We Can But Do Once

From “July 6,” Meditations for Every Day of the Year (1753)

Consider that death is the passage from time to eternity. If we die well, it will be well with us for all eternity; but if we die ill, it will be ill with us for endless ages; so that upon this one moment of death depends a long eternity. But when shall this moment come? When shall we die? Shall it be this night or tomorrow? Shall it be a week, a month, a year hence? Oh! of all this we know nothing at all, only that it will be when we least look for it. For our Lord has assured us, that he will come like a thief in the night; that is when we least think on it. And therefore he tells us we must always watch, and always be ready, for if we are surprised and die in our sins we are lost forever.

Consider, secondly, that we are not only wholly ignorant of the time of our death, but also of all other circumstances relating to it. We neither know the place where we shall die, nor the manner how we shall die; nor whether our death will be violent or natural; by fever or consumption; gentle or sharp, of quick dispatch, or more lingering; at home or abroad; whether our last illness will deprive us of our senses or no; whether we shall have the assistance of our ghostly father, and the helps of the sacraments; what dispositions or souls will then be in; or what ability we shall then have to make proper use of those last moment upon which our all depends for eternity. Alas! all these things are quite hidden from us; no wit, no learning, no wisdom upon earth can help any man to the knowledge of any one of these things. O let this dreadful uncertainty of all the particulars that relate to our death determine us to live always in the expectation and preparation for death; that we may not have that great work to do at a time when we shall have no convenience or ability to do it.

Consider, thirdly, that death being so certain, and the time and manner of it uncertain, it would be no small satisfaction to a poor sinner if he could die more than once; that so, if he had the misfortune once to do ill, he might repair the fault, by taking more care a second time. But, alas! we can die but once, and when once we have set our foot within the gates of eternity, there is no coming back, and if it be a miserable eternity into which we have stepped, there is no redemption; we pass from death to a second death, to the very extremity of misery, without end or remedy. O how hard it is to do that well which we can but do once, and can never try or practice beforehand! O my soul, see then thou take care to study well this important lesson by a continual preparation for death.

Conclude to make it the great business of thy life to learn to die well. Remember there is no security against an evil death but a good life; everything else leaves thee exposed to dreadful uncertainties.

Richard Challoner (1691-1781) was an English Roman Catholic bishop and scholar, who served as professor at the English College at Douai before returning to England to serve as a mission priest and then, a bishop. He was the author of numerous devotional and polemical works and a revision of the Douai-Rheims translation of the Bible, long the standard version for Roman Catholics in the English-speaking world. The text has been slightly modified for modern readers.

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