"But we entreat ye, brethren, . . . that you attend to your own
Salvation is our own most important Affair.
THE business of eternal salvation is to us the most important of all affairs; but it is also the most neglected by Christians. They are diligent; and lose no time in seeking to gain a lawsuit, or a situation of emolument. How many measures taken to attain these objects ? How many means adopted? They neither eat nor sleep. And what efforts do they make to secure their eternal salvation? How do they live? To save their souls, the greater number of Christians do nothing; on the contrary, they do everything to bring their souls to perdition; they live as if death, judgment, hell, heaven, and eternity were not truths of faith, but fables invented by the poets. If a person lose a lawsuit, or a harvest crop, how great is his pain and distress of mind? With what zeal does he labor to repair the loss ? If worldlings lose a horse, or a dog, with what diligence do they seek after it? But if they lose the grace of God, they sleep, and jest, and laugh. All blush at being told that they neglect their worldly affairs, but how few are ashamed to neglect the business of eternity, which is the most important of all. The worldling says that the saints were truly wise, because they sought only the salvation of their souls; and still he attends to all worldly business, but utterly neglects the concerns of the soul. Brethren, says St. Paul, let the great business of your eternal salvation be the sole object of all your care. [cf. Phil. 2:12, 2Cor. 4:17-18.] This is to you the most important of all affairs. Let us then be persuaded that eternal salvation is for us the most important affair, the only affair, and that if once neglected it is an irreparable affair if we ever make a mistake.
It is the most important affair, because if the soul be lost, all is lost. We ought to set a higher value on the soul than on all the goods of the earth. " The soul," says St. Chrysostom, "is more precious than the whole world!'' To be convinced of this truth, it is enough to know that God himself has condemned his Son to death in order to save our souls. The Eternal Word has not refused to purchase them with his own blood. cf. 1Cor 6:20. Hence a holy Father says that man appears to be of as much value as God. Hence Jesus Christ has asked: What exchange shall a man give for his soul? Matt 16:26. For God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son. John 3:16. If then such is the value of the soul, for what earthly good shall a man exchange and lose it?
St. Philip Neri with reason could say that he who does not attend to the salvation of his soul is a fool. Were there on this earth two classes of men, one mortal and the other immortal, and were the former to see the latter seeking after the things of this world, its honors, goods, and amusements, they should certainly exclaim: O fools that you are you have it in your power to acquire eternal riches, and do you fix your thoughts on those miserable and transitory things ? Will you, for these, condemn yourselves, to an eternity of torments in the next life ? Leave us, for whom all shall end at death, to seek after these earthly goods. But no; we are all immortal. How then does it happen that so many lose their souls for the miserable pleasures of this life ? How does it come to pass, says Salvian, that Christians believe in judgment, hell, and eternity, and still live as if they feared them not?
Ah, my God! how have I spent so many years, which Thou hast given me in order to secure my eternal salvation? Thou, my Redeemer, hast purchased my soul with Thy blood, and hast consigned it to me that I might attend to its salvation; and I have labored only for its perdition by offending Thee who hast loved me so tenderly. I thank Thee for giving me time to be able to repair the great loss which I have suffered. I have lost my soul and Thy grace. Lord! I am sorry with my whole heart for my past offenses, and I resolve, henceforth, to lose everything, even my life, rather than forfeit Thy friendship. I love Thee above all things, and I resolve always to love Thee, my Sovereign Good! who art worthy of infinite love. Assist me, my Jesus, that this purpose may not be like my past resolutions, to which I have been always unfaithful. Take me out of life rather than suffer me ever again to offend Thee, or ever to cease to love Thee. O Mary, my hope, after Jesus, save me by obtaining for me holy perseverance.
The affair of eternal salvation is not only the most important, but it is the only affair to which we have to attend in this life. One thing is necessary. Lk 10:42. St. Bernard weeps over the blindness of Christians, who call the occupations of children trifles, and their own employments business. If the amusements of children be trifles, the employments of men are still greater follies. What, says the Redeemer, will it profit us to gain the whole world if we lose our souls? Matt. 16:26. My brother, if you save your soul, it will do you no harm to have lived here in poverty, afflictions, and contempt; for then you will have no more sorrows, and you will be happy for all eternity. But if you lose your soul, what will it profit you, in hell, to have indulged in all the amusements of the world, and to have enjoyed its riches and honors? If the soul be lost, amusements, riches, and honors, are lost; all is lost.
