Chapter 23 – Thoughts on Death
Thoughts on Death
The last few chapters we have gone through were such as to awaken in us very earnest thoughts. Life is earnest: as followers of Jesus it becomes us to take an earnest view of it. And here, now, comes a chapter on death! Do not be frightened, my little reader. You must die once, as well as I; hence these few thoughts on death are for you just as well as they are for me. To introduce them, let me tell you a short story.
A merchant and a sailor once got into a friendly conversation. Amongst other things the merchant asks: “Pray, tell me, my friend, what kind of a death did your father have?”
“My father, like my grandfather and great-grandfather before him, died by drowning in the sea,” replied the sailor.
“And you still venture to go out on the sea? Are you not afraid that you, also, shall have to die by drowning, someday?”
“No. Why should I be afraid? Tell me, what kind of a death did your father, grandfather, and great-grandfather die?” asks the sailor in turn.
“They all died in their beds,” answered the merchant.
“Do you see, now,” remarked the sailor. “Why should I be more afraid to go to sea, than you are to go to bed?”
From this, we can collect the following thoughts: though it is uncertain when, and where, and how we shall die, it is quite certain—nothing, indeed, more certain—than once we have to die, each and every one of us. As sure as you live, you will have to die. Impress this thought on you mind and heart: the angel of death stands on your way; you cannot escape him!
You are young and healthy, but who knows? Will you have your health long? Will you grow old? God only knows that. You can hurry on Death, so that he will cut you off sooner, but you cannot keep him away so that he will never come.
A certain child, once, was reported to have died. Somebody went to the house to see if the report was true.
“My child dead!” said the father, laughing, “That’s funny! The boy is as well as I am. Come in and see for yourself. Ha! Ha! That’s a good sign anyhow; people say that when one is reported dead this way, he will surely have a long and happy life.”
But people’s saying doesn’t help. When it is time for Death to come, he comes, and no one can keep him away. That child died only a few weeks later. The boy was taken sick suddenly, and in a few hours he was a corpse.
There is a life after death—an eternal life. This is certain. As sure as Jesus, our Saviour, rose from the grave and is living again, so sure is it that we, too, must rise from the grave again one day, then to live, body and soul united, for an eternity. Our lot will be an eternity, either of happiness or misery, and this lot, remember, depends on the kind of life we lead now, and the kind of death we shall die once.
We do not want to be foolish, do we? No; we want to act wisely. Jesus says: “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching.” And The Following of Christ remarks: “How happy and how prudent is he who now striveth to be in life what he would fain be found in death!”
Hence, you must avoid sin, now and as long as you live. You must neither dare to commit mortal sin, nor live in it for one hour. Death might overtake you suddenly; then, what? “Behold! I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth!”
Correct your bad habits; now is the time! Do not carry them with you all through life. If you bring them with you to your deathbed, they will press heavily on your heart. They will be thorns in your pillow, tormenting you in your dying hour.
Do your good works now, for “the night cometh, when no man can work.” Say your prayers every day; go to the sacraments often; attend divine service faithfully on Sundays and holydays; take paint to hear, read, and meditate on the Word of God; be charitable according to the means which God has given you. Thomas a Kempis admonishes: “Study so to live, that in the hour of death, thou mayest be able rather to rejoice than to fear.”
Above all, do everything with a good intention. You know how, for you have often been told. It is very important—this good intention. May Jesus help us, and the Blessed Virgin pray for us, that we may not, at the end of our lives, have to exclaim, with St. Peter: “We have labored all night, and have taken nothing.” These are the few “Thoughts on Death,” I tried to gather for you into this chapter.
For the conclusion, the first verse of Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life:”
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
And a word from Thomas a Kempis: “Blessed is the man that hath the hour of his death continually before his eyes, and daily putteth himself in order to death.”