It is a terrible subject for our consideration that God does nothing but threaten sinners with a bad death. I also will laugh in your destruction, and will mock. It is true that in whatever hour the sinner is converted, God has promised to pardon him, but God has not said that in death the sinner shall be converted. On the contrary, He has often declared that the sinner shall die in his sins. You shall die in your sins.
It is a terrible subject for our consideration that God does nothing but threaten sinners with an unhappy death: Then they shall call upon me, and I will not hear. (Prov. i. 28). Will God hear his cry when distress shall come upon him? (Job xxvii. 9). I also will laugh in your destruction, and will mock. (Prov. i. 26). God laughs when He will not show mercy. Revenge is mine, and I will repay them in due time, that their foot may slide; the day of destruction is at hand. (Deut. xxxii. 35). In many other places God threatens the same; and yet sinners live on in peace, as secure as if God had certainly promised them Paradise. It is true, that in whatever hour the sinner is converted, God has promised to pardon him; but He has not said that in death the sinner shall be converted; on the contrary, He has often declared that he who lives in sin shall die in sin: You shall die in your sins. (John viii. 21). He has said that he who seeks Him at the hour of death shall not find Him: You shall seek me and shall not find me. (John vii. 34). We must, then, seek God when He can be found: Seek ye the Lord while he may be found. (Is. lv. 6). Yes; because a time will come when He will not be found. Poor sinners! Poor blind ones, who wait to be converted till the hour of death, when there will be no more time for conversion. “The wicked,” says Oleaster, “will not learn to do good till there is no more time for doing it.” God wishes to save all, but He punishes the obstinate.
If perchance some unhappy sinner were to be seized with apoplexy, and deprived of his senses, what compassion would it not excite in all to see him dying without the Sacraments, and without a sign of repentance! And what joy would everyone experience if he came to himself again, begged for absolution, and made acts of contrition! But is he not mad, who, having time to do this, continues in sin, or returns to sin, and runs the risk of being surprised by death, when he perhaps may, or perhaps may not, repent? It is terrible to see a man die suddenly; and yet how many voluntarily incur the peril of dying thus, and of dying in sin!
Ah, my God, who would have had so much patience with me as Thou hast had! If Thy goodness were not infinite, I should despair of pardon. But I have to deal with a God Who died to obtain my pardon and my salvation. Thou commandest me to hope, and I will hope. If my sins alarm and condemn me, Thy merits and Thy promises give me courage. Thou hast promised Thy grace to whoever returns to Thee: Return ye and live. (Ezech. xviii. 32). Thou hast promised to embrace whoever turns to Thee: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you. (Zach. i. 3). Thou hast said Thou canst not despise an humble and contrite heart. (Ps. 1.). Behold me, Lord; I come again to Thee; I turn to Thee; I acknowledge that I deserve a thousand hells; and I repent of having offended Thee. I firmly promise never again to offend Thee, and always to love Thee.
Weight and balance are judgments of the Lord. (Prov. xvi. 11). We keep no account of the graces God bestows on us; but the Lord keeps an account of them and measures them; and when He sees them despised up to a certain point, He leaves the sinner in his sin, and in this state permits him to die. Miserable indeed is he who defers his repentance till death. “The repentance demanded of the sick is also itself sickly,” says St. Augustine. St. Jerome says, “that out of a hundred thousand sinners who continue in sin till their death, scarcely one merits indulgence from God in death.” St. Vincent Ferrer says, “that it would be a greater miracle if habitual evil-livers had a good end, than to raise the dead to life.” What sorrow, what repentance, can he conceive at the hour of death, who until then has loved sin? Bellarmine relates that having gone to assist a certain dying person, and having exhorted him to make an act of contrition, he replied that he did not know what contrition was. Bellarmine endeavoured to explain it to him; but the sick man said: “Father, I do not understand you; I am not capable of these things.” And thus he died, “leaving clear signs of his damnation,” as is recorded in the writings of Bellarmine. The just punishment of the sinner, says St. Augustine, will be, that having forgot God in his lifetime, he shall forget himself in death: “He is most justly struck, who having forgotten God in his lifetime, dies forgetful of himself.” Be not deceived, says the Apostle, God is not mocked: for what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall he reap corruption. (Gal. vi. 7). It would be mocking God to live despising His laws, and then to receive a reward and eternal glory; but God is not mocked. That which we sow in this life we shall reap in the next. He who sows forbidden pleasures of the flesh shall reap nothing but corruption, misery, and eternal death.
Dear Christian, that which is said for others is said likewise for you. Tell me, if you were now at the point of death, given over by your physicians, all your senses failing, and in your last agony, would you not then pray fervently to God to grant you another month, another week, to settle the affairs of your conscience? God gives you now this time. Return Him thanks, quickly repair the evil you have done, and take every means to restore yourself to a state of grace, and be so found when death comes; for then there will be no more time to remedy the past.
Ah, my God, do not permit me to live any longer ungrateful for so much goodness. Eternal Father, through the merits of the obedience of Jesus Christ, Who died to obey Thee, grant that I may obey Thy will until death. I love Thee, O my Sovereign Good; and through the love that I bear Thee, I will obey Thee in all things. Give me holy perseverance; give me Thy love, and I ask nothing more of Thee. Mary, my Mother, intercede for me.
(Monday Meditation for the Fourth Week of Lent – by St Alphonsus Liguori)