What answer will you give on the day of account? Were a king' to send an ambassador to a city to transact some important business, and were the legate, instead of attending to the charge intrusted to him, to spend all his time in banquets, comedies, and festivities, and thus injure the rights of his master, what account would the sovereign demand of him at his return? But, O God! how strict must be the account which the Lord will exact of him who, after being placed in this world, not to indulge in amusements, nor to acquire wealth and dignity, but to save his soul, has attended to everything except to his own salvation? Worldlings think of the present, but not of the future. St. Philip Neri conversing one day in Rome with Francis Zazzera, a young man of talent, who was attached to the world, said to him: "You will realize a great fortune; you will be a prelate, afterward, perhaps, a cardinal, and perhaps even Pope. But what must follow? what must follow? Go," said the saint, "and meditate on these last words." Francis went home, and after reflecting on the words what must follow? what must follow? he abandoned his secular pursuits, left the world, entered into the Congregation of St. Philip, and began to attend only to God.
It is our only affair, because we have but one soul. A prince asked, through his ambassador, a favor of Benedict XII., which could not be granted without sin. In answer, the Pope said: "Tell the prince that if I had two souls, I might, perhaps, lose one of them for him, and reserve the other for myself; but since I have but one, I cannot and will not lose it." St. Francis Xavier used to say that there is but one good and one evil in the world: the former consists in the salvation of the soul, the latter in its damnation. St. Teresa used frequently to say to her nuns, "One soul, one eternity." As if she said, One soul; if this be lost, all is lost; one eternity, the soul, if lost once, is lost forever. Hence David said: One thing have I asked of the Lord. this I will seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord. Ps 27:4. Lord, I ask but one favor - save my soul, and I ask nothing else.
With fear and trembling work out your
2:12. He that does not fear and tremble
for his salvation will not be saved: to save the soul, it is
necessary to labor, and to do violence to nature. The kingdom of
heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.
11:12. To obtain eternal glory, our
life must be found at death conformable to the life of Jesus Christ.
Hence we must be careful, on the one hand, to avoid the occasions of
sin; and, on the other, to adopt the means necessary for the
attainment of eternal life. All would wish to be saved without
trouble. " The devil," says St. Augustine, " sleeps not,
but labors strenuously for your perdition: and
will you slumber when your eternal happiness is at stake ?"
Ah, my God! I thank Thee, for making me now remain at Thy feet and not in hell, which I have so often deserved. But of what use would the life which Thou hast preserved be to me, should I continue to live without Thy grace. Ah! may this never be I have turned my back upon Thee I have lost Thee, O my Sovereign Good! I am sorry for it with my whole heart. Oh, that I had died a thousand times, rather than have offended Thee! I have lost Thee; but the prophet tells me that Thou art all goodness, and that Thou art easily found by the soul that seeks Thee. If I have hitherto fled away from Thee, I now seek Thee, and seek nothing but Thee. I love Thee with all the affections of my heart. Accept me. Do not disdain to give Thy love to a soul that has at one time despised Thee Teach me what I must do in order to please Thee; I am ready and willing to do it. Ah, my Jesus! save this soul, for which Thou hast given Thy blood and Thy life; and, in order to save me, give me the grace always to love Thee in this and in the next life. This grace I hope for through Thy merits. For this I also hope, O Mary! through thy intercession.
A Failure in Saving One's Soul is an Irremediable Evil.
Important affair! only affair! irreparable affair! No error, says St. Eucherius, can be compared with the error of neglecting eternal salvation. For all other errors there is a remedy: if you lose property in one way, you may recover it in another; if you lose a situation, there may be some means of afterwards regaining it; if you soon lose your life, provided your soul be saved, all is safe. But if you lose your soul the loss is irreparable. Death happens but once; the soul, if once lost, is lost forever. Nothing remains but to weep for eternity with the other
miserable wretches in hell, where their greatest torment consists in the conviction, that the time of repairing their ruin is gone forever. The summer is over, and we are not saved. Jer. 8:20. Ask the worldly wise who are now in the pit of fire, what are their present sentiments; ask them if, now that they are condemned to that eternal prison, they feel happy at having made a fortune in this life. Listen to their wailing and lamentation: We have erred. Wis. 5:6. But of what use is it to know their error, now that there is no remedy for their eternal damnation ? Should a man who could have preserved his palace at a small expense find it in ruins, how great would be his pain in reflecting on his own negligence, and on the impossibility of repairing the evil!
