Be ye ready. The Lord does not tell us to prepare ourselves, but to be prepared, when death arrives. When death comes, it will be almost impossible, in that tempest and confusion, to give ease to a troubled conscience. This reason tells us: this, God threatens, saying that then He will come, not to pardon but to avenge, the contempt of His graces. Revenge is mine, I will repay. (Rom. 12:19) It is, says St. Augustine, a just punishments that he who was unwilling, when he was able to save his soul, will not be able when he is willing. But you will say: Perhaps I may still be converted and saved. Would you throw yourself into a deep well, saying perhaps I may not be drowned? O God! how sin blinds the understanding and deprives the soul of reason. When there is question of the body, men speak rationally; but when the soul is concerned, they speak like fools.
My brothers, who knows but this point which you read is the last warning that God may send you? Let us immediately prepare for death, that it may not come upon us without giving us time to prepare for judgment. St. Augustine says that God conceals from us the last day of life, that we may be always prepared to die. St. Paul tell us that we must work out our salvation, not only with fear, but also with trembling. (Phil. 2:12) St. Antonine relates that a certain King of Sicily, to make one of his subjects understand the fear with which he sat on the throne, commanded him to sit at table with a sword suspended over him by a slender thread. The apprehension that the thread might give way filled him with so much terror that he could scarcely taste the food. We are all in like danger; for the sword of death, on which our eternal salvation depends, may at any moment fall upon us.
It is indeed a question of eternity. If the tree fall to the south or to the north, in which place soever it shall fall there shall it lie. (Eccles. 11:3) If, when death comes, we are found in the grace of God, oh! with what joy shall we say: I have secured all; I can never again lose God; I shall be happy forever. But, if death finds a soul in sin, with what despair will it exclaim, “Ergo erravimus!”—therefore I have erred; and for my error there will be no remedy for all eternity. The fear of an unhappy eternity made the Venerable Father Avila, apostle of Spain, say, when the news of death was brought to him: Oh! that I had a little more time to prepare for death! This fear made the Abbot Agatho, who spent so many years in penance, say in death: What will become of me? Who can know the judgment of God? St. Arsenius, too, trembled at the hour of death; and being asked by his disciples, why he was so much alarmed he said: “My children this fear is not new to me; I have had it always during my whole life.” Above all, holy Job trembled when he said: What shall I do when the Lord shall rise to judge? and when he shall examine, what shall I answer?