Words of the Saints: St. John Henry Newman on the Hour of Death

“Well is the hour of death described as the evening. There is something in the evening especially calm and solemn, fitly representing the hour of death. How peculiar, how unlike anything else, is a summer evening, when after the fever and heat of the day, after walking, or after working, after any toil, we cease from it, and for a few minutes enjoy the grateful feeling of rest! Especially is it so in the country, where evening tends to fill us with peace and tranquillity. The decreasing light, the hushing of all sounds, the sweet smell, perhaps, of the woods or the herbs which are all about us, the mere act of resting, and the consciousness that night is coming, all tend to tranquillize us and make us serious. Alas, I know that in persons of irreligious mind it has a very different effect, and while other men are raised to the love of God and Christ and the thought of heaven by the calm evening, they are but led to the thought of evil and deeds of sin. But I am speaking of those who live towards God and train their hearts heavenward, and I say that such persons find in the calm evening but an incitement to greater devotion, greater renunciation of the world. It does but bring before them the coming down of death, and leads them with the Apostle to die daily. Evening is the time for divine visitations. The Lord God visited Adam after he had sinned in the garden, in the cool of the evening. In the evening the patriarch Isaac went out to meditate in the field. In the evening our Lord discovered Himself to the two disciples who went to Emmaus. In the same evening He appeared to the Eleven, breathed on them, gave them the Holy Ghost, and invested them with the power of remitting and retaining sins.

“Nay even in a town the evening is a soothing time. It is soothing to be at the end of the week, having completed the week’s work, with the day of rest before us. It is soothing, even after the day of rest, though labour is in store for us against the morrow, to find ourselves in the evening of the day. It is a feeling that almost all must be able to bear witness to, as something peculiar, as something fitly prefiguring that awful time when our work will be done, and we shall rest from our labours…”

Preparation for Judgment, Sermon given Septuagesima Sunday, 1848

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