On the Consideration of Our Last End

(by Rev. Francis Hunolt 1694 -1746)

Nemo ex vobis interrogat me; Quo vadis?--John xvi. 5.

"None of you asketh me: Whither goest thou?

A general and at the same time a rare question: Whither goest thou? A useless and at the same time a most important question: Whither goest thou? It is a general question; for whenever one acquaintance meets another in the street, the first word is: where are you going to? A rare question; for you seldom find one who says to himself: where am I going to? It is a useless question when proposed to others; for as a general rule it is prompted by mere curiosity, and deserves no better answer than: what is that to you? It is a most important question when one proposes it to himself; for the answer to it brings before us the most weighty, useful, and fundamental truths of our faith, the neglect of whinch causes the loss of most souls. I will now, my dear brethren, consider them in the form of a quiet meditation, for your good and my own; and since man consists of two parts, body and soul, I shall propose them in a twofold question and answer, namely:

Plan of Discourse.

Whither goest thou, O man ? Thy body shall go into the grave. Such shall be the answer in the first part. Whither goest thou, O man? Thy soul shall go into eternity. The answer in the second part. From the first we shall learn to despise all temporal things; the second should urge us to greater zeal in striving for eternal goods.

O God of goodness! we beg of Thee, by the intercession of Mary and of our holy guardian angels, to make those truths sink deeply into our minds.

There is a well-known anecdote recorded of St. Jacoponus, who through humility pretended to be a fool. He one day met on the market a citizen, who had just bought a pair of chickens. "Here," said the latter, "bring these home for me, and I will follow you shortly and pay you for your trouble." "Willingly," answered the Saint; and taking the chickens, he went to the church, in which the citizen had already caused his tomb to be prepared, and placing the chickens in the grave, went his way. The citizen comes home and asks about the chickens, but no one knows anything of them. What is the matter now? he thinks; can that fool have run away with them? He runs off again to the market and finds Jacopouus standing in the same place as before. "What have you done with my chickens?" he asks in an angry tone. "I did as you told me," was the answer of the seeming fool. "You did no such thing," said the other; "for no one in my house knows anything of them." "Come with me, then," said Jacoponus, "and I will show you that I have done what you told me." He brought the man to the grave; "see, there they are," said he; "for that is your house; the one you are living in now is not your home in reality; it belongs to the world; but this will be your home till the last day." And he was quite right; but the citizen had not thought of that before.

And we too, my dear brethren, are very apt to forget that the true home of the body on this earth is the grave. "My days shall be shortened," says Job, "and only the grave remaineth for me."(1) Nothing shall remain to me of all the lands I have owned; nothing of all the houses I have lived in; nothing of all the money I have amassed, which has made me so important amongst men; the dark grave is all that I have to expect. Your magnificent palaces, O kings and princes of earth! your beautiful dwellings and mansions, O rich ones of this world! do not belong to you, exclaims St. Augustine; "a man is but a guest in his own house;"(2) he merely takes shelter in it for a brief space. My father or my grandparents, you say, have left me this house; it has been bequeathed to me, and has thus become mine. Quite right, continues the Saint, I know what you mean; your grandparents took shelter in this house, and then left it; so, too, it will be with you; in a short time you will have to leave it, and your descendants will take possession of it. But the grave is your true dwelling; of that you can say with certainty that it is your house, for you shall remain in it and it shall belong to you till the last day.

Every day brings us nearer to this house, and hardly is there one to be found to ask himself: whither am I going? hardly one who thinks of or considers this question. The consequence of this neglect is that we set such a high value on temporal things and think so little of eternity. If we often reflected on this truth seriously and deeply: I am hastening to the grave, should we then plague ourselves so much with disturbing cares and wearisome toil for the sake of the mortal body, or to amass money, or enjoy the pleasures of life, or gain the esteem of men? In God's name, what is the use of such inordinate desires? Imagine that you are looking at a prisoner condemned to death; he thinks of nothing but filling his barns with corn, his cellar with wine; he wants clothes made in the newest fashion; as he is brought to execution he sees a fine house, and asks at once whether it is for sale and what is the price of it, as he wishes to buy it for himself. What would you think of such a man, my dear brethren? Would you look on him as a wise man? O fool! you would say to him; do you know where you are going to? To the gallows, to the place of execution, where you will be hung by the neck for an hour. Why, then, do you trouble yourself about fine houses and grand clothes, about corn and wine? Look after your soul, and see what you can do to make it happy in eternity.

