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Uncertainty of the Hour of Death

February 23, 2015 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Lent, Meditations, Preparation for Death


“Be you then also ready; for at what hour you think not, the Son of man will come.”
Luke 12:40

It is certain that we shall die; but the time of death is uncertain. “Nothing,” says Idiota, “is more certain than death; but nothing is more uncertain than the hour of death.” My brother, God has already determined the year, the month, the day, the hour, and the moment when I and you shall leave this earth and go into eternity; but this time is unknown to us. To exhort us to be always prepared, Jesus Christ tells us that death shall come, unawares, and like a thief in the night. ”The day of the Lord shall so come as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). He now tells us to be always vigilant; because, when we least expect him, he will come to judge us. “At what hour you think not, the Son of Man will come” (Luke 12:40). St. Gregory says that for our good God conceals from us the hour of death, that we may always be prepraed to die. “De morte incerti sumus, ut ad mortem semper parati inveniamur.” Since then, says St. Bernard, death may take away life at all times and in all places, we ought to live always in expectation of death. “Mors ubique te expectat: tu ubique eam expectabis.”

BerlinSteglitzVorMatthauskircheLeidAnDerMauer(UnexpectedDeath)All know that they shall die; but the misfortune is, that many view death at such a distance, that they lose sight of it. Even the old, the most decrepit, and the most sickly, flatter themselves that they shall live three or four years longer. But how many, I ask have we known, even in our own times, to die suddenly, some sitting, some walking, some sleeping? It is certain that not one of these imagined that he should die so unprovidedly, and on the day on which the stroke of death fell upon him. I say, moreover, that of all who have gone to the other world during the present year, no one imagined that he should die and end his days this year. Few are the deaths which do not happen unexpectedly.

When, therefore, Christian soul, the devil tempts you to sin, by saying, “To-morrow you will go to confession,” let your answer be, “How do I know but this shall be the last day of my life? If this hour, this moment, in which I would turn my back on God, were the last of my life, so that I should have no time for repentance, what would become of me for all eternity?” To how many poor sinners has it happened, that in the act of feasting on the poison of sin, they were struck dead and sent to hell! “As fishes are taken with the hook,” says Ecclesiastes, “so men are taken in the evil time” (cf Ecclesiastes 9:12). The evil time is that in which the sinner actually offends God. The devil tells you that this misfortune shall not happen to you; but you should say to him, in answer, “If it should happen to me, what shall be my lot forever?” [The Saint means this figuratively. One should never converse with the devil.]

Affections and Prayers

Lord, the place in which I ought to be at this moment, is not that in which I find myself, but hell, which I have so often merited by my sins. Infernus domus mea est. “Hell is my house.'* St. Peter says, “The Lord waiteth patiently for your sake, not willing that any one should perish, but that all should return to penance” (2 Peter 3:9). Then thou hast had so much patience with me, and hast waited for me because thou wishest me not to be lost, but to return to thee by repentance. My God, I return to thee; I cast myself at thy feet, and supplicate mercy. ”Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy.” Lord, to pardon me requires a great and extraordinary act of mercy, because I offended thee after I had been favored with a special light. Other sinners also have offended thee; but they have not received the light which thou gavest to me. But, in spite of all my sinfulness and ingratitude, thou dost command me to repent of my sins, and to hope for pardon. Yes, my Redeemer, I am sorry with my whole heart for having offended thee, and I hope for pardon through the merits of thy passion. Thou, my Jesus, though innocent, hast wished to die like a criminal on a cross, and to shed all thy blood in order to wash away my sins. “O sanguis innocentis, lava culpas poenitentis.” O blood of the Innocent, wash away the sins of a penitent. O eternal Father, pardon me for the sake of Jesus Christ. Hear his prayers, now that he intercedes for me and advocates my cause. But it is not enough to receive pardon; I desire also, O God worthy of infinite love, the grace to love thee; I love thee, O Sovereign Good, and I offer thee henceforth my body, my soul, my liberty, and my will. I wish henceforth to avoid not only grievous, but also venial offenses. I will fly from all evil occasions. Lead us not into temptation. For the love of Jesus Christ, preserve me from the occasions in which I would offend thee. But deliver us from evil. Deliver me from sin, and then chastise me as thou pleasest; I accept all infirmities, pains, and losses, which thou mayst be pleased to send me; it is enough for me not to lose thy grace and thy love. Ask and you shall receive. Thou dost promise to grant whatsoever we ask; I ask these two graces–holy perseverance and the gift of thy love. O Mary, mother of mercy, pray for me; in thee I hope.

Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).

Art: Berlin-Steglitz, Skulptur vor der Matthäuskirche: Dieter Popielaty: Leid an der Mauer (Suffering at the Wall, Dieter Popielaty, Sculpture in front of the St. Matthew Church:Berlin-Steglitz), 1965, Andreas Praefcke, own work, April 2009, CCA, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • LizEst

    Short answer: Yes, provided one is sincere in his/her contrition!

    I assume by reconciliation you mean the sacrament of reconciliation. God is merciful. And, he knows what is in our hearts. If someone does not have the recourse to the sacrament at the hour of death, and makes a perfect act of contrition, the Lord will hear him and have mercy. An example of this might be if someone is on a plane and the plane is about to crash and one makes a sincere act of perfect contrition. God can act outside of the sacraments. And, God would certainly know the person’s sincerity of contrition and their circumstances. A prime historical example of this is the good thief on the cross.

    But, lest anyone get the wrong idea, we are talking here about a situation where someone cannot avail themselves of the sacrament. If we can get to the sacrament, and we choose not to, because we believe God will forgive us anyway, this is the sin of presumption, which is an act of pride, not an attitude of humility before God. And, God does not look favorably on presumption.

    Canon 960 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law says “Individual and integral confession and absolution constitute the only ordinary means by which a member of the faithful conscious of grave sin is reconciled with God and the Church. Only physical or moral impossibility excuses from confession of this type; in such a case reconciliation can be obtained by others means.”

    The explanatory notes for the subsequent canon 961 go on to say, “…even in circumstances in which the law does not permit the celebration of general reconciliation [general reconciliation can only be had during extraordinary circumstances] without prior individual confession of sins, those conscious of grave sin may indeed receive divine pardon in view of the degree and kind of their contrition (‘perfect contrition’) apart from the sacrament itself. Such persons are nonetheless deprived of the grace of the sacrament of penance and share less perfectly in the dimension of ecclesial reconciliation.”

    May God bless you, Charles…and thanks for your question. Hope that this explanation helps.

    • Liz, there is also a very consoling explanation of what actually happens to a soul at the time of death between that soul and God in St. Faustina’s Diary – Divine Mercy in My Soul – Nos.1485 – 1489. The question asked by Charles is answered in Nos.1488 and 1489 – Conversation of the Merciful God with a Soul Striving after Perfection and Conversation of the Merciful God with a Perfect Soul, respectively.

      Sadly some of us, Liz – particularly this old gal – are in No.1485 – Conversation of the Merciful God with a Sinful Soul…So, Dear Liz, please remember her in your daily Prayers

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