As we celebrate All Saints Day today and All Souls Day tomorrow, let us take time to reflect on the words of St. John Marie Vianney, who, in life as in death, followed in the footsteps of our savior Jesus Christ and joined the communion of saints.
By his utter devotion to his Master and Savior, St. John Marie Vianney has shown us how to lead our lives in the face of death and judgment — our inevitable destiny.
In the words of the patron of all priests: “A day will come, perhaps it is not far off, when we must bid adieu to life, adieu to the world, adieu to our relations, adieu to our friends. When we shall ever return my children?
“Never. . . Our poor body that we care of much goes away into dust and our soul goes trembling, goes to appear before the good God.
“When we quit this world where we shall appear no more and our last breath of life escapes and we say our last adieu, we shall wish to have passed our life in solitude, in the depths of a desert far from the world and its pleasures . . .
“We pass our life gaily, without troubling ourselves about thoughts of eternity by our indifference to the service of the good God, one would think we were never going to die . . . some people pass their whole life never thinking of death. . . when it comes, and behold, they have nothing . . .”
What is then the reason for man’s existence?
To Vianney, we exist for the sole purpose of glorifying the Creator.
God, therefore, places us on earth to serve Him, to try if we love Him and be faithful to his law, and after this short moment of trial, he promises a recompense. It is thus just for God to punish the wicked and reward the faithful.
Our saint from France, a humble priest and favored confessor, asks the rhetorical question: “Should the Trappist who had passed his life lamenting and weeping over his sins, be treated the same as the bad Christian who has lived in abundance in the midst of all enjoyments of life?
“Of course, the inevitable answer is NO! For the holy man, human exists, not to enjoy the pleasures of the world but to labor for our salvation.”
It is an imperative that we prepare for our passing, and, on this, we all must tarry, according to Vianney.
For death, like a thief in the night, comes when we least expect it. Yet, we are assured that while there is much to be feared, God does not want us either to despair.
According to Vianney, God has given us hope by showing us the example of the good thief touched with repentance.
We can only trust in God’s mercy. For, as the Saint points out, we have not done anything to deserve God’s favor.
The story of a Trappist father who trembled at perceiving the approach of death, illustrates this.
When asked what he was afraid of? The monk replied that he was terrified of the judgment of God.
According to Vianney, we must seriously examine ourselves regularly in order not to fail to correct ourselves and to become fervent Christians in a short time, so that when death knocks on the door, when we breathe our last, we are ready to face God’s tribunal.
Indeed, Our Lord has measured out our years and of those years that have resolved to leave us on this earth he has marked out one which shall be our last one.
Thus: “Woe to the soul entering on its eternity surprised, bewildered, separated thenceforth from its relations and friends, and as it were, “surrounded with divine light it will find in its creator no longer a merciful father but an inflexible judge.”
Vianney continues: “One can just imagine finding ourselves a soul before God’s tribunal with heaven on one side, hell on the other. . .”
One can only shudder at the thought. It must be terrible because, according to the saint, nothing is hidden from God, his infinite wisdom knows our most inmost thought, his gaze penetrating to the bottom of our hearts.
“No secret is hidden and everything is unveiled. And sinners, in God’s infinite wisdom, cannot hope to avoid the light of day so that every “unfaithfulness in his service, our forgetfulness of his commandments, our transgression of his law, the profanation of his churches, the attachment to the world, will be brought to light.”
In the face of this reality, the saint warns us to be fools no more but to wait in anticipation of Christ’s return.
He announces the joy in not waiting until the very moment of death but instead preparing ourselves to meet Christ every moment of our lives, and long before our Messiah arrives.
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