Another has built a house on the Moselle, where the current is so strong that nothing can resist it. The rushing waters eat away the bank more and more every day, until at last they work their way into the foundations, and the walls and beams begin to lean on one side. Meanwhile the owner goes on furnishing and ornamenting the house; he has it plastered on the outside and all the rooms newly painted and hung with beautiful tapestry; the windows are carefully cleaned and the grounds outside laid out most tastefully in pleasure gardens. What do you think of all this? Does that man act wisely? By no means, you say; the whole place will be about his ears in a few days; instead of furnishing and decorating, he should try to save whatever he can of his property before the building falls in ruins; it is certainly no place for a man to live in.

Now, my dear brethren, all of us who live on this earth are condemned to death. Sentence is already pronounced on us, as St. Paul says: "It is appointed unto men once to die."(3) Our life is the way to the place of execution, on which we are really led to death. Our life and body is that building that is eaten away by the rustling river; time constantly gnaws at and undermines the foundation; every moment we live takes away a piece of our lives that we shall never get back again; every breath we draw forces on another breath, until we come to the last. Thus the beginning of our life is also the beginning of our death. The last grain of sand that falls in the hour-glass does not make the hour, it merely marks the end of the hour; so, too, the last breath does not make death; it simply shows that death and life have come to an end together. Just as the iron has in itself the rust, wood the worm, cloth the moth that gradually destroys it, so also the human body bears about in itself from the first moment of its existence the matter by which its own life will be gradually and insensibly eaten away.

Yet, although we are thus every day, hour, moment hurrying to the gallows, to death like condemned criminals; although every day, hour, moment our house is being undermined by the rushing river and ready to fall; yet the most of us are principally, nay, almost solely occupied by our efforts to adorn and furnish the falling house, to pamper and fatten the body. That we may live comfortably in this house we work from morning till night, amassing money, buying land, building, going to law for the sake of a square foot of ground, as if a little world depended on it; while for the sake of a wretched handful of money our precious souls, God and heaven are freely staked. What arrant folly and stupidity! A heathen philosopher complained of this long ago: "We know," he says, " that we are mortal and must die; that we are in daily danger of being surprised by death; yet our desires are as great as if we were immortal."(4) It is not enough for us to have our daily bread, for which Christ taught us to pray, in order to preserve our lives; we wish for superfluities. Nor are we satisfied even with the superfluous; we long for still more. The care for the present day, to which Christ exhorts us, is not enough; we take into account future and uncertain days, weeks, months, and years, so that nothing may be wanting to us. Our desires are as great as if we were immortal; we do not think of where we are going; we forget that we are really on the road to death and that we are hurrying to the grave. For what else are we so careful in nourishing this flesh of ours but to give it to the worms? For whom do we heap up wealth if not for our descendants to whom we must leave it? Is it not a foolish thing to build in a place in which we cannot remain? To spend so much labor in gathering together what we cannot keep possession of? " I beg of you, brethren," says St. Augustine, " whenever you pass by the tomb of a rich man to look round and see where are his riches and ornaments, his glory, his vanity, his luxury, his pleasure, or what remains to him of all these things. Consider diligently and see and acknowledge that nothing remains to him now but ashes, filth, and worms. Imagine that you hear a voice from the grave crying out to you, and indeed the silence of the grave is eloquent enough: What you are now, I was; what I am now, you will be. Miserable mortal who now think so much of the comforts and enjoyments of life! see and consider what the end of them must be. I was formerly as rich, as powerful, as mighty, as fond of comfort, as you are; and one day you will be as foul and fetid as I am now."(5)

