Consider first, how precious a thing time is which we are so apt to squander away, as if it were of no value. Time is the measure of our lives; therefore as much as we lose of our time, so much of our lives is absolutely lost. All our time is given us, in order to our employing it in the service of our Maker, and by that means securing to our souls a happy eternity; and there is not one moment of it in which we may not store up for ourselves a treasure for eternity; so that, as many as we lose of these precious moments, they are so many lost eternities. Our time is a talent with which God has entrusted us, and of which he will one day demand of us a strict account how we have spent every hour of it. Our salvation or damnation for eternity will depend upon the good or bad use of our time. Ah! how little do we think of this? How little do we think of the sins we are daily guilty of, in squandering away so much of this precious time?
Consider 2ndly, how short is the whole time of this mortal life; a mere nothing compared with eternity, and how very quickly it passes away. When past 'tis gone - it is no more; it leaves no footsteps behind it. The time to come is not ours: we cannot promise ourselves one moment of it. The present time is all we can call our own, and God only knows how long it will be so. It fies away in an instant, and when once it is gone it cannot be called back. Our hours, one after another, all post away with precipitate haste into the vast gulf of eternity, and are swallowed up there, and then appear no more. The very moment in which we are reading this line is just passing, never, never more to return. And as many of these hours, as many of these moments as are once lost are lost for ever: the loss is irreparable. Learn hence, O my soul, to set a just value upon thy present time - learn to husband it well, and employ it all to the best advantage.
Consider 3rdly, that as all time is short and passes quickly away, so all the temporal enjoyments of the honours, riches, and pleasures of this world are of the like condition: they all pass away with time - they are all transitory, uncertain, and inconstant. Only eternity and the goods or evils which it comprises, are truly great, as being without end, without change, without comparison; admitting of no mixture of evil in its goods, nor any alloy of comfort in its evils. O how quickly does the glory of this world pass away! How very soon will all temporal grandeur, all worldly pride and state, all the riches and pleasures of worldlings, be buried in the coffin! A few short years are more than any one can promise himself. and after that, poor sinner, what will become of thee? Alas! the worms will prey upon thy body, and merciless devils on thy unrepenting soul! Thy worldly friends will all forget thee. The very stone on which thou hast got thy name engraved will not long outlive thee. O how true is that sentence: 'vanity of vanities, and all is vanity but to love God, and to serve him alone!' - Kempis.
Conclude to make such use of this present time and of all temporary things as to make them serviceable to thy soul in her journey towards eternity. But take care not to let thy heart cleave to them by any disorderly affection, lest thou be entangled in them and perish with them.
Consider first, how the blessed Virgin having now conceived In her womb the Son of God, and having learned from the angel Gabriel that her kinswoman St. Elizabeth had also, by a miracle, conceived a son in her old age, makes haste to visit her, and being now full of God herself, carries her treasure with her to the house of Zachary to impart, out of the abundance of it, grace and sanctity both to the mother and to the son. See, my soul, how the Son of God, incarnate for us, whilst he is yet in his mother's womb, begins to communicate his graces, not only to his blessed mother herself, by elevating her soul daily more and more to a greater fullness of grace, but also to John Baptist, his forerunner, (by sanctifying him before he was born,) and to holy St. Elizabeth, by filling her with the Holy Ghost and making his blessed mother the instrument of these wonders. Give ear to the gospel, Luke i. 39, &c. 'Mary rising up in those days went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. And she entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary the infant leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost, and she cried with a loud voice and said: Blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord,'
&c. This visitation, so full of mysteries, and the source of so many
extraordinary graces, is honoured by the church in the festival of this day.
Consider 2ndly, more in particular the wonders of this day's visit. See how at the first voice of the mother of God, by the all-powerful grace of him whom she bears in her womb, the Baptist is immediately cleansed from original sin. See how he is justified and sanctified in his mother's womb; see how the use of reason is advanced in him, and how in that darksome prison he is made sensible of the presence of the 'true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world;' see with what ardour of devotion and love he is carried towards his Lord and his sovereign good, and leaps for joy at his presence - longing as it were to break forth from his confinement, and to go before him and publish aloud to all the world, 'Behold the Lamb of God! Behold him that taketh away the sin of the world!' John i. 29. But see also the wonderful lights and extraordinary graces that are communicated to St. Elizabeth by this visitation; see how she is filled with the Holy Ghost; see in how clear a manner the great mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, with all its consequences and fruits, is revealed to her. What a sense she has of the high dignity of the virgin mother of God, and with what ardour of devotion she publishes aloud the sentiments of her soul, and glorifies both the Son and the mother, acknowledging herself infinitely unworthy of so great a favour as that of a visit from them. Bless the Lord, my soul, for all these wonders of his grace, and learn with what sentiments of devotion, with what faith, with what hope, with what love, with what humility thou oughtest to draw near to the same Lord on our altars, lying hid in the sacred mysteries. Learn also what extraordinary graces may be drawn form this inexhaustible source of all grace, as also how great the benefit is of his visiting mankind, by his 'being made flesh and dwelling amongst us;' and how powerful and effectual is the intercession of his blessed mother for the procuring from him the greatest blessings for Christian souls.
Consider 3rdly, how the soul of the virgin mother was affected upon this occasion. She has expressed the sentiments of her heart in that admirable canticle she then pronounced. 'My soul,' saith she, 'doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is his name,' &c. See, my soul, in these words, as well as in all the rest of that divine canticle, the wonderful sense this blessed virgin had of the infinite goodness and mercy of God in the great work of the incarnation of his Son; her exceeding great joy in God, joined with love and praise on that occasion; her gratitude for her having been freely chosen by the divine bounty to be the happy instrument of God in effecting that admirable work, and her most profound humility in ascribing nothing at all to herself, but giving all the glory to God; and for admiring his wonderful ways, in choosing for so great a work so weak, so mean, so lowly an instrument as she esteemed herself. Learn, O my soul, to imitate these her sentiments.
Conclude to give thanks to our Lord for all his wonders wrought at this visitation, and for the many visits with which he so frequently favours thee. Beware lest any want of correspondence on thy part deprive thee of thy share in the great blessings and graces which he usually imparts to such souls as give proper entertainment to his divine visits.
Consider first, how great a treasure time is when well employed. Every hour of it is of far greater value than all the kingdoms of the earth; because in every hour of it, if well employed, we may purchase an eternal kingdom in heaven; but all the kingdoms of the earth put together are not able to purchase for the dying sinner one hour of time in his greatest want of it. Ah! 'tis then that sinners will begin to be convinced of the value of time and of the infinite importance of employing it well when they shall see themselves upon the brink of eternity, and when there shall be no more time for them. But O! what would not the damned in hell give for one of these hours? And how well would they employ it if it could be allowed them? But alas! they would not work whilst the time was, whilst they had the daylight before them; and now the dismal and eternal night has overtaken them in which there is no time to work, and in which they shall, with bitter but fruitless repentance, eternally condemn their past folly and madness in misemploying and squandering away during life so much precious time. O Christians, let us learn to be wise at their expense!
Consider 2ndly, the strict obligation incumbent upon us all of employing our whole time to the best advantage. Our time is not our own; it belongs to our maker, it is lent us by our Lord and master. The servant is strictly bound to employ his time in the service of his master; he is both an idle and a wicked servant if, being hired to work, he spends his time in play. What must we, than, think of ourselves if, being made and sent into this world by our great master for nothing else but to spend the short time of our mortal life in serving him and doing his will, we squander it all away in empty amusements, worldly diversions and vanities, or in doing our own will rather than his? Ah! Christians, deceive not yourselves; such a crying injustice as this calls to heaven for vengeance; the wasting and destroying so much of your master's precious time (more precious by far than all the goods of the world) will never pass unpunished. If you are to be accountable for every idle word, how much more for every idle hour? O! reflect how much it cost your dear redeemer to purchase for you this time. By sin you had forfeited your life, and consequently your time, and incurred the guilt of a double death; and whatsoever time God has allowed you since your sin has been purchase for you by the blood of Christ, in order to your repentance and a new life. It has cost him an infinite price, it belongs to him, the alienating it from him is a robbery; it is a sacrilege, it is perverting to your greater damnation what he purchased for your salvation.
