THE DEATH OF THE SINNER
"And you shall seek me, and you shall die in your sin." St. John viii. 21.
This is a terrible threat, my brethren, and the more terrible because it will surely be fulfilled. As Jesus Christ said to the Jews: "What have I not done for you, you ungrateful people! But there will come a day when you will seek me, and you will not find me, because I will flee, and you will die in your sins." A terrible, but just punishment.
How can a Christian, overwhelmed with God's graces during his whole life, resist the qualms of conscience, and remain in sin! A Christian, who knows without doubt that every mortal sin he commits will bring him into hell! A Christian who knows full well that God Himself offers him every means for conversion, if he would only desire to be converted. A Christian, I say, who has everything at his disposal: God's ministers, who implore him not to remain in that deplorable condition, who pray for him, who offer him the most effective remedies for the healing of the wounds with which sin has afflicted his heart; and who, in spite of it all, remains obdurate, and plunges every moment into more mischief. A Christian who goes so far in his frivolous ways, as to utter cutting sarcasm against the charitable ministers of the Lord, who are only too willing to help him save his poor soul from sin and hell. Is it not just that such a sinner should perish, that God should desert him - him whom the Lord has treated with kindness so long, and to whom He has offered the merits of His own passion! Yes, brethren, it is just, that such a one should perish in his sins, that Jesus Christ, whom he has despised, should leave him to despair and to the power of the devil. "Depart, unfortunate one," exclaims Amos, the prophet, "thou shalt perish in thy sin, as thou wouldst not obey when the Saviour called thee." Oh, how dreadful is the death of a sinner, and yet how many die that death! Oh, if I could only inspire you with dread of such a death, so that you may avoid it! For this purpose, I will try to describe to you the last moments of a sinner, who refuses to be saved, who is full of despair at the thought of his sins, as well as on account of his contempt of God's graces, and of the torments which will be his portion for all eternity.
Now, let me explain to you what it means to die a bad death. If one dies in the flower of his age, having been blest with the best of health, happily married, endowed with all the world's goods, and leaves a loving wife and a family of children, that is no doubt a cruel death. King Ezechias exclaims: "Must I now, O Lord, die in the prime of my life?" and the kingly prophet prayed to God not to let him die. Others say that to die by the hands of the executioner is a cruel death. Still others are of the opinion that a sudden death, for instance, by lightning or drowning, or any other fatal accident, is a bad death; others, again, consider that dying in an epidemic of infectious disease, is a great misfortune. But I tell you, my brethren, that there is nothing evil in all these different ways of meeting death, provided you have made your peace with God. What matters it if you die in the prime of life; such a death does not make you appear any less in the eyes of God. Nor is it in itself a bad death to die at the hands of the executioner, so long as you are well prepared. Many martyrs have died that death: St. Simeon died by a stroke of lightning, and St. Francis de Sales died of a stroke of apoplexy. To die of pestilence can neither be considered a sad death; both St. Roch and St. Francis Xavier died such a death. What makes the death of the sinner dreadful is his sins. It is sin, accursed sin, which tears him to pieces and devours him at that terrible moment. Wherever he turns he sees nothing but sin, graces despised, and, raising his eyes to heaven, what meets his gaze? God, in His just anger and wrath, ready to cast him away. And if he casts his eyes down into the depths, O terror! there is nothing but raging hell, waiting to devour its victim. Alas for the poor sinner! he would not recognize divine justice during life, and now he not only recognizes it but finds it lying heavily upon him. During life he was always bent upon hiding his sins, or to belittle them; at this moment they appear before him as clear as day. He now sees clearly what he ought to have seen long before, but what he refused to see; he would bemoan his sins now, but alas! it is too late! During life he despised God, and now God despises him, and leaves him to utter despair.
