Painting of the General Judgment at the End of the World
"Render an account of thy stewardship."--St. Luke, xvi. 2.
There can be no doubt but that God will require of every man an account of his life. The merit and demerit of his acts go to make up that account, and settle his everlasting destiny in the next world. But there is no greater mistake made than when we imagine the latter years of life, the hour of death, or even the day of judgment, to be the time for the making up of that account and the rendering of it to their Lord. No; the last hours of life but add the last items: the awful moment when the soul quits the body, to appear before its Judge, closes the account for ever; the balance is already struck, and its salvation or damnation is in its hands. They who deal thus deceitfully with their own souls are like those who never remember that they are in debt until the moment for payment arrives, and hence make no provision for the creditor, or who dream of a future day when they will be wealthy, and yet never lay up any treasure. Believe me, brethren, we are rendering an account now, every day, every hour; and as we render it, the recording angel inscribes it in the book of judgment. Let us convince ourselves of this salutary truth, and ask of what that account is composed.
I have said that many deal deceitfully with their souls in reference to this truth. They know that they shall be judged according to the works done in the body, and whilst they are desirous enough of obtaining full reward for all their good, shrink from realizing that all the evil they have done equally demands retribution. Cherishing a false idea of God's infinite mercy, they trust to some future moment when all the sins they have committed will be blotted out in some extraordinary way, the omissions all made good, the wrongs all righted, the terrible consequences of their crimes be no longer imputed to them, and they shall have time to make all necessary preparation to meet their God. They are apt to regard heaven and its joys as a place to which they are going as a matter of course; the only hindrance to which is the possibility of their dying a sudden, unrepentant death. "Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven," is a precept of no practical moment with them; the burden of a misspent life weighs but lightly on their conscience; and to live so as to barely escape hell would seem, in their eyes, to be a satisfactory account before God. How many, through the want of a just appreciation of the everlasting consequences of the duties of their state, of the obligations of their religion, and of the claims of truth upon their acceptance, are cheated into a fatal procrastination of these duties, neglect of these obligations, and trifling with these claims; and who, in their last hour, cry for the priest, or upon God, to come and make up for them the deficiency and the delay; in despair and doubt, comforted by no memory of past fidelity, cheered by no hope of hearing the welcome at the gates of heaven, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." How different would be the deaths of the thousands whom that fearful summons finds unprepared, if they had only realized the truth, that the account of their lifetime is made up of the acts of each week, and day, and hour, and that they are daily and hourly rendering that account to God.
The man upon whom a kind Providence has bestowed a large amount of this world's goods, has, indeed, to render an account of his possessions; and God will demand of him the good he might have accomplished by his wealth, the works of benevolence, the alleviation of suffering and want, and the proper disposal of it for the spiritual and temporal benefit of himself and family. But money or property in houses and lands, are not the only things for which a man must make a reckoning. All are stewards of God's bounty in little or much, and all must render an account of their gifts. Therefore, when we hear of a rich man's death, let us beware of being guilty of that rash and presumptuous judgment so often heard: "Well! he is gone to give an account for all his riches." As though the use of one's money were the only thing about which the trial of a soul will be held, or as though the Master will not require the same diligent use and proportionate interest from him who received one talent as from him who received ten. I know it may be sinful enough for a rich man to squander, or a miserly man to hoard his money; turning a deaf ear to the cries of the poor, and refusing to succor the orphan and the widow, or grudging the little that religion claims at his hands for support and advancement; but what a disordered and unprofitable account multitudes of people, in moderate circumstances, are daily rendering of their salaries and wages, of right destined to their own improvement, or the support of their families; hard earned wages, too, are these, often squandered at the grogshop, the gaming-table, or in vicious amusements. They are infinitely worse than the rich miser; because, while they, like him, bestow no charity, are guilty besides of withholding the righteous demands of justice from their families and neighbors, whose wrongs and unpaid debts will clamor against them at the judgment of God.
To every man and woman are given, as God wills, greater or less natural talents; health, strength, beauty of face or form, aptitude for certain employments or professions. Oh, what an account is being rendered during our lives of these talents! Is that health, and strength, and ability used every day to fulfil the will of God in bestowing it upon us? Then each day has added a new item in our favor. But have we played the idler and drone in the world, wasting our energies, and losing, forever, the golden opportunities, as time fled by, never more to return? Then those days are, at best, empty spaces in our account, with the handwriting over against them: "This day, this week, this year, no treasure laid up in heaven." But more likely they are long columns, filled up with countless black marks of disgrace, of sin, of neglected duties, of misused talents, of cooperation with the devil in evil works.
