The Shortness of Life

“What is your life?  It is a vapour, which appeareth for a little while.”

-James 4:15

What is your life?  It is like a vapor, which is dispersed by a breath of wind and is no more.  All know that they must die, but many are deceived by picturing to themselves death at such a distance as if it could never come near them. 

Job, however, bids us remember that the life of man is short: “Man’s life is short: he cometh forth as a flower, and is destroyed” (Job 14:1-2).  The Lord commanded Isaias to preach this very truth: “Cry,” He said to him, “all flesh is grass…indeed the people is grass.  The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen” (Is. 40:6-7).  The life of man is like the life of a blade of grass.  Death comes, the grass withes and behold life ends, and the flower falls of all greatness and all worldly goods.

“My days have been swifter than a post” (Job 9:25).  Death comes to meet us more swiftly than a post [courier or runner], and we advance every moment towards death.  In ever step, in every breath we draw, we approach nearer to death. 

Even while I write, says St. Jerome, I approach nearer to death: “What I write is so much taken from my life.” 

“We all die, and like the waters that return no more, we fall down into the earth” (2 Kings 14:14).  Behold how the stream flows to the sea, and the flowing waters will return no more; thus, my brother, do your days pass away, and you approach to death; pleasures pass, amusements pass, pomp, praises, acclamations pass, and what remains?  “The grave alone remains for me” (Job 17:1).

King Ezechias said, with tears, “My life is cut off as by a weaver; while I was yet beginning, He cut me off” (Is. 38:12). Oh how many, while they are busy weaving – this is, preparing and executing the worldly projects which they have devised with such care – are surprised by death, which cuts short all!  All the goings of this world vanish: applause, amusements, pomps and grandeurs. 

Great secret of death, which makes us see that which the lovers of this world do not see!  The most enviable fortunes, the most exalted dignities, the proudest triumphs, lose all their splendor when they are viewed from the bed of death.  The ideas of certain false happiness which we have formed to ourselves are then changed into indignation against our own madness.  The dark and gloomy shades of death cover and obscure all dignities, even royal ones.  At present our passions make the things of this earth appear different from what they really are; death tears away the veil and shows them in their true light. 

Let us, then be persuaded that the proper time to prepare for the hour of death is during life.  Let us hasten to do now that which we cannot do then.  All passes quickly and ends.  “The time is short.”  Therefore, let us so act that everything may serve us towards attaining eternal life. 

This article is taken from a chapter in The Soul Sanctified: Catholic Wisdom on the Way of Salvation which is available from TAN Books.



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