Yes, we know that we are going to the grave; but the way may be a long one; we may still have many years to pass in this world. Such are the thoughts of most people. They all acknowledge that they must die; hardly one thinks he will die soon. Each one looks at his grave as still many miles, many years distant from him. He who is young counts on his vigorous youth; he who is grown up on his manly strength; the old man trusts in his still robust health; every one finds something in his imagination to defend himself against the approach of death; and hence there are few who are disquieted by the question: whither goest thou? To the grave? Oh, it will be long before it comes to that with me! Supposing now, my dear brethren, that such is the case, and indeed it is true that some live longer than others, what difference does that make? For instance, there are three men on their way to execution; the one is to be beheaded in the market-place here in Treves; the other is to be brought outside the town to Eureu; and the third has to go three or four miles along the bank of the river before he comes to the place of execution. They are brought out, of prison at the same time; the first has but a few steps to go to the market-place, the second a few hundred yards to Euren, the third has a much longer journey before him; but they are all going to the same end; they must all lose their lives. If the third were to give way to feelings of exultation, to provide himself with new clothes, to curl his hair, and to make all kinds of purchases, thinking that he has some hours longer to live than the others, would you not be inclined to laugh at him? Eh? There is little inclination for merry-making in any of them! They are all in an evil plight; all full of sorrow and care, because they know that they are going to die, that they are being led out to death. Is it not the same with us, my dear brethren, in this world? We are all condemned to death, only some are executed a little sooner than others; one has a few more steps to take, a few more days to live before he comes to the place of execution. The Creator has given to one twenty, to another thirty, to a third forty, fifty, sixty, seventy years of life; but meanwhile are we not all travelling the same road that leads to death? Truly such is the case! As St. Jerome beautifully says: "There is no difference between him who has lived ten and him who has lived a thousand years, once the common end of all and the inevitable doom of death has come upon them."(6) Consider the years of the patriarchs of old; we think what long lives they had; but what of that after all? Their years came to an end at last. Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years; and what then? And he died. Seth lived nine hundred and twelve years; and what then? And he died. Enoch lived nine hundred and five years, Jared nine hundred and sixty-two, Mathusala nine hundred and sixty-nine years; and what then? They all died; one sooner, another later, but all of them had to pay the debt of nature. Now I am certain that I shall not reach such an age; and even if I could hope to do so, I should still have to die at last, and in fact I am now actually going to my death. What, then, is the good of my becoming attached to a few earthly things for a few miserable years, and plaguing myself on account of them, and seeking after pleasures, while I neglect the one only necessary business of my immortal soul? Whither goest thou? I must ask myself: where am I going to? To the grave, to death; and whether the way is longer or shorter makes little difference to me.

But what have I said? That we are all like the criminal? led to death? We are rather worse off, if anything; for they know at least for certain how far off their death is; they know the way on which they are going; they can count the steps they still have to take, and hence they can say how long they still have to live. Not one of us can know that much. The Lord has said to us that we must die; we know that we are going to the grave, but not, a whit more. How long we still have to journey; how far off death is from us; let him who can guess that. "You know not the day nor the hour," says Our Lord.(7) And there is another thing we have from the infallible lips of God Himself, that He will come like a thief unawares, at a time when we least expect Him: "At what hour yon think not, the Son of man will come."(8)

Aesop, the celebrated writer of fables, was one day sent by his master to see if the bath was ready, and as he was going along the street he met a judge who asked him where he was going to. What a curious fellow, thought Aesop; what is that to him? And he answered: "I do not know where I am going to." The judge, offended at the impudent reply, ordered his servants to bring Aesop to prison. The latter went on a few steps, and then, stopping, turned round to the judge, and said to him: " You see now, sir, that I did not know where I was going; I had intended to go to the bath where my master sent me; but I had no idea that I should be sent to prison today." Ah, my dear brethren, how many there are who go and know not whither! How many dying persons who, if they were asked, where are you going to? should have to say: I know not; I had thought I was on my way to a foreign country, to this or that town; I had no idea that death would overtake me on my way. I know not where I am going! I thought I should return from that foreign country in good health and spirits to my friends; I never imagined that I should die on the road. I know not, where I am going! I thought I should recover from this illness; but now I see that it will be my last. I know not where I am going! When I was young and strong, I thought I had many years to live; I never suspected that I should die a premature death. I know not where I am going! I thought I was going to get married, or to take possession of the new charge conferred on me, or to the feast to which I was invited, to that garden, that company, that ball, to enjoy myself; but now I see that I was wrong, for I am going to death before my time. I was going and knew not whither. So, my dear brethren, we are all of us on our way to the grave every day, and we cannot say when we shall come to our journey's end.

