The Value of Time.
“Modicum, et jam non videbitis me.”
“A little while, and now you shall not see Me.” John xvi. 16.
There is is nothing shorter than time, but there is nothing more valuable. There is nothing shorter than time; because the past is no more, the future is uncertain, and the present is but a moment. This is what Jesus Christ meant when he said: A little while, and now you shall not see Me. We may say the same of our life, which, according to St. James, is but a vapor, which is soon scattered forever. For what is your life? It is a vapor which appeareth for a little while.1 But the time of this life is as precious as it is short; for in every moment, if we spend it well, we can acquire treasures of merits for heaven; but, if we employ time badly, we may in each moment commit sin, and merit hell.
I mean this day to show you how precious is every moment of the time which God gives us, not to lose it, and much less to commit sin, but to perform good works and to save our souls.
Thus, saith the Lord: In an acceptable time I have heard thee, and in the day of salvation I have helped thee.2 St. Paul explains this passage, and says, that the acceptable time, is the time in which God has determined to confer his favors upon us. He then adds: Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.3 The Apostle exhorts us not to spend unprofitably the present time, which he calls the day of salvation; because, perhaps, after this day of salvation, there shall be no salvation for us. The time, says the same Apostle, is short; it remaineth that . . . they that weep be as though they wept not; that they that rejoice, as if they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that used this world, as if they used it not.4 Since, then, the time which we have to remain on this earth is short, the Apostle tells those who weep, that they ought not to weep, because their sorrows shall soon pass away, and those who rejoice, not to fix their affections on their enjoyments, because they shall soon have an end. Hence he concludes, that we should use this world, not to enjoy its transitory goods, but to merit eternal life.
Son, says the Holy Ghost, observe the time.5 Son, learn to preserve time, which is the most precious and the greatest gift that God can bestow upon you. St. Bernardine of Sienna teaches that time is of as much value as God; because in every moment of time well spent the possession of God is merited.6 He adds that in every instant of this life a man may obtain the pardon of his sins, the grace of God, and the glory of paradise.7 Hence St. Bonaventure says that “no loss is of greater moment than the loss of time.”8
But, on his part. St. Bernard says that, though there is nothing more precious than time, there; is nothing less valuable in the estimation of men.9 You will see some persons spending four or five hours in play. It you ask them why they lost so much time, they answer: To amuse ourselves. Others remain half the day standing in the street, or looking out from a window. If you ask them what they are doing, they shall say in reply, that they are passing the time. And why, says the same saint, do you lose this time? Why should you lose even a single hour, which the mercy of God gives you to weep for your sins, and to acquire the divine grace?
O time, despised by men during life, how much shall you be desired at the hour of death, and particularly in the other world! Time is a blessing which we enjoy only in this life: it is not enjoyed in the next; it is not found in heaven nor in hell. In hell, the damned exclaim with tears: “Oh that an hour were given to us!”10 They would pay any price for an hour or for a minute, in which they might repair their eternal ruin. But this hour or minute they never shall have. In heaven there is no weeping; but, were the saints capable of sorrow, all their wailing should arise from the thought of having lost in this life the time in which they could have acquired greater glory, and from the conviction that this time shall never more be given to them. A deceased Benedictine nun appeared in glory to a certain person, and said that she was in heaven, and in the enjoyment of perfect happiness; but that, if she could desire anything, it would be to return to life, and to suffer affliction, in order to merit an increase of glory. And she added that, to acquire the glory which corresponded to a single Ave Maria, she would be content to suffer till the day of judgment the long and painful sickness which brought on her death. Hence, St. Francis Borgia was careful to employ every moment of his time for God. When others spoke of useless things, he conversed with God by holy affections: and so recollected was he that, when asked his opinion on the subject of conversation, he knew not what answer to make. Being corrected for this, he said: I am content to be considered stupid, rather than lose my time in vanities.
Some of you will say: What evil am I doing? Is it not, I ask, an evil to spend your time in plays, in conversations, and useless occupations, which are unprofitable to the soul? Does God give you this time to lose it? Let not, says the Holy Ghost, the part of a good gift overpass thee.11 The workmen of whom St. Matthew speaks did no evil; they only lost time by remaining idle in the streets. But they were rebuked by the father of the family, saying: Why stand you here all the day idle?12 On the day of judgment Jesus Christ shall demand an account, not only of every month and day that has been lost, but even of every idle word. Every idle word that men shall speak they shall render an account for it on the day of judgment.13 He shall likewise demand an account of every moment of the time which you shall lose. According to St. Bernard, all time which is not spent for God is lost time.14 Hence the Holy Ghost says: Whatsoever the hand is able to do, do it earnestly: for neither work nor reason . . . shall be in hell, whither thou art hastening.15 What you can do to-day defer not till to-morrow; for on to-morrow you may be dead, and may be gone into another world, where you shall have no more time to do good, and where you shall only enjoy the reward of your virtues, or suffer the punishment due to your sins. To-day if you shall hear His voice harden not your hearts.16 God calls you to confess your sins, to restore ill-gotten goods, to be reconciled with your enemies. Obey his call to-day; for it may happen that on to-morrow time may be no more for you, or that God will call you no more. All our salvation depends on corresponding with the divine calls, and at the time that God calls us.
But some of you will perhaps say: I am young; after some time I will give myself to God. But remember that the Gospel tells us, that Jesus Christ cursed the fig-tree which he found without fruit, although the season for figs had not yet arrived. It was not the time for figs.17 By this the Saviour wished to signify, that man at all times, even in youth, should produce fruits of good works; and that otherwise, like the fig-tree, he shall be cursed, and shall produce no fruit for the future. May no man hereafter eat any more fruit of thee forever.18 Delay not to be Converted to the Lord, and defer it not from day to day; for His wrath shall come on a sudden.19 If you find your soul in the state of sin, delay not your repentance nor your confession; do not put them off even till tomorrow; for, if you do not obey the voice of God calling you to-day to confess your sins, death may this day overtake you in sin, and to-morrow there may be no hope of salvation for you. The devil regards the whole of our life as very short, and therefore he loses not a moment of time, but tempts us day and night. The devil is come down unto you having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.20 The enemy, then, never loses time in seeking to bring us to hell: and shall we squander the time which God has given us to save our souls?
You say: “I will hereafter give myself to God.” But “why,” answers St. Bernard, “do you, a miserable sinner, presume on the future, as if the Father placed time in your power?”21 Why do you presume that you will hereafter give yourself to God, as if he had given to you the time and opportunity of returning to him whenever you wish? Job said with trembling, that he knew not whether another moment of his life remained: For I know not how long I shall continue, and whether after a while my Maker may take me away.22 And you say: I will not go to confession to-day; I will think of it to-morrow. St. Augustine says: “How can you promise yourself another day, when you know not whether yon shall live another hour?”23 “If,” says St. Teresa, “ ‘you are not prepared to die to-day,’ tremble, lest you die an unhappy death.”
St. Bernard weeps over the blindness of those negligent Christians who squander the days of salvation, and never consider that a day once lost shall never return.24 At the hour of death they shall wish for another year or for another day; but they shall not have it: they shall then be told that time shall be no more.25 What price would they not then give for another week, for a day, or even for an hour, to prepare the account which they must then render to God? St. Laurence Justinian says, that for a single hour they would give all their property, all their honors, and all their delights.26 But this hour shall not be granted to them. The priest who attends them shall say: Depart, depart immediately from this earth; for your time is no more. “Go forth, Christian soul, from this world.”27
What will it profit the sinner who has led an irregular life, to exclaim at death: Oh that I had led a life of sanctity! Oh that I had spent my years in loving God! How great is the anguish of a traveller, who, when the night has fallen, perceives that he has missed the way, and that there is no more time to correct his mistake! Such shall be the anguish at death of those who have lived many years in the world, but have not spent them for God. The night cometh when no man can work.28 Hence the Redeemer says to all: Walk whilst yon have light, that the darkness overtake you not.29 Walk in the way of salvation, now that you have the light, before you are surprised by the darkness of death, in which you can do nothing. You can then only weep over the time which you have lost.
He hath called me against the time.30 At the hour of death, conscience will remind us of all the time which we have had to become saints, and which we have employed in multiplying our debts to God. It will remind us of all the calls and of all the graces which he has given us to make us love him, and which we have abused. At that awful moment we shall also see that the way of salvation is closed forever. In the midst of these remorses, and of the torturing darkness of death, the dying sinner shall say: O fool that I have; been! O life misspent! O lost years, in which I could have gained treasures of merits, and have become a saint! but I have neglected both, and now the time of saving my soul is gone forever. But of what use shall these wailings and lamentations be, when the scene of this world is about to close, the lamp is on the point of being extinguished, and when the dying Christian has arrived at that great moment on which eternity depends?
Be you then also ready: for, at what hour you think not, the Son of man will come.31 The Lord says: “He prepared.” He does not tell us to prepare ourselves when death approaches, but to be ready for his coming; because when we think least of death, the Son of man shall come and demand an account of our whole life. In the confusion of death, it will be most difficult to adjust our accounts, so as to appear guiltless before the tribunal of Jesus Christ. Perhaps death may not come upon us for twenty or thirty years; but it may also come very soon, perhaps in a year or in a month. If any one had reason to fear that a trial should take place, on which his life depended, he certainly would not wait for the day of the trial, but. would as soon as possible employ an advocate to plead his cause. And what do we do? We know for certain that we must one day be judged, and that, on the result of that judgment our eternal, not our temporal, life, depends. We also know that that day may be very near at hand; and still we lose our time, and, instead of adjusting our accounts, we go on daily multiplying the crimes which will merit for us the sentence of eternal death.
If, then, we have hitherto employed our time in offending God, let us henceforth endeavor to bewail our misfortune for the remainder of our life, and say continually with the penitent King Ezechias: I will recount to Thee all my years in the bitterness of my soul.32 The Lord gives us the remaining days of life, that we may compensate the time that has been badly spent. Whilst we have time, let us work good.33 Let us not provoke the Lord to punish us by an unhappy death; and if, during the years that are passed, we have been foolish, and have offended him, let us now attend to the Apostle exhorting us to be wise for the future, and to redeem the time we have lost. See, therefore, brethren, now you walk circumspectly, not as unwise, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil . . . understanding what is the will of God.34 The days are evil. According to St. Anselm, the meaning of these words is, that the days of this life are evil, because in them we are exposed to a thousand temptations and dangers of eternal misery; and therefore, to escape perdition, all possible care is necessary. “What,” says St. Augustine, “is meant by redeeming the time, unless, when necessary, to submit to temporal loss in order to gain eternal goods?”35 We should live only to fulfil with all diligence the divine will; and, should it be necessary, it is better to suffer in temporal things, than to neglect our eternal interests.
Oh! how well did St. Paul redeem the time which he had lost! St. Jerome says, that though the last of the apostles, he was, on account of his great labors, the first in merits. “Paul, the last in order, but the first in merits, because he labored more than all.”36 Let us consider that, in each moment, we may lay up greater treasures of eternal goods. If the possession of all the land round which you could walk, or of all the money which you could count in a day, were promised you, would you lose time or would you not instantly begin to walk over the ground, or to reckon the money? You now have it in your power to acquire, in each moment, eternal treasures; and will you, notwithstanding, misspend your time? Do not say, that what you can do to-day you can also do to-morrow; because this day shall be then lost to you, and shall never return. You have this day; but perhaps to-morrow will not be given you.
1“Quæ est enim vita vestra? Vapor est, ad modicum parens.” -- James iv. 15.
2“In tempore placito exaudivi te, et in die salutis auxiliatus sum tui.” -- Is. xlix. 8.
3“Ecce nunc tempus acceptabile, ecce nunc dies salutis.” -- 2 Cor. vi. 2.
4“Tempus breve est; reliquum est, ut . . . et qui flent, tamquam non flentes (sint); et qui gaudent, tamquam non gaudentes; . . . et qui utuntur hoc mundo tamquam non utantur.” -- 1 Cor. vii. 29.
5“Fili, conservat tempus.” -- Ecclus. iv. 23.
6“Tantum valet tempus, quantum Deus, nam in tempore bene consumpto comparatur Deus.”
7“Modico tempore potest homo lucrari gratiam et gloriam.” -- T. i, s. 13, a. 3, c. 4.
8“Nulla jactura gravior, quam jactura temporis.”
9“Nihil pretiosus tempore, sed nihil vilius æstimatur.” -- De. Cont. mundi, c. 16.
10“Si daretur hora.”
11“Particula boni doni non te prætereat.” -- Ecclus. xiv. 14.
12“Quid hic statis tota die otiosi?” -- Matth. xx. 6.
13“Omne verbum otiosum; . . . reddent rationem de eo in die judicii.” -- Matth. xii. 36.
14“Omne tempus in quo de Deo non cogitas, hoc te computes perdisse.” -- De. Medit. c. 6.
15“Quodeumque facere potest manus tua, instanter operare: quia nec opus, nec ratio . . . erunt apud inferos, quo tu properas.” -- Eccles. ix. 10.
16“Hodie si vocem ejus audieritis, nolite obdurare corda vestra.” -- Ps. xciv.
17“Non enim erat tempus ficorum.” -- Mark. xi. 13.
18“Jam non amplius in æternum ex te fructum quisquam manducet.”
19Ne tardas converti ad Dominum, et ne differas de die in diem: subito enim veniet ira illius.” -- Eclus. v. 8.
20“Descendit diabolus ad vos, habens iram magnam, sciens quod modicum tempus habet.” -- Apoc. xii. 12.
21“Quid de futuro, miser, præsumis, tamquam Pater tempora in tua posuerit potestate?” -- De. Cont. mundi, c. 16.
22“Nescio enim quamdiu subsistam, et si post modicum tollat me Factor meus.” -- Job, xxxii. 22.
23“Diem tenes, qui horam non tenes?”
24“Transieunt dies salutis, et nemo recogitat: nemo sibi non reditura momenta periisse causatur.” -- De Cont. mundi, c. 16.
25“Tempus non erit amplius.” -- Apoc. x. 6.
26“Mundi substantiam, honores, voluptates, pro unius horæ spatio commutaret.” -- De Vita solit. c. 10.
27“Profiscere, anima christiana, de hoc mundo.”
28“Venit nox, quando nemo potest operari.” -- John, ix. 4.
29“Ambulate, dum lucem habetis, ut non vos tenebræ comprehendat.” -- John, xii. 35.
30“Vocavit adversum me tempus.” -- Lam. i. 15.
31Et vos, estote parati; qui, qua hora non putatis, Filius hominis veniet.” -- Luke, xii. 40.
32“Recogitabo tibi omnes annos meos in amaritudine animæ meæ.” -- Is. xxxviii. 15.
33“Dum tempus habemus, operemur bonum.” -- Gal. vi. 10.
34“Videte itaque, fratres, quomodo caute ambuletis: non quasi insipientes, sed ut sapientes, redimentes tempus, quoniam dies mali sunt . . . intelligentes quæsit voluntas Dei.” -- Ephes. v. 15.
35“Quid est redimere tempus, nisi, cum opus est, etiam detrimento temporalium commodorum ad æterna quærenda, spatia temporis comparare?” -- Serm. 16, n. 2, E. B.
36“Paulus, novissimus in ordine, primus in meritis; quia plus omnibus laboravit.” -- Ep. ad Paulin.