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.
My friend, contemplate the horrendous struggle which you shall sooner or later encounter! Imagine yourself upon the very point of death, about to cross that irremeable threshold into the world to come. This is an event which may not in any way be escaped whatsoever, not by anyone—it is the one certainty of our human life. And, for all you know, it may well be today that the final bell tolls for you!
Imagine to yourself what will be your thoughts and your words in those dying moments. Now, imagine the sinner about to face death. Shall his or her thoughts and words not be something very like that which follows?
[Here commences the discourse in the person of a sinner about to die]
Alas, the pains of death now surround me, streams of iniquity flow all around me, and the snares of death have trapped me! O my God, why was I ever born into this treacherous world, or why did I not perish the moment I was brought forth into the light of day? The beginning of my life was accompanied by struggling and crying my infant’s tears, weak and utterly helpless. And now my end is likewise accompanied by sorrow and agony, by tears and regret!
O Death, how bitter is the thought of you to the sinful person? Yet infinitely more bitter than this thought is your presence! Late was I to come to real belief and repentance for my sinful life; yet how rapidly I succumb to my demise and how quickly the stream of my life flows away. O Death, my final foe and last companion, you have sprung upon me suddenly. You have seized me in your chilling and inescapable grasp, like a lion waiting in ambush! With your unbreakable ropes, you have bound me, and with chains of constricting iron, you drag me after you, just as a condemned criminal is dragged off to the gallows.
I clasp my hands together and groan from the depths of my heart, longing in vain to flee from this fatal mortality which has overtaken me. But there is no place of refuge for me and no stronghold to which I may escape. I turn my eyes in every direction, to every place that surrounds me, to the earth’s furthermost end. And yet there is no one who can help me now.
This article is taken from a chapter in Meditations On Death: Preparing For Eternity by Thomas à Kempis, which is available from TAN Books.