Friday, March 16, 2012


"The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour.

"To lose one's wealth is sad indeed. To lose one's health is more. To lose one's soul is such a loss that no one can restore."
A bit cheesy, perhaps, but to-the-point.

Not at all cheesy is St. Francis de Sales's An Introduction to the Devout Life,which I've had the pleasure of reading for the first time this Lent. Every word of it is good, but the first meditation that really caught my eye was No. 5 on death:

1. Place yourself in the presence of God.

2. Entreat His grace.

3. Imagine yourself to lie in extremity on your deathbed, without hope of recovery.


1. Consider the uncertainty of your dying day. O my soul, some day must thou quit this body. When will it be, summer or winter? in town or in the country? by day or by night? will it be suddenly or after due warning? will it be in sickness or by an accident? Wilt thou have time to confess thy sins or not? will thy spiritual father be present to assist thee? Alas! of all this we know nothing; this only is certain, that die we must, and that for the most part sooner than we expect.

2.Consider that then the world is at an end, so far as regards you; there is none any more for you. Everything will then be reversed, all pleasures, vanities, worldly joys, and vain attachments will then appear as mere phantoms and vapors. Woe is me, for what delusive trifles have I offended my God! Then will you discover that you have forsaken God for nothing! On the other hand, how beautiful and desirable will good works and devotion then appear; why have you not followed on that holy and blessed road? Truly at that hour sins which before seemed as trifles will was great as the mountains, and how faint, how weak, will your devotion then appear!

3. Consider the painful farewell which your soul must take of this lower world. It must take leave of wealth, of vanities and vain society, of pleasure, of amusements, of friends, and neighbors, of parents and children, of husband and wife, in short of everything earthly. Last of all it must take leave of the body, which it will leave pale and sunken, forsaken, hideous, and vile.

4. Consider the haste with which that body will be hidden beneath the ground, and when that is done the world will scarcely bestow another thought upon you. You will in your turn be forgotten, as you have forgotten others. God rest his soul, will be said, and no more. O death, how unsparing, how pitiless thou art!

5. Consider that when the soul quits the body, it must go either to the left hand or the right. Whither will yours go? which will be its path? even such as it has chosen whilst on earth.

Affections and Resolutions

1. Pray to God, and cast yourself upon Him. Lord, in that dreadful day receive me into Thy care! Turn that hour into blessedness to me, and then let all the previous hours of my life be bitter and sad.

2. Despise the world. Since I know not, O world, at what hour I must quit thee, I will not attach myself to thee. O dear friends, treasured hopes, grant me only to love you with a holy friendship which may endure throughout eternity. Why should I be bound to you with ties that must be severed here?

I will prepare for this hour, and make fitting preparation to accomplish the journey well; I will diligently strive to make my conscience clear, and to set in order its deficiencies.


Thank God for enabling you so to resolve, offer your resolutions to His Majesty, and repeatedly implore Him to grant you a happy death, through the merits of His Son. Implore the healp of Our Lady and the Saints. Pater. Ave.

Weave a nosegay of myrrh.
A bracing nosegay of myrrh indeed: DESPISE THE WORLD. MEMENTO MORI, REMEMBER YOU WILL DIE. And let your joy be deep and full.

Another recollection that comes to mind is a visit to Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome with a crypt full of floral designs made from the skeletal remains of 4,000 bodies of former Capuchin friars buried by their order. A plaque on the floor before one of the exhibits, in English translation, reads: "What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be."

Update: A friend suggested that St. Francis de Sales' attitude could be construed as too negative toward the created world without the qualifications I introduce in the comment box. Hence, with thanks to my friend, I refer the interested reader to my comments in the comment box linked below.


Dan Sheehan said...

Very sobering but comforting to have this great saint's guiding words. We should all keep a skull on our desks.

Mercury said...

Dr. Blosser, I have a very hard time understanding the constant addition of the saints to "despise" the world, or to "hate" it or hold it in contempt. The words used are truly very strong, and were surely intended to be so. But then how does one avoid falling into the trap of Gnosticism, and hating all that is not spiritual, or viewing earthly goods as evil.

And frankly, should we really view love of spouse, love of children, love of friends as vanities, as trifles? Are husbands not commanded to love their wives incessantly, above all other creatures on earth? How can one enter into matrimony, raise a family, and then "despise" them?