Therefore, lest I should fall into the grave unprepared, I will often ask myself this question: whither goest thou? Thy body to the grave! Before I leave my house in the morning I will ask myself, whither goest thou, if not nearer to death every day? and therefore I will be careful not to bring back any sin with me. In the evening before retiring I will ask myself, whither goest thou? Is not my bed the image of the grave, sleep the brother of death; and may not both come upon me together this night? Therefore I will first examine my conscience and bewail my sins with true contrition. In all my actions I will ask myself: whither goest thou? And since I am continually approaching nearer to the grave, I will say with the Apostle in truth: "I die daily;"(9) that is, not only do I go nearer to death every day, but daily I see dearer how transitory are all earthly things; daily does my heart become more detached from the vain joys and pleasures of earth: daily do I raise my mind and my desires with more earnestness to heaven; daily do I so live that I may be ready daily to die. Whither goest thou? Thy body shall go to the grave. But what of the soul? It shall go into eternity. This we shall briefly consider in the

Second Part.

The wise Ecclesiastes, after having written a whole book describing the vanity of all things on earth, concludes his teaching in the last chapter with these words: "Man shall go into the house of his eternity."(10) O house of eternity, what a vast edifice thou art! He who has a long journey before him, my dear brethren, through a desert country, where there is no shelter to be found and no food, must take provisions with him and fill his travelling-bag with food and drink if he does not wish to perish on the way. Silver, gold, bank-notes, precious treasures are of no use to him on such an occasion; they would only tire him, but could not prevent him from dying of hunger and thirst. Leonius tells us of two travellers who were journeying together through a desert; the one had over ten thousand golden crowns, the other had nothing but a piece of dry bread and a jar of water. The first began to suffer thirst, but knew not where to find help, because his companion had too little water to spare him any. At last he offered all his gold for a drink of water. The second, greedy of the money and anxious to become rich all at once, exchanged the water for the gold. But how foolish he was! the first drank the water and thereby saved his life; the second grew tired carrying the gold and perished of thirst. If he had kept the water he might have had the gold too, in time, for the first would have died and left it to him. But he did not think of that in time, and so his repentance came too late.

Where art thou going, human soul? Into the house of thy eternity; that is, into that vast, infinite wilderness in which thou shalt find nothing but what thou bringest with thee from here for thy journey; in which there is no shelter for thee but what thou hast first built up for thyself; and no other life but what thou hast prepared for thyself here below. What will become of thy wealth, O rich man? Will it go into eternity? But what good would it be to thee there? That is a land in which money cannot buy anything. Wo to thee, then, if thou hast made no other provision for the road; thou shalt surely suffer eternal hunger and thirst! What will become of thy honors and dignities, O ambitions man? Will they, perhaps, accompany thee into the house of thy eternity? But hast thou nothing else to bring with thee? Alas! if so, thou wilt receive but little honor there, for in that house there is no respect for persons, for high dignities, for great honors, and an illustrious name. There the peasant is as good as the king, and the humble servant will be treated better than his proud master. What, O vain and idle Christian! will become of thy comforts? Will they, perhaps, go into the house of thy eternity? And what art thou bringing with thee thither? Nothing? Alas! how will it be with thee then? What hast thou to live on during a long eternity, where thou shalt find no one to give or lend thee anything; where every one must live on what he has brought with him; where there is no possibility of working to earn anything; for there is the night of which Christ speaks in the Gospel: "The night cometh when no man can work."(11)

