” The grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven.” MATT. vii. 30.
BEHOLD! all the goods of the earth are like the grass of the field, which Today is blooming and beautiful, but in the evening it withers and loses its flowers, and the next day is cast into the fire. This is what God commanded the Prophet Isaias to preach, when he said to him: ”Cry” And I said: What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of the field.” (Isa. xl. 6.) Hence St. James compares the rich of this world to the flower of grass: at the end of their journey through life they rot, along with all their riches and pomps. ”The rich. . . .because as the flower of the grass shall he pass away.
For the sun rose with a burning heat, and parched the grass, and the flower thereof fell off, and the beauty of the shape thereof perished: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.” (St. James i. 10, 11.) They fade away and are cast into the fire, like the rich glutton, who made a splendid appearance in this life, but afterwards”was buried in hell.” (Luke xvi. 22.) Let us, then, dearly beloved Christians, attend to the salvation of our souls, and to the acquisition of riches for eternity, which never ends; for everything in this world ends, and ends very soon.
First Point – Everything ends
1. When one of the great of this world is in the full enjoyment of the riches and honours which he has acquired, death shall come, and he shall he told: “Take order with thy house; for thou shalt die, and not live.” (Isa. xxxviii. 1.) Oh! what doleful tidings! The unhappy man must then say: Farewell, world! farewell, O villa! farewell, grotto! farewell, relatives! farewell, friends! farewell, sports! farewell, balls! farewell, comedies! farewell, banquets! farewell, honours! all is over for me. There is no remedy: whether he will or not, he must leave all. ”For when he shall die, he shall take nothing away; nor shall his glory descend with him.” (Ps. xlviii. 18.) St. Bernard says, that death produces a horrible separation of the soul from the body, and from all the things of this earth. ”Opus mortis horrendum divortium.” (Serm. xxvi., in Cant.)
To the great of this world, whom worldlings regard as the most fortunate of mortals, the bare name of death is so full of bitterness, that they are unwilling even to hear it mentioned; for their entire concern is to find peace in their earthly goods. ”O death!” says Ecclesiasticus, ”how bitter is the remembrance of thee to a man that hath peace in his possessions. ” (Eccl. xli. 1.) But how much greater bitterness shall death itself cause when it actually comes miserable the man who is attached to the goods of this world! Every separation produces pain.
Hence, when the soul shall be separated by the stroke of death from the goods on which she had fixed all her affections, the pain must be excruciating. It was this that made king Agag exclaim, when the news of approaching death was announced to him: “Doth bitter death separate me in this manner?” (I Kings xv. 32.) The great misfortune of worldlings is, that when they are on the point of being summoned to judgment, instead of endeavouring to adjust the accounts of their souls, they direct all their attention to earthly things. But, says St. John Chrysostom, the punishment which awaits sinners, on account of having forgotten God during life, is that they forget themselves at the hour of death. ”Hac animadversione percutitur impius, ut moriens obliviscatur sui, qui vivens oblitus est Dei.”
2. But how great soever a man’s attachment to the things of this world may be, he must take leave of them at death. Naked he has entered into this world, and naked he shall depart from it. ”Naked,” says Job, ”I came out of my mother‟s womb, and naked shall I return thither.” (Job i. 21.) In a word, they who have spent their whole life, have lost their sleep, their health, and their soul, in accumulating riches and possessions shall take nothing with them at the hour of death: their eyes shall then be opened; and of all they had so dearly acquired, they shall find nothing in their hands. Hence, on that night of confusion, they shall be overwhelmed in a tempest of pains and sadness.
”The rich man, when he shall sleep, shall take away nothing with him! He shall open his eyes and find nothing… a tempest shall oppress him in the night.” (Job xxvii. 19, 20.) St. Antonine relates that Saladin, king of the Saracens, gave orders at the hour of death, that the winding sheet in which he was to bo buried should be carried before him to the grave, and that a person should cry out: ”Of all his possessions, this only shall Saladin bring with him.” The saint also relates that a certain philosopher, speaking of Alexander the Great after his death, said: Behold the man that made the earth tremble. ”The earth,” as the Scripture says, “was quiet before him.” (1 Mach. i. 3.) He is now under the earth. Behold the man whom the dominion of the whole world could not satisfy: now four palms of ground are sufficient for him. ”Qui terram heri conculcubat, hodie ab ea conculcatur; et cui heri non sufficiebat mundus hodie sufficiunt quatuor ulnæ terræ.”