Consider 3rdly, the immense treasures of grace, and the everlasting glory, that may be continually stored up by a good employment of time. There is not one moment of all the time of this mortal life in which if well employed, we may not purchase a new degree of eternal bliss. Now, every degree of eternal bliss is something infinitely more precious and more desirable than all the riches and all the kingdoms of the earth. What a loss is it then to lose any of these happy moments! it is losing so many immense and eternal treasures. A loss so great that if the happy state of the blessed in heaven could admit of any such thing as grief, they would certainly regret, to all eternity, all those moments of the time of their mortal pilgrimage which they had not employed to the best advantage; when they shall clearly see, in the light of God, what an immense increase of eternal glory and happiness they might have acquired by the due employment of all those precious moments.
Conclude to have ever before thy eyes the infinite advantages that are to be found in employing well thy time, and the strict obligation thou hast of spending it all in the service of thy maker; and his according to his ordinance, and agreeable to the end for which he sent thee hither, and for which he gives thee all thy time. And ever remember that in his account all that time will be considered as idly spent, and quite squandered away, that has not been dedicated to the doing his will.
Consider first, those words of the wise man, (Eccles. vii. 40,) ‘In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin;’
and reflect how true it is that the memory of the four last things has a wonderful efficacy to restrain the soul from sin, and to take off the heart from the affections to it. The remembrance of death, the view of the grave, of the coffin, of the shroud, of the worms, and the maggots, and of the speedy corruption of that carcass of ours; the serious and frequent consideration of the necessity of our quickly parting with all that we love in this world, and of our being forsaken and presently forgotten by all, must needs humble our pride and vain-glory, abate our fondness for this world and its deluding toys, check our sensual and carnal inclinations, and keep all our passions under. ‘O! the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,’ can never endure the sight of the grave. But then when we look beyond the grave, and meditate on leisure on the strict account we must one day give to an all-wise, all-powerful, and most just Judge, who cannot endure iniquity; when we consider that his eye is ever upon all our thoughts, words, and works, and that they are all to be weighed in the sales of his divine justice, and according as they are there found we are to be rewarded or punished for endless ages, and to be either infinitely happy, or infinitely miserable – how is it possible that in the midst of such considerations as these we should dare to sin!
Consider 2ndly that the remembrance of the four last things wonderfully serves to correct the errors of worldlings, to open their eyes to truth, and to shut them to vanity. The transitory things of this world, its goods, and its evils, as we call them, are apt to make a great impression upon our poor souls, shut up as they are in this earthly prison. We take them for something; we are fond of honour, riches, and pleasures, as if they were solid goods; and we are afraid of contempt, poverty, and pain, as if they were real evils. but the meditating on our last end undeceives us; it quickly convinces us that all is nothing that passes with time; that nothing is truly great but what is eternal; that those things deserve not the name of goods that contribute nothing to make us either good here or happy hereafter; and that those are no evils which help to bring us to an infinite good. In fine, as to all the false maxims of the world, and the prevailing opinions and practices of its unhappy slaves and their abettors, this kind of consideration on the last things exposes the folly and madness of them all, and sets them in such a light as to determine the soul to adhere no longer to such perverse and erroneous notions as will certainly be changed at death, condemned at the last judgment, and if not recalled in time, punished in hell for all eternity.
Consider 3rdly, the manifold fruits which have been heretofore and are daily produced by the serious consideration of the four last things. Even the most hardened sinners have often been converted from their wicked ways to a penitential life by the terror of these thundering truths, death, judgment, hell, eternity. The preaching, the reading, and meditating on these truths has sent numbers into deserts or religious houses, there to secure their eternal salvation by a saintly life; and such considerations as these have generally laid the first foundations even of the most eminent sanctity. O what lessons may we not learn among the silent monuments of the dead, who made some noise heretofore in the world, but now are thought of no more! What lectures, what instructions, what exhortations, may we not daily receive, by attending in spirit to the trials at the great bar; by going down while we are alive into the darksome dungeons below, and viewing at leisure what is doing there, and by ascending up into heaven and contemplating those happy mansions of eternal bliss, prepared for the reward of the momentary labours and sufferings of the servants of God? O let us daily frequent these schools.