Now is the time for us to make provision for our souls, that they may be able to live there forever. What we neglect now we shall never be able to do hereafter. "Therefore, whilst we have time, let us work good,"(12) as St. Paul exhorts us. How many years have I already spent in this world? What a long and beautiful time I have had of it during all those years! But where are the virtues, the good works, the merits that I should have collected and sent before me into the house of my eternity? Alas! if my journey were now brought to an end, and the great account-book, in which are written all my thoughts, words, and actions, and all the years, months, weeks, days, and moments of my life--if that book were now opened before the judgment-seat, and examined so as to separate the good from the bad, the useless from the meritorious, what would then remain over for my soul? The years of my childhood, during which I lived without the use of reason, are all blotted out; I find nothing in them to live on during eternity. The time I have spent in eating, drinking, amusing myself, dressing, idling about, all without the good intention, all these are blotted out; they bring me in nothing! The good works that I have performed in the state of mortal sin, no matter how numerous they may be, are all blotted out too; my soul can expect no profit from them for all eternity! And if that is the case, what time will remain to me in which I have done something for my soul and served God? Ah, how little I have thought of this hitherto, although every hour the stroke of the clock warned me, and as it were, called into my ear: thou art again an hour nearer to thy eternity; what good hast thou done during this hour? what merits hast thou gained?

Alas! how great, how deplorable the stupidity of us mortals! If we go to the country for a few days to enjoy ourselves we send out provisions beforehand; we roast and boil and make every preparation, although we could find food enough in the place itself if we wish to pay for it. And now we are already half way on our journey to a vast desert, to the house of our eternity, where we can buy nothing, find nothing, expect nothing, except what we bring with us; where neither money, nor treasures, nor learning, nor knowledge, nor art, nor dignities, nor honors ean help us in the least. Yet we make such little preparation, we think so little of this journey, that hardly once in a year do we ask ourselves: whither goest thou? Truly we live traveling as blind people! And if we occasionally make some provision for the road, that is, if we have performed some good works, gained some merits, we often act like the traveller of whom I have told you, who sold his jar of water; we sell our provisions, not for ten thousand crowns, but often for a wretched shilling of unjust profit, for a point of honor, for a moment, of brutal pleasure, for the respect or love of some mortal creature! Thus we have lost all!

And how vain the repentance this folly of ours will entail, when we shall have come to the end of our journey and shall find nothing but our sins! When people enter on the married state without thought or reflection or seeking counsel from God, how bitterly they repent afterwards of their folly! Oh, would that I knew you before as I know you now, they say to each other; I would never have married you! Would that I had never laid eyes on that man! But all your wailings are of no avail; you should have thought of that before; it is too late to repent now; you must live with that man whether you like it or not. Yet be contented and have patience; you can still hope that death will put an end to your troubles. But if you have once entered into the house of your eternity, and you find things wrong with you there, there is no help for you, no hope; what you have neglected here is lost forever and can never be replaced. "We fools," you will cry out, and with you all careless Christians for all eternity, "therefore we have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shined unto us;"(13) all is lost and gone from us forever!

"Man shall go into the house of his eternity." Mark those words, my dear brethren. "Of his eternity." What does that mean? Are there, then, more eternities than one? Truly there are, and each one will find his own, either in indescribable joys or in intolerable torments, according as he himself has prepared his eternity during this life. Sinner! whither goest thou in thy sins? Thy wickedness seems to answer me, as the boy answered those who asked him where he was going on a horse that was running through the streets with him without a bridle; "I am going," said the boy, "wherever the brute wishes to bring me."(14) In the same way you, O wicked Christian! say: I am going wherever my inordinate appetites and brutish desires wish to bring me; I am going where my pride, avarice, sensuality, vindictiveness, gluttony and my outward senses are dragging me; wherever the fashions and usages of the world lead me; I go into that street, that house, that company, to that infamous person to satisfy my lusts; I go to that gaming and drinking house to get drunk; I go to seek revenge on that man who has wronged me; I go to cheat and deceive others, etc. I go, in a word, wherever my brutish inclinations bring me. Ah, go then! I quite understand that you are on that broad road of which Our Lord has said: "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat."(15) But, unhappy man, where will this journey end? In eternity. You do not think of that now. And in what kind of an eternity? In that which you will find at the end of the way you are going, of which Job says: "If I wait, hell is my house, and I have made my bed in darkness. All that I have shall go down into the deepest pit."(16) Alas! hell is my dwelling-place! eternal darkness my couch! hunger my food! the gall of dragons my drink! my only company the demons! my only delight eternal fire! See, now, where you are going to; in that house of your unhappy eternity you will have to remain forever. Blind soul! will you not even now reflect on this?

