Editor’s note: for the All Souls Triduum and the month of November this year we present three chapters from this classic work by St. Alphonsus. You can find this work for free online, with iPieta, or purchase a copy here.
Portrait of a Man who has recently gone into the Other World.
“Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” — Gen. iii. 19.
CONSIDER that you are dust, and that you shall return to dust. A day will come when you shall die, and rot in a grave, where worms shall be your covering (Isai., xiv, 11). The same lot awaits all, the nobleman and the peasant, the prince and the vassal. The moment the soul leaves the body, it shall go to eternity, and the body shall return to dust. Thou shalt send forth their breath, and they shall fail and shall return to their dust (Ps. ciii, 29).
Imagine that you behold a person who has just expired. Look at that body still laid on the bed, the head fallen on the chest, the hair in disorder and still bathed in the sweat of death, the eyes sunk, the cheeks hollow, the face the color of ashes, the lips and tongue like iron, the body cold and heavy. The beholders grow pale and tremble. How many, at the sight of a deceased relative or friend, have changed their life and retired from the world! Still greater horror will be excited when the body begins to putrefy. Twenty-four hours have not elapsed since the death of that young man, and his body has already begun to exhale an offensive smell. The windows must be opened; a great quantity of incense must be used; and, to prevent the communication of disease to the entire family, he must soon be transferred to the church, and buried in the earth. “If he has been one of the rich or nobles of the earth, his body shall send forth a more intolerable stench,” («Gravius foetent divitum corpora» In Hexamer. 1. 6, c. 8) says Saint Ambrose.
Behold the end of that proud, of that lewd and voluptuous man! Before death desired and sought after in conversations, now become an object of horror and dis- gust to all who behold him. His relatives are in haste to remove him from the house; they hire men to shut him up in a coffin, to carry him to the church-yard and throw him into a grave. During life, the fame of his wit, of his politeness, of the elegance of his manners, and of his facetiousness, was spread abroad; but after death he is soon forgotten. Their memory hath perished with a noise (Ps. ix, 7).
On hearing the news of his death, some say, He was an honor to his family; others say, He has provided well for his children. Some regret his death because he had done them some service during life; others rejoice at it because it is an advantage to them. But in a little time no one speaks of him. In the beginning, his nearest relatives feel unwilling to hear his name, through fear of renewing their grief. In the visits of condolence, all are careful to make no mention of the deceased; and should any happen to speak of him, the relatives exclaim, For God’s sake, do not mention his name!
Consider that as you have acted on the occasion of the death of friends and relatives, so others will act on the occasion of your death. The living take part in the scene. They occupy the possessions and offices of the deceased; but the dead are no longer remembered — their name is scarcely ever mentioned. In the beginning, their relatives are afflicted for a short time; but they will soon be consoled by the share of the property of the deceased which falls to them.
Thus in a short time your death will be rather a source of joy; and in the very room in which you have breathed forth your soul, and in which you have been judged by Jesus Christ, others will dance, and eat, and play, and laugh as before. And where will your soul then be?
Affections and Prayers.
O Jesus, my Redeemer! I thank Thee for not having taken me out of life when I was Thy enemy. For how many years have I deserved to be in hell! Had I died on such a day or such a night, what should be my lot for all eternity? Lord, I thank Thee; I accept my death in satisfaction for my sins, and I accept it in the manner in which Thou shalt be pleased to send it. But since Thou hast borne with me until now, wait for me a little longer. Suffer me, therefore, that I may lament my sorrow a little! (Job x, 20). Give me time to bewail, before Thou judgest me, the offences I have offered to Thee. I will no longer resist Thy calls. Who knows but the words which I have just read may be the last call for me? I acknowledge that I am unworthy of mercy. Thou hast so often pardoned me, and I have ungratefully offended Thee again. A contrite and humble heart, O God! Thou wilt not despise? Since, O Lord, Thou knowest not how to despise a contrite and humble heart, behold the penitent traitor who has recourse to Thee. For Thy mercy’s sake, cast me not away from Thy face. Thou bast said: Him that cometh to me I will not cast out (John vi, 37). It is true that I have outraged Thee more than others, because I have been favored more than others with Thy lights and graces. But the blood Thou hast shed for me encourages me, and offers me pardon if I repent. My Sovereign Good! I am sorry with my whole soul for having insulted Thee. Pardon me, and give me grace to love Thee for the future. I have offended Thee sufficiently. The remainder of my life I wish to spend, not in offending Thee, but only in weeping unceasingly over the insults I have offered to Thee, and in loving with my whole heart a God worthy of infinite love. O Mary, my hope! pray to Jesus for me.