Conclude to make it thy practice to think often on these important subjects, which so nearly concern thy everlasting welfare. It will be a sovereign means to prevent an unprovided death; it will teach thee to be always in readiness for judgment; it will keep thee out of hell, and bring thee to heaven
Consider first, that there is nothing more certain than death, ‘It is appointed for all men once to die, and after that judgment,’
Heb. ix. 27. The sentence is general – it is pronounced upon all the children of Adam, Eccles. xli. 5. Neither riches, nor dignity, nor strength, nor wisdom, nor all the power of the world, can exempt any one from this common doom. From the first moment of our birth we are hastening towards our death; every moment brings us nearer to it. The day will come when we shall never see the night; or the night will come when the sun will rise no more to us. The day will most certainly come when thou, my soul, who art reading these lines, must bid a long farewell to this cheating world and to all thou hast admired therein, and even to thy own body, the individual companion of thy life, and take thy journey to another country, a strange and unknown land to thee, where all thou settest a value on here will appear like smoke. O learn then to despise all these perishable things, and to set thy heart on nothing, since all must be taken away by death.
Consider 2ndly, that death is not only certain, but generally speaking much nigher than we imagine. If ever we look upon death, ‘tis generally with the wrong end of the perspective glass, that removes the object to a greater distance, when indeed it is very near. We are apt to flatter ourselves, with the worldling in the gospel, Luke xii., with the expectation of many years’ enjoyment of our worldly goods and pleasures, and when we least of all expect it, we are called away; we must suddenly be gone. ‘Thou fool,’ saith our Lord, ‘this night do they require thy soul of thee, and whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?’ Thousands are dying this very hour thoughout the world, and perhaps not one of them all but expected to have lived many more years. We daily hear of sudden deaths; we daily hear of young and strong people carried off by short sicknesses in the very flower of their age, and why will we deceive ourselves? why will we vainly imagine ourselves out of the reach of these arrows of death, that are falling so thick on all sides of us? ‘Ah! fool, why dost thou think to live long, when thou are not sure of one day?’ – Kempis.
Consider 3rdly, the wretched blindness and stupidity of mortals, that think so little of death, and live as if they were always to be here; and by this means expose themselves every day to the dreadful danger of dying in their sins. And yet, alas! all this while they cannot be ignorant that death is continually following them at their heels; they even carry it about with them in the frail composition of their mortal frame. All the things about them, by their continual fading, remind them of their mortality. They daily see or hear of deaths or burials, or meet with the monuments of the dead, who from their silent tombs cease not to admonish them, in the words of the wise man, Eccles. xxxviii., ‘Remember my judgment: for thine also shall be so; yesterday for me, and to-day for thee.’ O my soul, do thou at least give ear to this admonition; keep death always before thy eyes, and when it comes thou shalt have nothing to fear.
Conclude, since thou must quickly be gone from hence, to set thy house now in order, and to make all necessary provisions for that long journey which thou must shortly take; and ever strive to be such in life as thou desirest to be found in death.
Consider first, that death is the passage from time to eternity. If we die well, it will be well with us for all eternity; but if we die ill, it will be ill with us for endless ages; so that upon this one moment of death depends a long eternity. But when shall this moment come? When shall we die? shall it be this night or to-morrow? Shall it be a week, a month, a year hence, &c.? Oh! of all this we know nothing at all, only that it will be when we least look for it. For our Lord has assured us, that he will come like a thief in the night; that is when we least think on it, Luke xii. And therefore he tells us we must always watch, and always be ready, for if we are surprised and die in our sins we are lost for ever.