Listen, you hardened sinners, who wallow in the mire of unchastity, without a thought of how to extricate yourself from it; you, who never dream that God may desert you as He has deserted so many who were less guilty than yourselves. "Yes," says the Holy Ghost, "the sinners will, at the very thought of their vices, gnash their teeth in their last hour, and a fearful terror will seize them; their vileness will become clear to them. Oh, how they will break out in lamentations, these miserable creatures! Oh, what good have they derived from their vaunted pride, their idle vanity, from all the pleasures and delights they partook of in sin? All is gone; they have not a spark of good, and must succumb under the weight of their own baseness. This happened to the unfortunate Antioch, who fell from the chariot and had his whole body dashed to pieces. He felt an excruciating pain in his intestines, as if they were being torn out of him; worms gnawed at him, and his body emitted an offensive odor. Suddenly his fate became clear to him, as it does to all sinners when it is too late. "Yes, I know," he cried out, "these are the evil deeds I committed at Jerusalem; they devour me, and crush my heart." His body was racked by the most terrible pains, his mind cast down by direst misery. He called for his friends in hope of finding consolation in them, but no. God who alone can give consolation, has deserted him. "Oh, my friends," he cries out, "I am cast into a terrible doom. I can not sleep, nor rest for a single moment. My heart is drowned in sadness. I am filled with anxiety and misery! Thus must I die, and in a foreign land! O Lord, have mercy on me! I will amply repair all the wrong I have done in Jerusalem; all I have taken I will restore. I will become a Jew, and observe the law of Moses, and confess openly my belief in God Almighty. O Lord, have mercy on me!" But his sickness grew worse from day to day, and God, whom he had despised all through his life, did not listen to his entreaties; he had to die in his sins. He had been a blasphemer and, therefore, his most earnest prayers were not heard, and he was cast into hell.
It is a sad, but just punishment which thus meets the sinner, who, after despising all the graces which were offered him during life, receives no longer any grace, which will be of benefit to him. And yet, how great is the number of those who die in such a way! How many of the children of this world are blind, and have their eyes opened only at the moment when it is too late for them to obtain forgiveness for their sins? Yes, brethren, he who lives in sin will die in it. If you live in sin, do you not wish to be delivered from it? If you say no, you will perish; you will die the death of a notorious French philosopher, named Voltaire. His death will be your portion. You will see that God, whom you despised, while he was continually offering you His love and graces during your life, will suddenly turn you over to a just judgment, at the moment when you are at last willing to return to Him. To remain living on in sin with the idea that some fine day you may reform, is nothing but a devil's snare, by which he has ruined many a soul, just as sure as he thus will ruin yours. Voltaire, in his last illness, was a terrible example of a sinner who dies with a guilty conscience. He tries to abandon his wicked ways, and begs God to forgive him his many sins. He counts upon divine love, which is infinite, and is fortified by this thought. He will send for the same priests whom he has vilified and mocked at during his whole life. He will go down on his knees, confess his sins, and flatters himself to be able to accomplish the great work of reconciliation with his Creator; but he is very much mistaken. God has deserted him. Look at him! Death comes before he can receive that last help. The poor, unfortunate creature finds himself surrounded by terrors. "Woe to me," he cries, "I am deserted by God and man." Yes, miserable man, nothing but hell can be thy portion. Listen to Voltaire, how he cried to God, he who had uttered so many blasphemies against his Creator, his religion, and the servants of the Lord. "Jesus Christ, Son of God," he cries, "who died for the sins of all men, have mercy on me!" But, alas! a century of wickedness has tired divine patience. God has cast him away, he is now nothing but a victim of divine wrath, destined for everlasting fire. The priests whom he had despised for many years, how he longs for them, but they are not there. There he lies in convulsions and terrors of despair. He shakes and trembles, and all the calumnies which he has belched forth almost through a life-time, take vengeance upon him. His wicked companions, for fear that after all the Most Holy Sacrament might be brought to him, remove him to a lonely place in the country, and leave him there, a prey to his despair.
Despair is a torment of hell, and in life a foretaste thereof, and whosoever lives the life that leads up to it, can not but be delivered to the same in eternity. My brethren, take heed, therefore, now; refuse not to become reconciled to God, especially in this holy season of Lent; the servants of God, His priests, are ready to receive you, to give back to you the peace with your conscience, the peace with God, and living in this peace you need not fear despair, but carried on by confidence and hope, all will end in love never to be extinguished. Amen.