I like this “saying” of Evagrius from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
Abba Evagrius said, “Sit in your cell, collecting your thoughts. Remember the day of your death. See then what the death of your body will be; let your spirit be heavy, take pains, condemn the vanity of the world, so as to be able to live always in the peace you have in view without weakening. Remember also what happens in hell and think about the state of the souls down there, their painful silence, their most bitter groanings, their fear, their strife, their waiting. Think of their grief without end and the tears their souls shed eternally. But keep the day of resurrection and of presentation to God in remembrance also. Imagine the fearful and terrible judgment. Consider the fate kept for sinners, their shame before the face of God and the angels and archangels and all men, that is to say, the punishments, the eternal fire, worms that rest not, the darkness, gnashing of teeth, fear and supplications.”
At first glance, of course, that can seem a little depressing. Of course, it is good to remember death and to consider the possibility of going to Hell. It is certainly one way – if not the best way – to remind oneself to strive to practice the virtues and to avoid sin.
But Evagrius goes on:
“Consider also the good things in store for the righteous: confidence in the face of God the Father and His Son, the angels and archangels and all the people of the saints, the kingdom of heaven, and the gifts of that realm, joy and beatitude.”
Yes, that is the other side of the coin, isn’t it? Evagrius concludes:
“Keep in mind the remembrance of these two realities. Weep for the judgment of sinners, afflict yourself for fear lest you too feel those pains. But rejoice and be glad at the lot of the righteous. Strive to obtain those joys but be a stranger to those pains. Whether you be inside or outside your cell, be careful that the remembrance of these things never leaves you, so that, thanks to their remembrance, you may at least flee wrong and harmful thoughts.”
It’s about balancing the two realities, then. And those two opposing outlooks are reality, aren’t they? The bottom line is: what matters more than keeping these two realities in mind? Our focus must be on our eternal salvation.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.