Meditation on Death – a topic one never tires of because it is inevitable. It is a matter of time. As someone has said, if one does not die, one cannot live. The following is a powerful meditation written ages ago and meditated upon through the centuries by both believers and even some who have not yet accepted Christ as their personal Saviour. In one moment, Sister Death can come to summon one home, and then what follows? The last three things – Judgement, Heaven or Hell.
This particular chapter came to my mind as there have been a few unexpected deaths amongst the people I know in the Church. How often one thinks that it can happen only to others, and then if and when it happens in the family, one finds it a little too overwhelming. Then, one really has need to cry out to the Lord for the grace to be able to let go. . .How many times did I think of the two year old who had been accidentally killed by his own mother? The one consolation I really had was knowing that the child had gone home to his Father in heaven, and for that I rejoice. I share too the grief of several widows who lost their husbands under the most unexpected conditions; often it is the heart attack that comes so swiftly without any warning. But thank God again for our faith for we surely know that it is our Lord, the Judge of the living and the dead, who calls us when He has prepared a place for us. . . so that where He is, we may also be. Let us reflect . . .
- The hour of death will soon come for you. See to it that you spend your time here well. There is a common saying that a man is here today and gone tomorrow. And once he is out of sight, he is soon forgotten. How dull we are and hard of heart, for we think only of the present and make little provision for the life hereafter! If you were wise, you would so order your life as though you were to die before the day is over. If your conscience were clear, you would not be afraid of death. Better to give up sin than to fear death. If you are unprepared to face death today, how will you be tomorrow? Tomorrow is uncertain and you may not be here to see it.
- What good is a long life if we do not use it to advance spiritually? Sad to say, it often happens that a long life adds to our guilt and not to our amendment. If only we could point to one day in our life that was really well spent! Many count the years of their conversion, but often there is little to show for it. If it is frightening to die, it may be more dangerous to live long. You are truly blessed if you keep the hour of your death before you and prepare yourself for it. If you ever saw a man die, remember that you too must travel the same path.
- In the morning think that you may not live till night; and when night comes, do not be sure that you will live till tomorrow. Therefore, always be ready, and so live that you will not have an unprovided death. Many have died suddenly and without warning; for the Son of Man will come suddenly and when you least expect Him. When the hour of death comes, you will begin to think differently about your past life and great will be your sorrow then that you have been so negligent and lazy in God’s service.
- How happy and wise is the man who tries now to become what he would want to be at the hour of death. A perfect contempt of the world, an ardent desire to progress in virtue, a love of discipline, a prompt obedience, a denial of self and a patient bearing of all adversities for the love of Christ will give you great confidence of dying happily. Strive to do good deeds while you are well, for when you are sick you do not know what you will be able to do. Sickness does not often change us for the better. Also, few are sanctified by making many pilgrimages.
- Do not put your trust in your friends and neighbours, nor put off the care of your soul’s welfare until after death, for you will be forgotten sooner than you think. It is better to provide for your salvation now by doing good deeds that will earn eternal merit for you that to rely on the help of others after your death. If you have no concern for yourself now, who will be concerned about you later on? Time is precious now and now is the day of salvation, the acceptable time. But alas, that you spend time so unprofitably! The time will come when you will wish that you had one more day – even one hour- to put your life in order, but there is no assurance that you will get it.
- O my dear friend, from how great a peril may you now deliver yourself and from what terrible fear, if only you would dread to offend God in this life and always be ready for death! Learn to live now that at the hour of death you may rather rejoice than tremble. If you will have a life with Christ, you must learn how to die to the world, and if you are to go freely to Christ, then you must learn how to despise all things. Chastise your body now by penance, so that you can face death with sure confidence that God will forgive you.
- You are a fool if you think you have a long life ahead when you are not sure of living even one day. How many have been deceived with thinking they had a long life ahead and have died without warning. How often have you heard that one man was murdered, another drowned and still another fell and broke his neck; how this man choked to death and another dropped dead while at play? Some have burned to death; some were killed by guns, others by disease, and still others at the hands of robbers. One thing is certain: death is the end of all! Man’s life passes suddenly like a shadow.
- How many people will remember you and pray for you once you are dead? So do all you can now, for you do not know when you will die or what you will face after death. Gain merit for eternity now while there is time and concern yourself only with your eternal salvation. Attend to those things that are to God’s honour and glory. Honour the Saints and follow their example and you will have friends waiting to receive you into everlasting dwellings when your life here is ended.
- Live on earth as a pilgrim and a stranger, unconcerned with the world’s business. Let your heart remain free and lifted up to God, for you have not here a lasting city. Persevere in prayer, sending your aspirations daily up to god, so that at the hour of death your soul may depart from this world and go to its Lord.
(From The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis)