Life is a journey to eternity
10 November 2021
An extract from St Alphonsus Liguori’s Preparation for Death
Death, judgment, heaven and hell should be frequently contemplated by a Christian, but especially in the month of November, the Church asks us to do that and pray for the faithful departed. It would be difficult to find a better aid for reflecting on the four last things than the classic Preparation for Death by St Alphonsus Liguori.
St Alphonsus looks at death not only as a certainty, but virtually the only thing one can be sure of in this life. Yet, he sees, how many find themselves unprepared. This was true in his time, but today, when faithless men seek to remove death from the public eye entirely, this is especially the case. However, death for which one has prepared well is a fruit of a life one has lived well. And the other way around, St Alphonsus’s practical advice for living well was simply to “spend the remaining days of life with death before your eyes”.
St Alphonsus’s counsels for a good and holy death are worth knowing and revisiting by every Christian who wishes to prepare well for his birth to eternal life. The following short extract is taken from the 1869 Rivingtons (London) edition of Preparation for Death.
Consideration XIV: Life is a journey to eternity
“Man goeth to his long home.” (Eccles. 12:5)
“Man goeth to his long home,” says the Prophet. “Goeth” signifying that each one “goeth” to that home which he chooses; he will not be carried there, but he will go there of his own accord. It is certain that God wills all, but He will not force all, to be saved. “Before man is life and death.” He has placed before each of us life and death; and “that which he shall choose shall be given him.” (Ecclus. 15:18) Similarly, Jeremiah says, that the Lord has given to us two ways in which to walk; the one of heaven, the other of hell. “I set before you the way of life, and the way of death.” (Jer. 21:8) It remains with us to choose. But how can he who chooses to walk in the way of hell, ever hope to find himself in heaven? It is a great truth that all sinners desire to be saved, and meanwhile they condemn themselves to hell, by saying, “I hope to save myself”. But who ever, says St Augustine, is so mad as to take poison with the hope of being cured? And yet so many Christians, so many who are mad, condemn themselves to death by sinning, with the saying, “Afterwards, I will think of the remedy”. O deceit, which has ordered so many to hell!
Let us not be so mad as these; let us remember that it concerns eternity. How great pains do men take, to build themselves a house, convenient, airy, and healthy, considering that they will have to dwell in it all their lives! And why then are they so careless about that home in which they will have to dwell for eternity? “Eternity is the object for which we contend,” says St Eucher; not to treat of a home more or less convenient, more or less airy, but of a resting, either in a place full of all delights amongst the friends of God; or in a pit, full of every torment amongst an infamous crew of so many wicked heretics and idolaters. And for how long a time? Not for twenty, nor for forty years, but for all eternity. It is an all important point; it is not an affair of small moment, but one of vast moment. When Sir Thomas More was condemned to death by Henry VIII, his wife, Louisa, tried to persuade him to submit himself to the will of Henry; but he said to her, “Tell me, Louisa, for you see how old I am now, how many years do you think I may be able to live?” She answered, “You might live for twenty years.” “O foolish tradeswoman!” he lovingly said; “for another twenty years of life on this earth, you would have me forfeit a happy eternity, and condemn myself to an eternity of pain.”
O God, give us light! If this question of eternity were doubtful, or a probable opinion only, even then we ought to make it our whole study to live well, so as not to expose ourselves to the danger of being eternally unhappy, if ever this opinion should prove true. But not so. This point is not doubtful, but certain; it is not an opinion, but an article of faith, “Man goeth to his long home.” Alas! says St Teresa, that the want of faith should be such, as to cause so great sins, and the condemnation of so many Christians. Let us then ever rekindle faith by saying, I believe “in the life everlasting”. I believe that after this life, there is another life which shall never end, and with this thought always before the eyes, let us seize the means to secure our eternal salvation. Let us frequent the Holy Sacrament; let us every day meditate, and reflect upon eternal life; let us flee from opportunities which are dangerous; and, if necessary, let us leave the world, since no security can be enough to make sure of this great point of eternal salvation. St Bernard says, “That no security is excessive, where eternity is in danger.”
Affections and Prayers
Therefore, my God, there is not a middle way; either I must be happy for ever, or for ever unhappy; either in a sea of delights, or in a sea of torments; either ever with Thee in paradise, or for ever afar off and separated from Thee in hell. I know for certain that I have often merited this hell; but I also know that Thou dost pardon him who repents, and that Thou deliverest from hell him who hopes in Thee. Thou assurest me of it, “He shall call upon me, and I will hear him ... I will deliver him, and bring him to honour.” (Ps. 95:15) Make haste, then, my Lord, make haste to pardon me and to deliver me from hell, I repent, O Highest Good, above every other evil, the having offended Thee; make haste to restore me to Thy favour, and give to me Thy holy love. If I were now in hell I could no longer love Thee, I should be compelled to hate Thee for ever. O my God, what evil hast Thou done to me that I should hate Thee? Thou hast loved me even unto death. Thou art worthy of infinite love. O Lord, do not allow me again ever to be separated from Thee. I love Thee, and I will ever love Thee, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ (Rom. 8:35) O my Jesus, sin alone can separate me from Thee. Permit it not, I pray Thee, by that Blood which Thou hast shed for me. Suffer me sooner to die.
 St Alphonsus refers to St Thomas More’s wife as Louisa, otherwise known as Alice.