A sermon of St. Alphonsus Liguori during this Holy Season of Lent:
At present, sinners banish the remembrance and thought of death; and thus they seek after peace, though they never find it in the sinful life which they lead. But when they are found in the straits of death, on the point of entering into eternity, they shall seek peace, and there shall be none. Then they will not be able to fly from the torture of their sinful conscience. They will seek peace; but what peace can be found by a soul loaded with sins that sting it like so many vipers? What peace can the sinner enjoy when he sees that he must in a few moments appear before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ, whose law and friendship he has till then despised? Trouble shall come upon trouble. The news of death, which has been already announced, the thought of being obliged to take leave of everything in this world, the remorse of conscience, the time lost, the want of time at present, the rigour of the divine judgment, the unhappy eternity which awaits sinners–all these things will form a horrible tempest, which will confuse the mind and increase his apprehensions; and thus, full of confusion and distrust, the dying sinner will pass to the other world.
Trusting in the divine promise, Abraham, with great merit, hoped in God against human hope. But sinners, with great demerit, hope falsely and to their own perdition, not only against hope but also against faith; for they despise the menaces of God against all who are obstinate in sin. They are afraid of a bad death, but they fear not to lead a wicked life. But who has assured them that they will not suddenly be deprived of life by a thunderbolt, by apoplexy, or by the bursting of a blood vessel? And were they at death even allowed time for repentance, who assures them that they will sincerely return to God?
To conquer bad habits, St Augustine had to fight against them for 12 years. How will the dying man, who has always lived in sin, be able, in the midst of the pains, the stupefaction, and the confusion of death, to repent sincerely of all his past iniquities? I say sincerely, because it is not enough to say and to promise with the tongue, it is necessary to promise with the heart.
O God! what terror and confusion will seize the unhappy Christian who has led a careless life, when he finds himself overwhelmed with sins, with the fears of judgment, of hell, and of eternity! Oh! What confusion will these thoughts produce when the dying sinner will find his reason gone, his mind darkened, and his whole frame assailed by the pains of approaching death. He will make his confession; he will promise, weep, and seek mercy from God, but without understanding what he does; and in this tempest of agitation, of remorse, of pains and terrors, he will pass to the other life. “The people shall be troubled, and they shall pass” [Job XXXIV, 20]. A certain author says that the prayers, the wailings, and promises of dying sinners are like the tears and promises of a man assailed by an enemy who points a dagger to his throat to take away his life. Miserable the man who takes to his bed at enmity with God, and passes from the bed of sickness to eternity.
O wounds of Jesus! You are my hope. I should despair of the pardon of my sins, and of my eternal salvation, did I not behold you, the fountains of mercy and grace, through which a God has shed all His Blood, to wash my soul from the sins which I have committed. I adore you, then, O holy wounds! And trust in you. I detest a thousand times, and curse those vile pleasures by which I have displeased my Redeemer, and have miserably lost his friendship. Looking then at Thee, I raise up my hopes, and turn my affections to Thee. My dear Jesus, Thou deservest to be loved by all men, and to be loved with their whole heart. I have so grievously offended Thee, I have despised Thy love; but, notwithstanding my sinfulness, Thou hast borne with me so long, and invited me to pardon with so much mercy. Ah, my Saviour, do not permit me evermore to offend Thee, and to merit my own damnation. O God! what torture should I feel in hell at the sight of Thy Blood and of the great mercies Thou hast shown me. I love Thee, and will always love Thee. Give me holy perseverance.
Detach my heart from all love which is not for Thee, and confirm in me a true desire, a true resolution henceforth, to love only Thee, my sovereign good. O Mary, my Mother! Draw me to God, and obtain for me the grace to belong entirely to Him before I die.