by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Sermon XXIV Third Sunday After Easter
On the Value of Time
There 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 Saint 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” – James 4:14. 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” – Isaiah 49:8. Saint 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” – 2 Corinthians 6:2. 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 Use this World, as if they Used it not” – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31. 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” – Ecclesiastes. Son, Learn to Preserve Time, which is the Most Precious, and the Greatest Gift, that God can Bestow-upon you. Saint 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. 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. “Modico tempore potest homo lucrari gratiam et gloriam”. Hence Saint Bonaventure says, that no Loss is of Greater Moment, than the Loss of Time.
But, in another place, aint Bernardine says, that, though there is Nothing more-Precious than Time, there is Nothing less-Valuable in the ‘Estimation-of Men’. “Nil pretiosius tempore, nil vilius reputatur”. You will see some Persons spending Four or Five Hours in Play. If you ask them, why they Lose 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? “Donec hora pertranseat, quam tibi ad agendam poenitentiam, ad acquirendam. gratiam, miseratio conditoris indulserit”.
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”. 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, Saint 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” – Ecclesiastes. The Workmen, of whom Saint 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”? – Matthew 20:6. 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” – Matthew 12:36. He shall likewise Demand an Account of every Moment-of the Time which you shall Lose. According to Saint Bernard, all Time which is not Spent-for God, is Lost Time. “Omne tempus quo de Deo non cogitasti, cogita te perdidisse”. Hence the Holy Ghost says: “Whatsoever thy Hand is able to do, do it Earnestly; for neither Work nor Reason shall be in Hell, whither thou art Hastening” – Ecclesiastes 9:10. What you can do Today, defer not till Tomorrow; for on Tomorrow, 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. “Today, if you shall Hear His Voice, Harden not your Hearts” – Psalm 95:7-8. God Calls you to Confess your Sins, to Restore Ill-gotten Goods, to be Reconciled-with your Enemies. Obey His Call Today; for it may happen that, on Tomorrow, 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” – Mark 11:13. By this, the Savior 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, For ever” – Mark 11:13. “Delay not to be Converted to the Lord, and Defer it not from Day to Day; for his Wrath shall come on a Sudden” – Ecclesiastes. 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 Today, to Confess your Sins, Death may this Day Overtake you in Sin, and Tomorrow 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” – Revelation 12:12. 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 Saint Bernard, “do you, a Miserable Sinner, Presume on the Future, as if the Father placed Time in your Power”? 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” – Job 32:22. And you say: I will not go to Confession Today; I will think of it Tomorrow. “Diem tenes”, says Saint Augustine, “qui horam non tenes”. How can you Promise yourself, another Day, when you know not whether you shall Live for an Hour? “If”, says Saint Teresa, “you are not prepared to Die Today, Tremble, lest you Die an Unhappy Death”.
Saint Bernardine 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. “Transeunt dies, salutis et nemo recogitat sibi perire diem et nunquam rediturum”. 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. 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? Saint Lawrence Justinian says, that for a Single (1) Hour, they would give all their Property, all their Honors, and all their Delights. “Erogaret opes, honores, delicias, pro una horula”. 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”.
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 Traveler, 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” – John 9:4. Hence the Redeemer says to all: “Walk whilst you have Light, that the Darkness, overtake you not” – John 12:35. 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 against me the Time”. 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 to Salvation, is Closed Forever. In the midst-of these Remorses, and of the Torturing Darkness of Death, the Dying Sinner shall say: Oh! 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 Railings 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” – Luke 12:40. The Lord says: “Be 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 anyone had Reason to Fear that a Trial should take place, on which his Life depended, he certainly would not Wait for the Day of 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 Hezekiah: “I will Recount to Thee, all my Years in the Bitterness of my Soul” – Isaiah 38:15. 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” – Galatians 6:10. Let us not Provoke the Lord to Punish us by an Unhappy Death; and if, during the Years that are Past, 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” – Ephesians 5:15-17. “The Days are Evil”. According to Saint 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 which are Evil; and Dangers of Eternal Misery; and therefore, to Escape Perdition, all possible care is necessary. “What”, says Saint Augustine, “is meant by Redeeming the Time, unless, when necessary, to submit to Temporal Loss in order to Gain Eternal Goods”? We should Live only to fulfill 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 Saint Paul Redeem the Time which he had Lost! Saint 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”. 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 Today, you can also do Tomorrow; because this Day shall then be Lost to you, and shall never Return. You have this Day; but perhaps Tomorrow will not be given you.
O my God, Help me to Remember – That Time is Short, Eternity is Long. What Good is all the Greatness of this World, at the Hour of Death? To Love You, my God, and Save my Soul, is the One Thing necessary. Without You, there is no Peace, no Joy. My God, I need Fear nothing but Sin. For to Lose You, my God, is to Lose All. O my God, Help me to Remember – That to Gain all, I must Leave all, That in Loving You, I have all Good Things: the Infinite Riches of Christ and His Church, the Motherly Protection of Mary, Peace beyond Understanding, Joy unspeakable!
Eternal Father, Your Son has Promised that whatever we ask in His Name will be Given to us. In His Name I Pray: Give me a Burning Faith, a Joyful Hope, a Holy Love for Jesus Christ. Give me the Grace of Perseverance in doing Your Will in all things. Do with me, what You Will. I Repent of having Offended You. Grant, O Lord, that I may Love You always, and never let me be Separated from You.
O my God and my All, make me a Saint!