priest and servant of God, that he had the custom of going to confession every day to pre­pare for saying Mass. At the end of his course he fell sick, and the superior, seeing the sickness to be mortal, said to him: “Father, you are very ill; make your dying confes­sion.” The sick man answered, raising his hands to heaven: “Blessed and praised be the Lord, that now for thirty years and more I have made my confession every day as if I were to die at once; and so there will be no need now but to get ready for absolution as I would if I were about to say Mass.” That man went on well, and so we should go on. Every confession we should make as though it were our dying confession, and every Communion as though it were our dying Communion, and so do all our other actions; and thereby at the hour of our death it would not be necessary to tell us to confess so as to be ready to die, but only to dis­pose ourselves for absolution as though we were going to communion. If we lived always in this way, death would find us well prepared and never come upon us as a surprise. And this is the best prayer and the best devotion to guard against a sudden death, Happy, says Christ our Redeemer, is that servant whom his master, at his coming, shall find thus watching (Matt. xxiv. 46). And so lived holy Job: All the days of this life, he says, I am looking for the other life (Job xiv. 14). Every day I make account that this is the last for me. Call me, O Lord, on the day that Thou pleas-est, since I am disposed and prepared to answer Thee and to meet Thy call at any time and hour that Thou wishest to call.

One of the best means to know whether we walk well and rightly before God is to consider whether we are in a state to answer Him at what time soever He calls and in what occupation soever we are engaged. I speak not here of an infallible certainty, for such is not to be had in this life without a particular revelation; but I speak only of probable and moral conjectures, which is all we can pretend unto. A great and main means to attain is to see whether in the condition and present conjuncture you are in and in the very action you are about, you would not take it ill that death should come upon you. Think whether you are as ready to answer to God as Job was in case He should call you at this moment. Try yourself often in this manner and ask yourself many times this question: “If death were to come upon you now, would you have reason to be glad?” When, reflecting and examining myself, I find that I should be glad if death were to come upon me at this instant and in the very action I am doing, I fancy I am going on well and feel some satisfaction. But when I find that I should not like death to come just at present and catch me in this office, occupation, and conjuncture, but had rather he would wait a bit until the schemes I have on hand which distract my thoughts were brought to an issue, that is not a good sign, but rather I take it for a clear indication that I am neglecting my spiritual welfare and not living as a religious should do. For as that holy man says: “If you had a good conscience, you would not much fear death;” and if you do fear it so much, it is a sign that you have some remorse of conscience and your accounts are not in good order. Better fear sin than death. The steward whose accounts are in good order desires that they should come and take them; but he who has them in bad order is afraid of their coming and sets up all the excuses and delays in his power.

Father Francis Borgia used to say that a good exercise for a religious was four and twenty times a day to put him­self in the condition of a dying man; and he added that a man might then think of himself in a good state when, often repeating these words: “I must die today,” he found nothing that troubled him. Let everyone, then, enter into an account with himself and examine himself many times on this point. And if it appears that you are not today in a state and condition to die, take care to put yourself in good condition for this final crisis. Reckon that you beg of the Lord to grant you a few days of life for this purpose and that He does grant them, and profit by the time and endeavor to live as if you were presently to die. Blessed is he who lives in the disposition that he desires to be found in at the hour of death. This is one of the most profitable things that we can preach to our neighbor, that they should live in such a disposition as they desire to be found in at the hour of death and not put off their conversion and repentance to the future; for tomorrow is uncertain and who knows if you shall have tomorrow? “God, who has promised pardon to the sinner if he repents,” says St. Greg­ory, “has never promised him that he shall have tomorrow” —Qui poenitentibus veniam spopondit, crastinum diem non promisit. It is a common saying that nothing is more cer­tain than death, nor more uncertain than the hour of death.

But Christ our Redeemer says yet more. Be ye ready, says He, because the son of man will come at the hour ye think not (Luke xii. 40). For though He speaks in this place of the general Day of Judgment, yet this may be understood also of the hour of death because then each one shall receive his particular judgment and such a sentence as, being once pronounced, will never be revoked, but con­firmed at that great and general day. Christ does not con­tent Himself with saying the hour is uncertain and that you know not when it will come, but He says it will come just when you least expect it and perhaps when you are least of all prepared for it. St. Paul tells the Thessalon-ians that the Lord will come like a thief in the night (I Thess. v. 2); and St. John in the Apocalypse, speaking in God’s name, says: I will come to thee as a thief., and thou shalt not know at what hour I mean to come (Apoc. iii. 3). A thief gives no notice, but waits for the hour when all are least upon their guard and even asleep. And along with this same comparison Christ our Redeemer teaches us how we should behave, to the end that death may not catch us on a sudden and off our guard. Know ye that if the father of the family knew at what hour the thief would come, he would surely watch, and would not suffer his house to be broken open (Luke xii. 39). If he knew the hour, it would be sufficient to be awake just then; but because he cannot foresee the hour, or whether it will be in the beginning, towards the middle, or at the end of the night, he contin­ually stands upon his guard to save himself from being robbed. Thus you must ever be watchful, for death will come at the hour you think not.

It is a very great mercy of God that the hour of death should be uncertain, to the end that we may always be pre­pared for it; for if we knew the time, this assurance would give us occasion to become more lax and sin with greater confidence. If, uncertain as we are of the hour of death, we live, notwithstanding, with so great negligence, what should we do if we were assured we should not die for some time! Fool, says the Son of God to the rich, covetous man, this night they are requiring thy soul of thee, and what will become of those riches thou hast gathered together? (Luke xii. 20).

Now what we preach to others, we should take also to ourselves, as the Apostle warns us: What thou teachest to others, thou dost not teach thyself (Rom. ii. 21). One of the temptations the devil most commonly makes use of to deceive men is to hide as much as he can from them so clear a truth as this; to divert their eyes and their thoughts from it and make them believe that there’s time enough for this world and the next, and that one day they will grow better and live after another manner than they do now. It is not only worldlings he abuses after this manner, but he also deceives many religious after the same fashion, per­suading them to defer their spiritual advancement from one day to another, till they have done their studies, till they are out of this office and got this business off their hands: then I will get to rights my spiritual duties and my pen­ances and mortifications. Unhappy you, if you die in your studies! What will then the learning serve you for which you have relaxed your efforts after virtue, but as straw and wood, for you to burn the more thereon in the next life! (I Cor. iii. 12). Let us, then, profit ourselves by what we say to others. Physician, cure thyself (Luke iv. 23). Apply this remedy to yourself, since you have need of it.

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