Consider 2ndly, that we are not only wholly ignorant of the time of our death, but also of all other circumstances relating to it. We neither know the place where we shall die, nor the manner how we shall die; nor whether our death will be violent or natural, by fever or consumption, gentle or sharp, of quick despatch, or more lingering, at home or abroad, whether our last illness will deprive us of our senses or no; whether we shall have the assistance of our ghostly father, and the helps of the sacraments; what dispositions or souls will then be in; or what ability we shall then have to make proper use of those last moment upon which our all depends for eternity. Alas! all these things are quite hidden from us; no wit, no learning, no wisdom upon earth can help any man to the knowledge of any one of these things. O let this dreadful uncertainty of all the particulars that relate to our death determine us to live always in the expectation and preparation for death; that we may not have that great work to do at a time when we shall have no convenience or ability to do it.
Consider 3rdly, that death being so certain, and the time and manner of it uncertain, it would be no small satisfaction to a poor sinner if he could die more than once; that so, If he had the misfortune once to do ill, he might repair the fault, by taking more care a second time. But, alas! we can die but once, and when once we have set our foot within the gates of eternity, there is no coming back, and if it be a miserable eternity into which we have stept, there is no redemption; we pass from death to a second death, to the very extremity of misery, without end or remedy. O once; and can never try or practice beforehand! O my soul, see then thou take care to study well this important lesson by a continual preparation for death.
Conclude to make it the great business of thy life to learn to die well. Remember there is no security against an evil death but a good life; everything else leaves thee exposed to dreadful uncertainties.
Consider first, that the preparing for death is a business of the utmost importance; it is the great business of life. We came into this world as pilgrims and travellers, to make the best of our way towards our true and everlasting home, a happy eternity. The great business of our whole life is to secure this happy eternity, and nothing else can secure it but a good death. This is the necessary gate, through which we must pass to eternal life – if we think of arriving at it by any other way, we shall miss the road. A good death then must be the study and business of our whole life; our whole life ought to be a preparation for it. Happy they who are continually preparing for it by a good life! Unhappy they who defer their preparation for their death-bed; and thereby put the issue of an eternity upon the poor chance of a death-bed performance!
Consider 2ndly, the great but general error of men, who promise themselves to do great things in point of devotion and contrition, when they are sick and like to die; and upon the confidence of this are often careless in preparing for death, during the time of their health. Alas! how strangely will they one day find themselves deceived! For if a small pain or indisposition be at any time enough to spoil all our devotion, what must a mortal illness be, when either the dullness and stupidity caused by the distemper, or the anguish of body and mind, scarce allow of any application at all of our thoughts to the greatest of all our concerns? O my soul, see thou suffer not thyself to be thus imposed upon. Do now all thou art able; prepare thyself now for thy last end, by daily and fervent acts of devotion and contrition; every night strive to put thyself in the condition in which thou desirest to be found at thy death; but never tempt God by designing to live in sin and then to die in grace, or by expecting, at thy death so extraordinary a miracle of grace, as to pass from being a slave all thy lifetime to sin and Satan, to thy loving God. No, God is not to be mocked in this manner.
Consider 3rdly, that the best manner of preparing for death is to die daily to our sinful inclinations and passions; to the love of the world, and of the flesh, and to our own unhappy self-love, the root of all other evils; and this by the means of a general mortification and self-denial. This is that great lesson, perpetually inculcated by the Son of God in the gospel, of leaving all to follow him, of disengaging our hearts from all things else, of renouncing our dearest affections for his sake, of denying and hating ourselves in this world, that so we may save our souls, and possess our God for ever in the world to come. O how sweet, how happy, how secure, shall our death be, if it finds us thus untied from the earth, and all earthly clogs! O how shall we then long for the wings of the dove, to fly away from this land of misery and sin, and to repose eternally in God!
Conclude to be ever preparing thyself for death, by refraining from all that thou wouldst then wish not to have done; and by living every day, and doing every work, as if it were to be the last of thy life, and thou shalt not fail to die happily.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
Liturgia Latina Index