Behold here a bright, joyous and lively youth, snatched from the enjoyment of life by death. He is being carried out of the town to be buried, and he was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. Friends were walking after the bier, the disconsolate mother resting on the arm of a friend. The widow had suffered a great loss, for this son was her sole support, her help, her consolation; her sorrow affected the whole community, and all went forth to show their sympathy. It is absolutely true, and it seems foolish to state such a truism, that every man must at some time die.
"It is appointed unto men once to die." Death does not respect time, place, person or age; it comes at the appointed hour. Death will grasp those who are to be its victims in any place, on land or on sea, in the house, in the church, wherever he finds them, he cuts the thread of life and the end has come. In the midst of pleasure, many deaths are known to have occurred, even in the mad whirl of the dance.
Death does not wait for an opportune time; when you are ready, or when you have gained the object of your ambition, or finished a certain work which you were to do, day or night, it is all alike to him; old age, of course, has to go; youth is so frequently called that he cannot promise himself any time; the average life of man is twenty-two years, and even during this time you may be called upon at any moment. Neither is death restricted in the mode of his execution. He needs no fever, no convulsions, no consumption, in short no particular sickness; he cuts off the thread of life just because your race is over. Look at the fish still struggling in the water to gpt away from the angler; it is soon drawn to the shore, palpitating and jumping, and a few moments will seal its doom, soon all ,will be over. The net is perhaps enveloping as, too; we are as lively as ever and think little of death, but the net will be drawn to the shore and the end has come.
Many are called out of this world without the least warning. One drops on the road, another drowns, one is struck by lightning, another is cut down by the hand of an assassin; all these never dreamed that death was so near, and thought they had many more years to live.
Our Lord tells us the hour of death is very uncertain, for He says: "Watch ye, therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour. ... Be you also ready, because at what hour you know not the Son of man will come." He even tells us that He steals secretly upon us.
"The day of the Lord shall so come as a thief in the night.'^ Death may come to you in your sleep, or when you are at play. Cannot death as easily cut your life short when you are committing sin? And if death should come upon you without giving you time to prepare for the dread future, not even by a single good thought, what would become of your soul? Might it not be possible that you would find yourself in hell? When this is possible is it not presumption and temerity to remain one day in mortal sin? Who of us, even for a short time, would like to lie alongside a corpse, and yet we go to bed without hesitation when our soul is dead in sin. Do we not know that mortal sin hastens death; for we read that " the sting of death is sin." It is not fasting, abstinence or mortification that shortens life, but the sins, the vices, the passions we are subject to. Those bad communions, those sacrilegious confessions, our cold ingratitude shorten our lives. "The years of the wicked shall be shortened," and again we read: He "was wicked in the sight of the Lord and was slain by Him." Of one who committed a heinous crime it is said "for that the Lord struck him, because he had done a detestable thing."
Once when Anastasius in his dreams was plotting great cruelties against the people, he saw before him a man of horrible appearance who had a book in which was written his sins: "See," he said, "I shall take fourteen years from the number of your days." Anastasius woke up, but was not certain whether he ought to treat the dream as a warning or as a foolish delusion. A few days afterwards thunder and lightning came down from a clear sky. Anastasius was terror-stricken, for an interior voice seemed to say to him that this terrible demonstration, was intended for him; thereupon he hid himself in a closet, but a stroke of lightning came down and killed him in his hiding-place.
Do not these texts of the Bible and these simple anecdotes prove to us that God has sometimes shortened the lives of sinners? We can conclude, therefore, that all sins, not perhaps so markedly, but as surely, bring about the same consequences.
And this ought to be a lesson to you, my dear young friends, for would you not call a halt to your sins if you knew positively that you were shortening your days by exciting the wrath of the Almighty, to say nothing of the sickness that indulgence in vice brings about?
The thought of the nearness of death is a salutary means to curb our passions. Look at the flower; no sooner is its beauty fully developed than its decay is at hand. Look at the waters of the fountain; for a while they sparkle in the basin in which they are born, but they soon run away and are seen no more. Look from your window at the glorious sun shining brilliantly in the zenith, and then setting behind the horizon for the night; remember that all this is a figure of death. Holy Job kept the memory of death in his mind, comparing it sometimes to the rapid passage of a runner, to the leaf blown along by the wind, to the flower, to the passing storm. But what conclusion does light-hearted youth draw from the short-lived pleasures of this world? On them there is produced no serious impression. If our life disappears like a speck of dust, let us enjoy it while we may. even though in doing so we sin. Ah, my dear young friends, this is all wrong; you should work as though this were the last day of your life; pray as though it were for the last time; go to confession and communion as if they were the last you were to make. This is the way to make your life profitable, and then the Judge will be a welcome visitor, because you are prepared for Him, and you have not been taken unawares.
"Blessed is that servant, whom when his lord shall come, he shall find so doing." Wake up, my good young people, and do something for eternity; give up those vices and sins which will be your eternal damnation; bewail the crimes which have so far led you astray, and God will take you by the hand, raise you from death, and give you eternal life.
Source: Sermons for Children's Masses, Imprimatur 1900