Time is short, eternity
“Fool, this very night the demand will be made for your soul.” I invite you to consider what you are here on earth for. The Church teaches that we are here on earth to become saints. Let us use the opportunity which the time we have been granted in life presents.
One of the most helpful things in realizing what life is for is to appreciate that life will end. Years ago the famous German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote his celebrated book called “Being and Time”. Whatever about the content and drift of his book the reality is that our existence is caught up in time - it is essentially temporal. This means that our existence on this earth will soon be over. No matter how young or old we are, life will soon be over. We do not know when this will be, nor how it will come about, but it will happen soon. Why do I say this? Simply because time passes very quickly. And this is our experience.
Look back over the past year - think of Lent last year, think of Easter last year. Try to remember what you were doing twelve months ago and notice this one thing: the time since then has passed quickly. Consider the various things that have happened in your family, your work and your other activities over the past year. Some things have been achieved, perhaps with some failures and disappointments. But the time has passed, gone forever, and has passed quickly though it may not have seemed so at the time. That time will never return. Or consider even this very day, today. You got up from bed this morning and went about the day’s business, and you are now reading this page. Moment by moment, this very day is passing by quickly, never to return. In every second we move rapidly towards our allotted end. If you are young and habitually looking ahead with hope, you may think time passes slowly. But it does not. And as the years pass and you find yourself looking back, you will be astonished at how quickly the time seems to have gone. Then there will come each person’s individual judgment by God. No one will be able to help me as I face that judgment. It will then be all over, one way or another, and I will be responsible for the result. Time is constantly passing, and it passes quickly. My end is coming.
If the time of our own individual life has passed quickly, time on the world scale passes quickly too. The great things our Lord did for mankind in his birth, life, death and resurrection were two thousand years ago. But is this really very long ago? Elderly people usually consider their lives to have passed quickly. There was mention in the news some time back of a Chinese lady here in Australia who was 104 years old. I myself used to take Holy Communion to one lady in Merrylands who lived in her own home. She was over 100 years of age. Well, the lifetimes of twenty such people bring us back to the time of our Lord’s birth. Twenty people is not many - and with those twenty, considered one after the other, two thousand years have gone by. Forty such people and we are before the time of Abraham. So that is not so long ago - all time passes very quickly.
If time passes quickly in our own brief life with our own personal judgment by God to follow it, so too all of human history is passing quickly on to its inevitable end, with the General Judgment of God to follow. Just as each of us, sooner than we may quite realize, will appear before the judgment of God with our lives over and gone for good, so too each of us, sooner than we realize, will be present at the General Judgment of God at the end of all time. Christ has come, and that first coming was not really so long ago. He will come very soon to judge each of us at the end of our lives. That is not long off. So too all human history will pass away more quickly than we realize. We each of us will be part of that great General Judgment. It will be the end of the world as we know it, with no further judgment of God to follow. Then there will be only heaven forever with God, or hell forever without him. There will be no other option. And it will all depend on how I choose to use my time, this time that is so fleeting, this time I have that speeds on so quickly to its end, to my end, and to the end of the world.
The only thing that separates us from all this future that is coming is time. It is only past time that separates us from when Christ first came. It is only time, the time that is left to each of us, that separates us from Christ’s coming each of us to judge us when we die. And it only time, future time, that separates us from Christ’s final coming at the very end of the world to judge all mankind together. It is only time that separates us from all these events. This time, which is none other than the process of change all visible things are subject to, is speeding on. The being of our world and our own being is caught up in constant and inexorable change, and this changing world speeds on to its end and climax which is the judgment of God. We are immersed in time, time that refuses to pause, time that speeds to its inevitable destination.
Now, the thing to remember is something very positive. It is that time is God’s gift to us. We have been given time. It is a wonderful opportunity, the chance to use time by changing for the better, and to help the world around us change for the better. Time is our opportunity to prepare for the judgment of God. And time passes quickly. Sooner or later it will be all over, and the question will be, how will we have used our time? What am I doing with it?
This brief moment right now is the chance to take stock, to look at our present goals and ask if they are the goals we should have. To this point, what have I been living for? What are my goals at this point of my life? Perhaps I have been hardly aware of my goals. An animal has no choice of his goals - its instincts lead it to seek its goals without choice. But we can choose our goals and can choose to put all our energy into attaining them, and thus the attainment of our goals is a reward we have merited and not just a result. The goal of my life should be what I was created for and what God keeps me in existence moment by moment for: namely, to know, love and serve him in my daily life so as to see and enjoy him for ever in heaven. God has made us to seek and attain personal holiness which is a loving union of friendship with him. I have not called you servants, Our Lord said, I have called you friends. This was his plan for us from before the world was made. Everything else that God in his providence gives me, be it health or ill-health, friends, family, material possessions, other gifts and blessings, or any deprivations he in his wisdom permits, all things that come my way or that I lack are intended or permitted by God to help me attain the purpose for which I was created. This purpose is to know, love and serve Jesus as perfectly as possible in the doing of his will. All things in my life, positive or negative, must find their place in my life in him and according to his will. Union with God in everything. Time is given me for this, so I must use my time well.
