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"A little while, and now you shall not see me." ~John 16:16
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 St. James is but a vapor, which is soon scattered for ever. "For what is your life? It is a vapor which appeareth for a little while" (James 14:14). 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.
1. "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 Cor. 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 Cor. 7:29, 30, 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.
2. "Son," says the Holy Ghost, "observe the time" (Eccl. 4:23). Son, learn to preserve time, which is the most precious and the greatest gift that God can bestow upon you. Saint Bernardino 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 St. Bonaventure says that "no loss is of greater moment than the loss of time" (Ser. xxxvii. in Sept).
3. But in another place, St. Bernardino 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" (Ser. ii. ad Schol). 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."
4. 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, 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.