St. Augustine, or some other ancient writer, says, that having gone to see the tomb of Caesar, he exclaimed: ”Princes feared thee; cities worshipped thee; all trembled before thee; where is thy magnificence gone ?” (Serm. xxxviii. ad Fratr.) Listen to what David says: ”I have seen the wicked highly exalted and lifted up like the cedars of Libanus. And I passed by, and lo! he was not.” (Ps. xxxvi. 35, 36.) Oh! how many such spectacles are seen every day in the world! A sinner who had been born in lowliness and poverty, afterwards acquires wealth and honours, so as to excite the envy of all. When he dies, every one says: He made a fortune in the world; but now he is dead, and with death all is over for him.
3. ”Why is earth and ashes proud ?” (Eccl. x. 9.) Such the language which the Lord addresses to the man who is puffed up by earthly honours and earthly riches. Miserable creature, he says, whence comes such pride? If you enjoy honours and riches, remember that you are dust. “For dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.” (Gen. iii. 19.) You must die, and after death what advantage shall you derive from the honours and possessions which now inflate you with pride?
Go, says St. Ambrose, to a cemetery, in which are buried the rich and poor, and see if you can discern among them who has been rich and who has been poor; all are naked, and nothing remains of the richest among them but a few withered bones. ”Respice sepulchra, die mihi, quis ibi dives, quis pauper sit”(lib. vi. exam., cap. viii). How profitable would the remembrance of death be to the man who lives in the world!”He shall be brought to the grave, and shall watch in the heap of the dead.” (Job xxi. 32.)
At the sight of these dead bodies he would remember death, and that he shall one day be like them. Thus, he should be awakened from the deadly sleep in which perhaps he lives in a state of perdition. But the misfortune is, that worldlings are unwilling to think of death until the hour comes when they must depart from this earth to go into eternity; and therefore they live as attached to the world, as if they were never to be separated from it. But our life is short, and shall soon end: thus all things must end, and must soon end.
Second Point – All soon ends
4. Men know well, and believe firmly, that they shall die; but they imagine death is far off as if it were never to arrive. But Job tells us that the life of man is short. “Man born of a woman, living for a short time, is filled with many miseries. Who cometh forth like a flower and is destroyed.” (Job xiv. 2.) At present the health of men is so much impaired, that, as we see by experience, the greater number of them die before they attain the age of seventy. And what, says St. James, is our life but a vapour, which a blast of wind, a fever, a stroke of apoplexy, a puncture, an attack of the chest, causes to disappear, and which is seen no more?”
For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while.” (St. James iv. 15.)”We all die,” said the woman of Thecua to David, ”and like waters that return no more, we fall down into the earth.” (2 Kings xiv. 14.) She spoke the truth; as all rivers and streams run to the sea, and as the gliding waters return no more, so our days pass away, and we approach to death.
5. They pass; they pass quickly. ”My days, ” says Job, “have been swifter than a post.” (Job ix. 25.) Death comes to meet us, and runs more swiftly than a post; so that every step we make, every breath we draw, we approach to death. St. Jerome felt that even while he was writing he was drawing nearer to death. Hence he said: ”What I write is taken away from my life.” “Quad scribo de mea vita tollitur.” Let us, then, say with Job: Years passed by, and with them pleasures, honours, pomps, and all things in this world pass away, ”and only the grave remaineth for me.” (Job xviii. 1.)
In a word, all the glory of the labours we have undergone in this world, in order to acquire a large income, a high character for valour, for learning and genius, shall end in our being thrown into a pit to become the food of worms. The miserable worldling then shall say at death: My house, my garden, my fashionable furniture, my pictures and rich apparel, shall, in a short time, belong no more to me;”and only the grave remaineth for me.”
6. But how much soever the worldling may be distracted by his worldly affairs and by his pleasures how much soever he may be entangled in them, St. Chrysostom says, that when the fear of death, which sets fire to all things of the present life, begins to enter the soul, it will compel him to think and to be solicitous about his lot after death. “Cum pulsare animam incipit metus mortis (ignis instar præsentis vitæ omnia succendens) philosophari eam cogit, et futura solicita mente versari.” (Serm. in 2 Tim.) Alas! at the hour of death “the eyes of the blind shall be opened.” (Is xxxv. 5.)
Then indeed shall he opened the eyes of those blind worldlings who have employed their whole life in acquiring earthly goods, and have paid but little attention to the interests of the soul. In all these shall be verified what Jesus Christ has told them that death shall come when they least expect it. ”At what hour you think not the Son of Man will come.” (Luke xii. 40.)
Thus, on these unhappy men death comes unexpectedly. Hence, because the lovers of the world are not usually warned of their approaching dissolution till it is very near, they must, in the last few days of life, adjust the accounts of their soul for the fifty or sixty years which they lived on this earth. They will then desire another month, or another week, to settle their accounts or to tranquillize their conscience. But”they will seek for peace, and there shall he none.” (Ezec. vii. 25.)