And every day is the account closed for that day. Time is an infallible scribe; and though he writes quickly and silently, he has a heavy hand and makes his mark deep, for he writes for eternity. It is not when health and strength are gone that the record of time past, when that health and strength were wasted unprofitably, can be effaced or altered. It is not when age or disease has marred or destroyed that beauty of face, and banished the roses from the cheek, that the flirting girl, or unfaithful woman, can blot out the foul and ugly sins which that unguarded beauty wrought upon her own or other's souls.
It is not when a just day of retribution has brought upon the dishonest merchant, or mechanic, the ruin and disgrace he has merited, that he can return to repair his cheating and swearing to false accounts. It was when he wrote down the false entry, or swore the false oath that he wrote his account in heaven's ledger; for as he wrote or spoke, the accusing angel copied it word for word, and figure for figure.
Yes, every man makes his own account, and makes it every day. The statesman, the politician and the lawyer, plan and speak theirs in the cabinet, legislative hall, and court of justice; the doctor makes out his in his prescriptions and treatment of his patients; the newspaper editor prints his in his columns; the preacher preaches his in his sermons; the priest murmurs his in his prayers, offers it up with the Sacred Victim at the altar, and sends it to heaven by the hands of the poor, and wretched and sinful, whom he consoles and redeems with the sacraments of the living and the dying, and speeds on the way to eternal life. The artist paints his with his brush, or sculptures it with his chisel; the musician or singer plays his upon his instrument, or chants it from the choir; the artisan forms his with his tools; the husband works out his at his daily labor; the wife hers while busy at her fireside: for of all these talents, professions and trades, they are only God's stewards; and little do we all reflect how faithfully their account is rendered!
I say every man renders his own account; but the items of that account almost always concern others besides himself. See, for example, the father or mother of a family; what an account they render every day of their children; of their care and education; of the example they set to them. It is when parents look upon a vicious child given up to habits of drunkeness, impurity, profanity, or dishonesty, that in most cases they may look upon an account already rendered of their own bad example. They have put out their bad example to interest, and it has gained interest with vengeance; they have sown the wind, and reaped the whirlwind.
The citizen, as he polls his vote, renders an account of the high trust committed to him, and every day's obedience and support of law and order adds a large item to his credit and everlasting reward; for he, at one and the same time, responds for his own integrity and for the peace, security of life and property, and the general happiness of the community.
Above all, and superior to other duties; yet not interfering with or excusing them, religion and its obligations occupy a conspicuous portion of the reckoning of every soul with God. How eagerly the saints, the angels, and the devil, watch this record as it swells its vast proportions for the great day of account! For us who are in possession of the true religion that reckoning will be terribly strict. The graces of the knowledge of the truth, and the assistance of the holy sacraments have not been given to us for nothing. Of those, to whom much is given, much will be required. Some amongst us have been stewards in God's household of faith since our infancy, others but a few years, and others again but as many months; yet so bountiful has God been to us all with the graces of faith, that each one imagines himself to be the chosen recipient of His favor. Have we been and are we now faithful stewards of this pearl of great price? As it was written of our Blessed Lord that He went about doing good, so every Christian's life seems to be made up of opportunities for doing good. There is the worship of God in the daily prayers, and the Sunday Mass; there are the interior calls of God's Holy Spirit to a more frequent reception of the holy sacraments for our greater sanctification, or in times of sin, temptation and difficulty. There are injuries to forgive and forget; there are spiritual and temporal charities to bestow; there are priests to support; churches to build; the poor and the orphan to be cared for, for the love of God; and as time rolls by we render an account of all these opportunities; the graces which accompanied them either bearing fruit, or returning to their all gracious Giver unemployed or misused. He who passes by these opportunities hides his Lord's talent in the earth, and will have gained nothing for Him when He comes seeking.
Works! works! works! Interest! interest! interest! These are what He demands, and for the want of which he will take no excuse. Think you that a man (or woman) who has passed a greater part of life a Catholic only in name, has any account to his credit made up, when he clamors for the priest to come and give him the last sacraments in the hour of death? Alas! religion for such has been a great empty blank; and but too often the measure they have meted out to God and their own souls is measured to them again, and they die without hope or speech of comfort in the day of trial. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord," says Holy Scripture, "for their works do follow them;" but cursed are they who die, and leave the fruits of their evil deeds behind them, to go on corrupting and demoralizing society like some woful pestilence.
God confides the graces of faith to us, not only for our own salvation, but also that we may use them for the salvation of others. We look abroad, and see on every side the heathen groping in darkness, the Protestant in his error and doubt, the infidel in his despair; and the holy faith is committed to us as a beacon light, by which they may be guided safely into the haven of security and rest.
Let us not deceive ourselves. Their conversion is part of our work, and it is really to us they look for hope in the future, or justification to remain in their present state. If the light be not kept burning brightly in the lighthouse, will not the ship be dashed against the rocks? If peace and brotherly love, Christian charity and temperance reign not amongst us, shall the stranger think he will find a better home with us than he has now? If we would have him walk to the right, shall we walk to the left? Tell me, how are we rendering this account? How much do we labor for this great end? How much do we pray for it? The multitude of our own sins and errors is exceedingly great; let us hasten to hide them from God's sight by the conversion of others. "My brethren" says the Apostle James, "if any of you err from the truth, and one convert him: let him know, that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins.