My dear brethren, surely we do not wish to have a home of that kind! Do we not hope and wish and expect to find a far better one? If such is the case, let us often seriously ask ourselves this question: where am I going? My body will go to the grave. If so, what better shall I be for all that the vain world can give me in the short time of life? Why should I treat this decaying body too tenderly? Why should I leave my God, my sovereign Good, for earthly things? What is it to me whether divine Providence gives me little or much here below? Should I not be satisfied with my daily bread, since I know not how near I may be to my grave? Where am I going to? My soul shall go into a long eternity. Why, then, am I so idle in the divine service? Why am I so sparing of my labor that during this short and uncertain time I do not employ it in gaining treasures and merits on which I can live in eternal joys? "I go to Him that sent Me"(16) shall be my conclusion in the words of Christ; I will go to Him who has sent me into this world as a laborer into His vineyard, to earn the promised penny with the sweat of my brow; who has sent me as a merchant to the market to purchase wares for my eternal life; who has sent me as a servant whom He has entrusted with a talent to gain many other talents. I go to Him who is my First Cause, and my Last End, for whose service alone I am created. Thither shall be directed all my thoughts and desires, my words and conversations, my actions and occupations, my crosses and trials, my mortifications and penances; so that I may one day arise from my grave with a glorified body, and go with my soul into the happy house of my eternity. Amen.

Music: The Funeral March composed by Beethoven

Act of Resignation and Prayer for a Happy Death

Lord Jesus, incarnate Son of God, Who for our salvation didst will to be born in a stable, to endure poverty, suffering, and sorrow throughout Thy life, and finally to die the bitter death of the cross, I implore Thee, in the hour of my death, to say to Thy divine Father: O Father, forgive him (her)! Say to Thy beloved Mother: Behold thy son--thy child! Say to my soul: This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise! O my God, my God! forsake me not at that moment! I thirst! O my God! Truly my soul is athirst for Thee, the fountain of living water. My life has passed away like unto smoke; yet a little while and all is consummated. O adorable Saviour, into Thy hands I comment my spirit for all eternity. Lord Jesus, receive my soul. Amen


1. Dies mei breviabuntur, et solum mihi superest sepulchrum.--Job xvii. 1.

2. Unusquisque in domo sua est hospes.

3. Statutum est hominibus semel mori.--Heb. ix. 27.

4. Tanquam mortales vivimus; tanquam immortales concupiscimus.

5. Rogo vos fratres, quoties per sepulchrum divitis transitis, ut diligenter inspiciatis, ubi sint ejus divitiae et ornamenta, ubi gloria, ubi vanitas, ubi luxuria, ubi voluptas, vel ubi eorum sint spectacula. Considerate diligenter, et videte et agnoscite, quia nihil aluid in eis est nisi cinis, foetor et vermis. Hoc quod tu es, ego fui; et ego quod sum modo, tue eris postea.

6. Inter eum qui decem vixit annis, et illum qui mille, postquam idem finis vitae advenerit, et irrecusabilis mortis necessitas, transactum omne tantumdem est.--S. Hieron. ep. ad Heliod.

7. Nescitis diem neque horam.--Matt. xxv. 13.

8. Qua hora non putatis, Filius hominis veniet.--Luke xii. 40

9. Quotidie morior.--I. Cor. xv. 31

10. Ibit homo in domum aeternitatis suae.--Eccles. xii.5.

11. Venit nox, quando nemo potest operari.--John ix.4.

12. Ergo dum tempus havemus, operemur bonum.--Gal. vi. 10.

13. Nos insensati...ergo erravimus a via veritatis, et justitiae lumen non luxit nobis.--Wis.v. 4, 6.

14. Quocunque belluae collibitum fuerit.

15. La a porta, et spatiosa via est, quae ducit ad perditionem, et multi sunt qui intrant per eam.--Matt. vii. 13.

16. si sustinuero infernus domus mea est, et in tenebris stravi lectulum meum. In profundissimum infernum descendent omnia mea.--Job xvii. 13, 16.

17. Vado ad eum qui misit me.--John svi. 5.