Monday 17 April 2023

Meditations on Death Preparing for Eternity - Thomas à Kempis

Meditations on Death
Preparing for Eternity
Thomas à Kempis
ISBN 9781505128062
eISBN 9781505128086

This is one of a trio of books highlighted for Lent by TAN Books. They were marketed as a collection. The three volumes are:

Meditations on Death: Preparing for Eternity - Thomas à Kempis
The Seven Last Words of Christ - St. Bonaventure & Arnold of Bonneval

It is the first I have finished. It is an excellent volume. The description of this volume is:

“Thinking on death is the most profitable meditation we can make.

Indeed, Our Lord's most holy passion and death offers us the greatest meditation, but pondering our own imminent death can bring us great fruit as it prepares us for the most important thing we will do: enter into eternity.

"Remember man that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

By meditating on their deaths, many have renounced this fleeting world for the monastery and cloister. By meditating on their deaths, many have conquered the flesh, the world, and the devil. By meditating on their deaths, many have climbed the ladder of holiness in a brief time.

To keep death daily before your eyes is one of the greatest secrets to sanctity, for death is the only certainty in this life. And those who ponder the hour of their death daily will not be surprised when that moment comes; rather, they will have prepared for it their entire lives and will be ready to meet their Creator.

In this soul-jarring work, Thomas à Kempis guides the reader to consider the last four things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. One of the devil's favorite words is tomorrow. But God's is today. Meditations on Death is like a mini-retreat that will redirect your heart to eternal things rather than passing things. For to contemplate the hour of your death is to already have one foot in heaven.”

The chapters and sections in this volume are:

Part I: Reflections on the Last Things
   1 Consideration of One’s Own Death
   2 The Torments of Hell
   3 The Final Judgment
   4 The Joys of Heaven

Part II: A Discourse in the Person of a Sinner about to Die
   5 Mindfulness of Death: A Sure Remedy to the Vices
   6 A Lament over Time Wasted
   7 Regrets Concerning the Deferral of Repentance and Reformation
   8 The Uncertainty of the Last-Minute Repentance and Conversion
   9 The Unreliability of Human Assistance in the Hour of Death
  10 A Final Exhortation to Those Who Still Live

Part III: Canticles to Heaven
  11 A Canticle on the Joys of Heaven and the Choirs of Angels
  12 A Canticle to the Angels and Saints in Heaven

I highlighted numerous passages my first time through this book. Some of them are:

“The practice of meditation of death assumed particular prominence in late-medieval spirituality (that is to say, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries). The reasons for this were many— including the multitude of calamities (such as war, plague, and famine) which afflicted Europe at the time, the rapid rate of social change and the prevailing political instability. Also included is the rediscovery and popular circulation of the writings of the ancient philosophers, especially Plato, Cicero, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius.”

“This volume contains a short but extremely powerful work attributed to Thomas à Kempis, offering a moving, profound, and vivid meditation upon death and the “Four Last Things” (i.e., the event of death itself, the Final Judgment, the torments of hell, and the happiness of heaven). The present English rendering is a translation from the Latin text of the 1523 Paris edition, published by Jocodus Badius Ascensius of the Opera Thomae a Campis (Works of Thomas à Kempis).”

“May the courageous and humble contemplation of death help us to shun sin and to cultivate virtue; may it help us overcome the temptations and allurements of that which is passing and ephemeral and help to strive instead for that which is eternal; and may it empower us to “seize the day”— both by making the most of our earthly lives and by yearning constantly for the beatitude of heaven, the glory and splendor which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived.” 5 May the Blessed Virgin Mary, her most chaste spouse Saint Joseph (the patron saint of the dying), and all the holy angels and saints assist us in this endeavor through their unfailing intercession, guidance, and example.”

“My friend, it is most useful for you to call to mind frequently and assiduously the reality of your own death. This, indeed, is the one universal reality of our human condition— for in this life, some are rich while others are poor, some are masters while others are servants, some learned while others are simple, and some are blessed by happiness and good fortune while others are struck down by misfortune and calamity. Yet all face death with equal certainty. And though death itself is a certainty, its time and manner of arrival are profoundly uncertain.”

“My advice, therefore, is to live as if you could die at any moment and to live each day as if it could be your last. And be mindful that this is no idle or hypothetical speculation or a mere morally edifying imagining but a frighteningly real and imminent possibility at all times! In fact, it is not a possibility only, but it is a certainty. For while everything else in the future course of your life— your success or failure, your prosperity or poverty, your happiness or wretchedness— are unknown, hidden, and indeterminate, death is the one thing of which you may be absolutely sure.”

“Summon up before the eye of your mind, therefore, a horrible and swirling chaos, or a lightless and sinister subterranean cavern, fuming with every kind of unspeakable foulness and swarming with hideous phantasms, or a burning and bottomless pit, completely suffused with scorching, acrid, and inextinguishable fires.”

