Of the Thoughts of Death

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Of the Thoughts of Death

"A very little while and all will be over with thee here. See to it, how it stands with thee in the next life. Man to-day is, and to-morrow he is seen no more. And when he is taken away from the sight, he is quickly also out of mind. Oh, the dullness and the hardness of the human heart, that dwelleth only upon things present, instead rather of providing for those which are to come! Thou shouldest so order thyself in every deed and thought as if thous wert immediately to die. If thou hadst a good conscience, thou wouldst not much fear death. If thou were better to shun sin than to fly death. If thou art not prepared to-day, how wilt thou be to-morrow? To-morrow is an uncertain day; and how knowest thou if thou shalt have to-morrow?

2. Of what use is it to live long, when we advance so little? Ah, long life doth not always amend us; nay, oftentimes doth rather augment our guilt. Would that even for one day we behaved ourselves well in the world! Many count the years of their conversion; but oftentimes the fruit of amendment is little. It is a fearful thing to die, perhaps it will be still more dangerous to live longer. Blessed is the man that hath the hour of his death continually before his eyes, and daily putteth himself in order for death. If thou hast at any time seen a person die, reflect that thou too must pass the same way.

3. When it is morning, think thou wilt not live till evening. And when evening comes, venture not to promise thyself the next morning. Be, therefore, always in readiness, and so live that death may never find thee unprepared. Many die suddenly and unprovidedly, for the Son of man will come at the hour when He is not looked for. When that last hour shall have come, then thou wilt begin to think far otherwise of all thy past life; and great will thy grief that thou hast been so neglectful and remiss.

4. How happy and how prudent is he who now striveth to be in life what he would fain be found in death. For it will give great confidence of dying happily to have a perfect contempt of the world, a fervent desire to advance in virtue, a love of discipline, the spirit of penance, readiness of obedience, abnegation of self, and patience to bear any kind of adversity for the love of Christ. Many are the good works thou canst do while in health; but when thou art sick, I know not what thou wilt be able to do. Few are improved by sickness; so also they that go much abroad seldom grow in sanctity.

5. Trust not in thy friends and neighbors, and put not off thy soul's welfare till the future, for men will forget thee sooner than thou thinkest. It is better to provide now in time, and send some good before thee, than to trust to the assistance of others after death. If thou art not solicitous for thyself now, who be solicitous for thee hereafter? Now is the time very precious, now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. But, O misery! that thou spendest not this time more profitably, wherein thou hast it in thy power to merit that thou mayst live eternally. The time will come when thou wilt fain implore one day or even one hour for amendment; and I know not if thou wilt obtain it.

6. Oh, then, dearly beloved, from what great danger mayst thou free thyself, from what great fear be rescued, if only thou wouldst be always fearful, and looking for death! Study, therefore, so to live now, that in the hour of death thou mayst be able rather to rejoice than to fear. Learn now to die to the world, that then thou mayst begin to live with Christ. Learn now to despise all things, that thou mayst freely go to Christ. Chastise thy body now by penance, that then thou mayst have a certain confidence.

7. Ah, fool! why thinkest thou to live long, when here thou hast not a day secure? How many souls have been deceived, and snatched unexpectedly from life. How often hast thou heard related, that such a one fell by the sword, another is drowned, another falling from on high broke his neck, this man died at table, that other came to his end at play! Some perish by fire, some by the sword, some by pestilence, some by the hands of robbers; and so death is the end of all; and man's life passeth away suddenly like a shadow.

8. Who will remember thee when thou art dead? and who will pray for thee? Do now, beloved, do now, all thou canst; for thou knowest not when thou art to die, and, morever, thou knowest not what will befall thee after death. Whilst thou hast time, amass for thyself immortal riches. Think nothing but thy salvation; care only for the things of God. Make thyself friends now, by venerating the Saints of God, and imitating their actions, that when thou shalt fail in this life, they may receive thee into everlasting dwellings.

9. Keep thyself as a pilgrim and a stranger upon earth, that hath no concern with the business of the world. Keep thy heart free and lifted up to God, for thou hast not here a lasting city. Send thither thy prayers and daily sighs, with tears, that thy spirit may merit after death to pass happily to our Lord. Amen.

Practical Reflections

To fear death, and not to avoid sin, which alone can make it really terrible, is to fear it unavailably for salvation; for, as Christians, we ought to dread it so as to make the fear of it the motive and rule of a good life. The great secret of dying happily is to live always in the same state in which we hope to die, and in which we desire that God may find us when our last hour shall have arrived. We should, therefore, do all the good and practise all the virtues now, which we shall then wish to have done and practised. Endeavor to die daily to some one of all these things which, when thou departest hence, thou must leave forever. Happy the Christian who dies often in spirit ere he quits the flesh. His death shall be holy and precious in the sight of God.


Knowing that I shall certainly die, but ignorant of the day, of the time, and of the state of my soul, in which I shall depart hence, I beseech Thee, Most Blessed Saviour, by the merits of Thy Sacred Passion, to prepare me for that awful moment. Assist me to become diligent in my employments, faithful to Thy graces, attentive at my prayers, regular in frequenting the Sacraments, and constant in performance of those virtues which are proper for my state: that so, through Thy merits, I may experience consolation in my last moments, and leave this valley of tears in the assured hope of salvation. Grant that I may ever persevere in Thy grace, seek in all things to please Thee, and breathe only Thy love: for living thus, it will be at all times most advantageous for me to die, that I may never offend Thee more, but see, love, and enjoy Thee for all eternity. Amen."

"Of the Thoughts of Death" by Thomas A. Kempis

Excerpts from The Following of Christ in Four Books by Thomas A. Kempis,
Montreal: Desmarais & Robitaille, Ltd. No date. Imprimatur.
Book 1, Chapter XXIII, pp. 95-102. [Out of print].

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