Continuing to reflect on Eugene’s resolutions as he entered retreat, we encounter another very practical motivation for doing a good retreat: the possibility of death. He gives the impression that he considered 50 to be a ripe old age – perhaps in 1831 it was! But more seriously, cholera had broken out in some of the ports of the Mediterranean, and it was a matter of time before it reached the port of Marseilles.
9. Among other motivations for going to the heart of the matter, I will consider my age (I have entered my fiftieth year) and the scourge of God that is threatening us. It is good to think about my half-century, for it is forgotten when one’s health is good, and about the cholera morbus for it seems too far away when talking about it. However, one does not cease to grow old because one feels like a thirty-year-old, and if cholera comes all of a sudden one has to become dedicated without delay and confront all its dangers. And to do that one must be ready to appear before God.
10. So in this retreat one must envisage death a little more close-up than usually. When one feels young and in good health, one sees before one a long series of years, and no sign of bodily dissolution. One has to call in aid the imagination to dream up an illness without having any of the symptoms, and which since it has nothing of the real world about it arouses none of the conviction for fearing death it is supposed ought to follow on it. But when one is persuaded that one is getting old, that one might have died on two occasions in a month, then when one tells oneself that cholera could arrive any day by land or sea, and once it has come, it could dispatch you in a few hours, the argument is more cogent, and the conclusion easier.
11. So the thought of death can therefore be employed this time more successfully than usual.
Retreat resolutions, October 1831, EO XV n 162