“Yet one can gain a sense of the horrid extremity of this condition by the sounds which fill the air in the accursed city of hell. For there resounds an unremitting cacophony of the grinding of teeth and gnashing of jaws, and wailing and weeping, and groaning and grunting, and crying and cursing. For in the delirium of their despair, the tormented souls continually utter the most disgusting blasphemies and imprecations against God Himself— the same God from whom their own wickedness has separated them forevermore. And, in the same breath, they curse with the most galling vitriol the entire universe, their wretched state, and their very own selves as well.”

“In this realm of dire punishment and exactly measured retributions, each one will suffer in the particular limbs or members whereby they committed their sins whilst on earth. Thus those who committed sins with their hands shall feel pains in their hands, and those who committed sins with their tongues— such as gossip, or slander, or perjury— will be afflicted with torments of the tongue. And thus it shall be with each of the members of the body, from the greatest to the least. Alas, then for those whose sins are against chastity! The pains and torments which they will experience can hardly decently be described in this treatise and are therefore left to the imagination of the reader.”

“My friend, reflect next upon how much terror and anxiety there will be at the great scene of the Final Judgment! The miraculous trumpets of angels shall then sound a deafening fanfare. Great bolts of blazing lightening will illuminate the earth and the sky with a blinding luminosity. Tumultuous thunder will roar, penetrating into the very depths of each human heart. The earth, the sea, and heavens themselves will all tremble!”

“And none will know with certainty in advance to which side they will be sent— neither pope nor bishop, nor king, nor beggar, nor even convicted criminal. For God alone perceives into the depths of the heart and knows all secret thoughts and actions, and He shows mercy to whom He wills. Thus there will be two standing together [apparently similar in their conduct, beliefs and morals], and one will be taken away and the other left behind.”

“But now that He is throned at the right hand of the Father and crowned with ineffable glory, His holy humanity remains, but it is now exalted and made divine. And this humanity which the glorified Christ possesses and has made immortal, glorious, and pure is one and the same as the humanity which is your very own nature too, O Reader! And by Christ’s mysterious union with human nature, your own nature shall be united with that of God.”

“My friend, whenever you are plagued by some difficulty or adversity, or tested by some temptation, or find that your enthusiasm for good works is fading or waning, or divine worship begins to seem tedious and irksome to you, there is a sure and effective remedy for you! And I shall now tell you what this secret remedy to all spiritual tepidity is.”

“First, sit yourself in your private room, close the door, and recollect your mind and your senses to yourself, putting aside all distraction. Then think of the day of your own death. Imagine yourself lying there on your bed, in the throes of death, perhaps laboring with some fatal illness, and knowing that your earthly life is now very quickly drawing its last moment.”

“And then, as I lay there in the throes of death and fully aware that I had but a few moments left, I reflected upon the time I had wasted during my life. How greatly was this wasted time to be lamented and regretted, these days which I permitted to slip away in vain! How foolishly and profitless did I let my life pass by, wasting it neglectfully and carefully as it were a thing of no value whatsoever, or as if it were endless in scope and would never run out. I squandered my time like an irresponsible spendthrift squanders money, not considering for a moment that it was both precious and limited!”

“Truly, I am so very sorrowful and so utterly miserable that words cannot suffice to express it! Is it any wonder if my eyes now overflow with tears and sighs of regret issue from the depths of my heart? For I look back upon the moments, days, and years I have let slip by foolishly and realize that these can never ever be called back or reclaimed.”

“Why ever did I expend so much energy on accumulating vain and useless learning when I did not bother to study that which was truly necessary for me to complete this perilous journey of life and death, and so to arrive safely at my eternal dwelling place? I have learned much about nature, about science, about history, and about literature, but how to live well and how to die well— that which is most essential— I never even troubled myself to study!”

“Oh, I should have learned, before anything else, how to die well!”

“O my God, I shall stand before You and before all the saints confused and embarrassed, anxiously awaiting my eternal sentence. For all of the secrets of my heart and all the wicked machinations of my mind will be exposed to the sight of all. And I shall be called upon to give an account or explanation of each one of my sins and failings, in both what I have done and what I have failed to do. And there will be no place for specious excuses, nor any opportunity to deny my manifest and self-evident guilt. O Lord, what will I say then, and what will I do? From where shall come my help if not from Your unmerited mercy alone?”

“As for yourselves, I urge you with the utmost fervor to learn both to live and to die well in the Lord, while you still have the time and opportunity. For in God alone is our hope, our salvation, and our eternal life. Let us earnestly pray for each other so that we may all find peace, pardon, and everlasting happiness, with Him who lives and reigns forever and ever! Amen.”

I hope those quotes give you a feel for this volume, especially the final prayer over readers of the work. This was an excellent volume to read at the beginning of Lent, and it is one that would benefit a reader at any time of the year. It is a book full of wisdom, guidance, and sound advice; advice on how to live well, and live preparing for death and the other four last things. This is a short volume. But one pack full of guidance. 

This was an excellent read. It is a book any Catholic would benefit from reading. It is a fantastic resource for spiritual growth, for learning to live well, and live with ultimate purpose, to live knowing we will die and be judged. Another great resource from TAN Books.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews 2023 Catholic Reading Plan!

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