And though the claims of religion may appear less urgent to these erring souls, they are none the less real: and they in their turn are rendering an account of all the light and grace they have received. Every day they stand outside the true fold of Jesus Christ, halting, hesitating, or stubbornly resisting all the blessed inspirations of the Holy Spirit; counting the worldly cost, listening to the charming voices of passion or pleasure; or proudly refusing to humble themselves by a confession of sin; like the Jews of old, complaining to God that His adorable mysteries are to them "hard sayings, who is able to believe them?" Each and every such day of their lives their account is rendered and the entry made. Not a Christian yet--not a Catholic yet,--opportunities lost over and over, again and again; and finally the record closes. Died on the threshold of the Church, with his face turned to the world.
Great God! how I tremble as I think of the fearfully strict account we are all rendering of our daily acts, and even of our thoughts and intentions to Thee, our just judge! And you, my dear brethren; does not this view of what your everyday lives bring forth of good or evil fruit garnered up in everlasting remembrance either for or against you, move you to a wholesome determination to begin now at least and render your account wholly for the future to your everlasting credit.
God bids you render an account of your stewardship now, as the time rolls by and deeds are wrought which never can be recalled. Render it then as you would have it read when I and all the world shall hear the reading of it at the last great day of reckoning. Close it every day as you would have it close, when death will come to prevent the possibility of adding one more item to the record. Render the account of your daily prayers: render the account of the Holy Mass: render the account of the Word of God you hear preached to you: render the account of that Easter duty, perhaps now long neglected. Render the account, ye parents, of your children, of the example you owe them, of the care and education which they claim at your hands. Husbands and wives, render the account of your duties to each other; that account you set out to fill up so cheerfully and hopefully on your marriage day, to love, cherish and be faithful to each other. Render the account of justice to your neighbor, of your debts to him, and your obligations to religion. Pay every man that which is his due, and keep not back from God that which is His own. Citizens, render the account of your votes, and of your solemn oaths to obey the laws and constitution of your country, that God may have pity upon us, an unhappy, distracted, and divided people.
People of the living God! render the account of your faith, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven, by coming to swell the numbers of His faithful children, and to enjoy with us the comforts, hopes and virtues, which, looking upon our good lives, they will strive to make their own by uniting their faith with ours. Strangers to the truth! wanderers in the ways of error that lead to death! in the name of God I bid you this day to render an account of your present state to your Saviour, who died for you, that you might have the truth and everlasting life. Render an account of the reasons why you are not knocking urgently at the door of the true fold, praying for entrance therein. Render the account of your days of salvation which hasten away, and this awful account of religion yet remaining unbalanced and confused; for a day is coming for us all, when a voice shall be heard resounding over earth and sea; the voice of an archangel, with a trumpet, crying as he flies in mid-heaven, "Men of the earth! your accounts are closed, come and see them weighed in the balance, and receive your reward; the books are opened; the Judge is upon His throne; Arise ye dead, and come to judgment!" O day of wrath, O dreadful day! How then will we wish to have rendered our accounts faithfully during life!
Unhappy, wretched, and full of fear! what then shall we say, or who then shall be found to intercede for our shortcomings, when even the saints shall need comfort? Oh! what, if the record of our lives shall then read: Faithless to the calls of God; reckless of obligation and duty; only now and then a cry for mercy when death and hell gaped underfoot; here and there a miserable broken promise to do better; a few sighs of contrition soon changed to laughter and folly; a few spears of true wheat amidst fields of tares; no solid foundation laid up against that fearful day of fire which shall try every man's work; no treasure laid up in heaven!
Oh! my dearest brethren, for the love of your immortal souls, as you hope one day to see God face to face, I beseech of you, learn a lesson from our Blessed Lord's words; and each morning as you rise, and each night as you lay your heads upon your pillows, listen, and give earnest heed to the voice of the Holy Ghost, whispering in your hearts, "Render an account of thy stewardship."
Prayer to be Sinless at the Hour of Death
Lord Jesus Christ, who willest that no man should perish, and to whom supplication is never made without the hope of mercy, for Thou saidst with Thine own holy and blessed lips: "All things whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, shall be done unto you"; I ask of Thee, O Lord, for Thy holy name's sake, to grant me at the hour of my death full consciousness and the power of speech, sincere contrition for my sins, true faith, firm hope and perfect charity, that I may be able to say unto Thee with a clean heart: Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth, who art blessed for ever and ever. AmenSt. Vincent Ferrer
Indulgence of 3 years once a day