Also, if we should hate the world, then why of those people who look forward prayerfully to marriage as their vocation? Should only those who "have a hard time keeping it in their pants" get married, as some saints have indicated (really they say that marriage can be commended to no one except for those who struggle with chastity)? If I'm not constantly in the confessional for sins of the flesh, does that mean I should disdain marriage, or that God doesn't want me being married?

I know there's an easy way to explain this all as "despise worldliNESS", but that seems like a cop-out. Yet, does it mean to start hating all things I enjoy, even those things that aren't sinful? This extreme ascetic ideal seems like it would to disaster if I just started hating everything - music, art, literature, friendship, romantic love, laughter, a nice wine, etc. Compared to God, they are of course nothing, but from a human point of view, does simply listening to a symphony for the sheer enjoyment of it not serve SOME good purpose, or reading a novel, etc.? Should spouses hate the marriage bed? Should friends hate the long hours of discussion they share?

Pertinacious Papist said...


You raise the need for an important distinction that is sometimes lost among people these days, and I therefore thank you for raising it.

There are some "hard sayings" of Jesus fall into this category -- for example: "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple."

I suppose the best short answer to this is that he who does not hate (despise) the world or his parents in the requisite sense, cannot properly love them.

Which is to say the terms require qualifying. Some place St. Augustine points out that nearly nothing we love when we sin is an evil in itself. The pears he stole from the famous incident recorded in his Confessions were not evil. But they did not belong to him, and taking them was wrong.

What Augustine points out is that sin often has to do with a disordered love, loving things in the wrong way, the wrong place, the wrong time, in the wrong order of priorities.

In that sense, the martyrs were able to "hate" and "despise" the world and all earthly attachments with what would be regarded (from any spiritually-uninformed perspective) as a reckless and even 'twisted' abandon and joy.

This attitude is not a bad thing. It allows one to love this world as he ought: as something almost immeasurably good and beautiful, but provisional, secondary, and (and also because) disjointed by the effects of sin.

Thus, we OUGHT to love our mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and wives and husbands and children and the pleasures of eating and drinking and procreating, etc. But there is nothing worse than losing sight of God in our love of these things. And we should be ready at any moment to sacrifice all, if need be, for the love of God.

On a more mundane level, disciplines like those of Lent provide us with helps in learning to love this world and all it has to offer with a proper balance. If we learn to discipline ourselves, fast, abstain from meat, deny ourselves, this not only teaches us that these goods are provisional and to love them in the right way (an important lesson); it also instills in us habits that help us to grow in God's grace by learning NOT to scratch every itch, NOT to indulge every passing impulse, NOT to fall for those all-too-predictable temptations of the Devil by which he snatches thousands of souls from a state of grace in the hope of pulling them down with himself in the hold of permanent self-centered alienation which is the pit of hell.

But all things being equal, I see nothing wrong with planting a tree today, even if I knew the world were to end tomorrow. It's this world that God sent Jesus to save. But participating in that salvation means learning to "hate" and "despise" it too.

RFGA, Ph.D. said...

A better question is, why wouldn't one despise that which is corrupt, shot through with Death? Love, the one thing that makes life bearable- and even that points to the grave. That something so beautiful is bound to end in sorrow SHOULD offend us. Ditto the fact that we are constantly forced to part because of the insatiable greed of the capitalists, who don't know love and, thus, torment us with WORK to satisfy their vile urges. (Read Belloc.) Anger is the only fit response to our loss of Paradise. To settle for what this demon-infested world has to offer would be to insult Him who promised us "abundant life." Do you think that the Apostles gave a thought to anything but His words during their immeasurably precious time together? No, they clung with all their might to Him: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life." The only thing really worth looking forward to is the Beatific Vision, along with the sight of the unrepentant monsters responsible for our current woe burning in Hell. Happy St. Joseph's Day.

Sheldon said...

"Anger is the only fit response to our loss of Paradise."

I suppose that would depend on to whom the anger was directed. Anger at God? Understandable, but childish and shortsighted. Anger at self? A trifle more insightful methinks. After all, why was Paradise lost?

RFGA, Ph.D. said...

Why in the world would you think that Almighty God is the object of my indignation? Is there anything to that effect in the rest of my post? I should have thought that the last sentence would have given you some idea of whom I had in mind. But let me spell it out: I hate Satan's guts for seducing our first parents. And I rail at the almost immeasurable injustice that has since further desecrated God's creation, my own sinfulness (of course) included.