The greatest torment of the damned consists in the thought of having lost their soul, and of being damned through their own fault. Destruction is thy own, O Israel; thy help is only in me. Hosea 12:9. St. Teresa says that if a person loses through his own fault a ring or even a trifle, his peace is disturbed; he neither eats nor sleeps. O God how great will be the torture of the damned Christian when, on entering hell and finding himself shut up in that dungeon of torments, he reflects on his misfortune, and sees that for all eternity there will be no relief, no mitigation of pain ! He will say, "I have lost my soul, paradise, and God.; I have lost all forever! And why? Through my own fault."
But you will say - If I commit this sin, why should I not expect to escape damnation? I may still be saved. Yes; but you may also be damned: and it is more likely that you will be lost, for the Scriptures menace eternal woes to all obstinate traitors, such as you are in your present dispositions. Woe to you, apostate children, says the Lord. Isa. 30:1. Woe to them, for they have departed from me. Hosea 7:13. By committing this sin, you at least expose your eternal salvation to great danger. And is this an affair to be exposed to risk ? There is not question of a house, of a villa, or of a situation: there is question, says St. John Chrysostom, of being sent into an eternity of torments, and of losing an eternity of glory. And will you risk on a perhaps this business of sovereign importance?
You say: Perhaps I shall not be lost: I hope that God will hereafter pardon me. But what happens in the mean time ? You condemn yourself to hell. Tell me, would you cast yourself into a deep pool of water, saying, perhaps I shall not be drowned? Surely you would not: why then should you trust your eternal salvation to such a groundless hope, to a perhaps? Oh I how many has this accursed hope sent to hell. Do you not know that the hope of those who are obstinately determined to commit sin is not hope, but an illusion and presumption which move God not to mercy but to greater wrath? If you say that you are now unable to resist the temptation and passion to whose domination you submit, how will you resist them hereafter, when, by yielding to sin, your strength will not be increased, but greatly diminished. For, on the one hand, your own malice will render you more blind and obdurate; and, on the other, the divine helps will be withheld. Do you expect that the more you multiply sins and insults against God, the more abundantly he will pour upon you his lights and graces? [See CCC 2091-92 and CCC 2733.]
Ah, my Jesus! remind me always of the death Thou hast suffered for me, and give me confidence. I tremble lest the devil should make me despair at death by bringing before my view the many acts of treason I have committed against Thee. How many promises have I made never more to offend Thee after the light Thou hast given me! and, after all my promises, I have, with the hope of pardon, again turned my back upon Thee. Then, have I insulted Thee because Thou didst not chastise me? My Redeemer! give me a great sorrow for my sins before I leave this world. I am sorry. O Sovereign Good! for having offended Thee. I promised to die a thousand times rather than abandon Thee. But make me in the mean time feel that Thou hast said to me what Thou didst say to Magdalene - Thy sins are forgiven thee - by giving me, before death, a great sorrow for all my iniquities, otherwise I fear my death will be troubled and unhappy. Be not Thou a terror to me; Thou art my hope in the day of affliction. Jer. 17:17. O my crucified Jesus! be not a terror to me in my last moments. If I die before I have wept over my sins and have loved Thee, Thy wounds and Thy blood will inspire me with fear rather than with confidence. I do not ask of Thee consolations and earthly goods during the remainder of my life; I ask of Thee sorrow and love. O my dear Savior! hear my prayer for the sake of that love which made Thee offer Thy life in sacrifice for me on Calvary. Mary, my Mother! obtain for me these graces, along with holy perseverance till death.
Rev. Eugene Grimm, editor, Preparation for Death or "Considerations on the Eternal Truths" by St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Redemptorist Fathers, NY (1926). Imprimatur, Patrick Cardinal Hayes, July 26, 1926.