What I must resolve to do is to start again. I must use well this precious commodity which is time, time which is daily running through my fingers and which I cannot stop and hold in abeyance. Time is what I have in order to achieve my life’s purpose of loving and serving God. If I use my time for purposes that take me away from God, time will have been wasted and my life will have been wasted, and there will be eternal consequences for my misuse of time. The books will be opened both at my particular judgment and at the general judgment, and my marks will be shown to be very poor. In fact I could fail altogether. My only chance is to realize this, and to use my time, the time right now that I have, and the time ahead of me, using it very well and to the purpose. So I must begin again, learning from the past but not living in the past, planning for the future but not living in the future. I must begin again right now, and live to the full now.
Now I begin! Right now I must say that to God, and say it again and again every day. I shall use the whole of my time for God and his will for me, moment by moment and day by day as time carries me along. I shall begin again, and again, as each day comes, using each day granted me by God entirely for the doing of his holy will out of love for him. I do not have the past in my hands. It is gone. I can only repent of it and learn from my wasted time. I do not have the future - it is absolutely in the future, beyond my present reach. All I have is the present, and in a moment it will be gone. So now, right now, I begin. I will use the present day for one purpose only, and every day from now on for one purpose only, to do what God wants me to do, to do his will and the work he has given me to do, however ordinary and humdrum it may appear, and to do it for him with all the love and dedication for him I can offer. Union with Jesus.
Even though we see ourselves full of failings, we must cultivate in ourselves a burning desire for sanctity. If we don’t have the desire, and a burning desire, we shall never get there. As one modern saint (Josemaria Escriva) writes, “What matters is that we engrave, that we burn upon our souls the conviction that Christ’s invitation to sanctity, which he addresses to all without exception, puts each one of us under an obligation to cultivate our interior life and to struggle daily to practise the Christian virtues; and not just in any way whatsoever, nor in a way which is above average nor even excellent. No; we must strive to the point of heroism, in the strictest and most exacting sense of the word.”
The greatest danger is to think that it is impossible. But it is possible for me, for me to be a saint, one hidden and known only to God. It is possible because it is what God wants. He sent his Son to make it very, very possible, entirely possible for me by his death and resurrection. He made up for all my sins and has given me the gift of the Holy Spirit who came to the Church at Pentecost and to me at my baptism and my confirmation, and every time I receive the sacraments in the state of grace, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist. Our hope that we will be truly sanctified lies not in our own determination - though we must be determined - but in the grace of the Holy Spirit the Sanctifier. It is his call to me, a call I hear every day in my heart, a call he had in mind for me from all eternity. It is my vocation. The saints set out to be saints, fully given over to God, because they knew and believed that this was what God wanted for them, but they had to cooperate. It was the power of God that got them there, with their full cooperation.
There are a great number of persons who never acquire this holy ambition. Yet this is the reason why God chose us in Christ from all eternity. We are Catholics in order to be saints, hidden with Christ in God, known as such only to God, living lives that in God’s providence are ordinary, hidden, unknown, but saints nevertheless. Because of the power of sin, making this possible required a tremendous effort on God’s part, and it will require a great, a persevering, and consistent effort of cooperation on our part. It has to be our daily ambition, requiring a great daily effort right to the very end of our lives. We must pray for a great desire for it, and the wisdom to use the means. We must take all the means, following an approved plan of life that will get us there. This is the will of God, St Paul writes, your sanctification. That is what we are made for, that is what we have been baptised for, that is what we are Catholics for. But we have to follow a sure plan of life and cooperate with God’s constant daily work in our souls. A lot of people have heard the call, but follow no plan to achieve it.
And then we must perseveringly take the means and follow our plan. I do stress the importance of keeping to a well thought-out plan of life if we are to achieve our goal. Daily prayer, daily spiritual reading, the Rosary and the Angelus, Mass at the centre of one’s life, regular Confession, regular and sound spiritual direction, sanctifying one’s daily work, living in the presence of God, perhaps attending a monthly Recollection, and so forth. Follow an approved plan and receive good spiritual direction so that the grace of God meets with our consistent cooperation and so has a chance to bear fruit, fruit that will last.
Now I begin! Let us take up the daily task of seeking personal sanctity. This is the will of God, St Paul writes, your sanctification. If it is the will of God, let us make sure it becomes a reality. Every day counts. Live every day in the loving presence of God, and aim high. Aim to do whatever our Lord wants, no matter what the cost. Aim to make every day a true gift of love, a love affair between oneself and God. I invite you to hear this fundamental and all-important call in your heart and to take it up.Say to God: I repent. I shall start again. So, now I begin!