The time which they desire is refused. The assistant priest reads the divine command to depart instantly from this world. ”Proficiscere, anima Christian! de hoc mundo. ”“Depart, Christian soul, from this world.” Oh! how dangerous the entrance of worldlings into eternity, dying, as they do, amid so much darkness and confusion, in consequence of the disorderly state of the accounts of their souls.
7. ”Weight and balance are the judgments of the Lord.” (Prov. xvi. 11.) At the tribunal of God, nobility, dignities, and riches have no weight; two things only our bins, and the graces bestowed on us by God make the scales ascend or descend. They who shall be found faithful in corresponding with the lights and calls which they have received, shall be rewarded; and they who shall be found unfaithful, shall be condemned.
We do not keep an account of God’s graces; but the Lord keeps an account of them; he measures them; and when he sees them despised to a certain degree, he leaves the soul in her sins, and takes her out of life in that miserable state. ”For what things a man shall sow those also shall he reap.” (Gal. vi. 8.) From labours undertaken for the attainment of posts of honour and emolument, for the acquisition of property and of worldly applause, we reap nothing at the hour of death: all are then lost. We gather fruits of eternal life only from works performed, and tribulations suffered for God.
8. Hence, St. Paul exhorts us to attend to our own business. “But we must entreat you, brethren…. that you do your own business.” (1 Thess. iv. 10, 11.) Of what business, I ask, does the Apostle speak? Is it of acquiring riches, or a great name in the world? No; he speaks of the business of the soul, of which Jesus Christ spoke, when he said: “Trade till I come.” (Luke xix. 13.) The business for which the Lord has placed, and for which he keeps us on this earth, is to save our souls, and by good works to gain eternal life. This is the end for which we have been created. ”And the end eternal life.” (Rom. vi. 22.)
The business of the soul is for us not only the most important, but also the principal and only affair; for, if the soul be saved, all is safe; but if the soul be lost, all is lost. Hence, we ought, as the Scripture says, to strive for the salvation of our souls, and to combat to death for justice that is, for the observance of the divine law. ”Strive for justice for thy soul, and even unto death fight for justice.” (Eccl. iv. 33.) The business which our Saviour recommends to us, saying: Trade till I come, is, to have always before our eyes the day on which he shall come to demand an account of our whole life. Page 184 of 233
9. All things in this world acquisitions, applause, grandeur must, as we have said, all end, and end very soon. ”The fashion of this world passeth away.” (1 Cor. vii. 31.) The scene of this life passes away; happy they who, in this scene, act their part well, and save their souls, preferring the eternal interests of the soul to all the temporal interests of the body. ”He that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal.” (John xii. 26.)
Worldlings say: Happy the man who hoards up money! happy they who acquire the esteem of the world, and enjoy the pleasures of this life! folly! Happy he who loves God and saves his soul! The salvation of his soul was the only favour which king David asked of God. ”One thing have I asked of the Lord, this will I seek after.” (Ps. xxvi. 4.) And St. Paul said, that to acquire the grace of Jesus Christ which contains eternal life, he despised as dung all worldly goods. ”I count all things as loss and I count them as dung, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil, iii. 8.)
10. But certain fathers of families will say: I do not labour so much for myself as for my children, whom I wish to leave in comfortable circumstances. But I answer: If you dissipate the goods which you possess, and leave your children in poverty, you do wrong, and are guilty of sin. But will you lose your soul in order to leave your children comfortable? If you fall into hell, perhaps they will come and release you from it? O folly! Listen to what David said: ”I have not seen the just man forsaken, nor his seed seeking bread.” (Ps. xxxvi. 25.)
Attend to the service of God; act according to justice; the Lord will provide for the wants of your children; and you shall save your souls, and shall lay up that eternal treasure of happiness which can never be taken from you a treasure not like earthly possessions, of which you may be deprived by robbers, and which you shall certainly lose at death. This is the advice which the Lord gives you: ”But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither the rust nor the moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” (Matt. vi. 20.)
In conclusion, attend to the beautiful admonition which St. Gregory gives to all who wish to live well and to gain eternal life. ”Sit nobis in intentione æternitas, in usu temporalitas.” Let the end of all our actions in this life be, the acquisition of eternal goods; and let us use temporal things only to preserve life for the little time we have to remain on this earth. The saint continues: ”Sicut nulla est proportio inter æternitatem et nostræ vitæ tempus, ita nulla debet esse proportio inter æternitatis, et hujus, vitæ curas.”
As there is an infinite distance between eternity and the time of our life, so there ought to be, according to our mode of understanding, an infinite distance between the attention which we should pay to the goods of eternity, which shall be enjoyed for ever, and the care we take of the goods of this life, which death shall soon take away from us