Rorate Caeli

"Meditations on Death" Part 3 - A Lenten Series by Father Konrad zu Loewenstein: 3. The Value of Time

A Lenten Guest Series by
Father Konrad zu Loewenstein 


a) The Passage of Time

What, then, is your life? ‘It is a vapour which appeareth for a while’ (Jc 4.15). The vapours exhaled from the earth, says St. Alphonsus, when raised on the air and invested with the light of the sun, make a resplendent appearance, but how long does that splendour last? It is dissipated by the first blast of wind, and then it is seen no more. ‘Cry... all flesh is grass... The grass is withered, and the flower is fallen.’ (Isaiah 40. 6); ‘Man born of woman, lives for a short while... he comes forth like a flower and is destroyed’ (Job). ‘We all die... like the waters that return no more.’ (II Kings 14.14), and ‘All rivers run into the sea’(Eccl 1.7).

The world is like a stage, says Cornelius a Lapide: one generation passes, and another comes. The generation of man is like the generation of leaves on the tree, says Homer in the Iliad: Now the leaves die and are blown about the earth by the wind; and now the trees are budding again and bringing forth new life. Life is short, even if in youth it seems long. Everything that has a limit to it is short, says St. Augustine. Indeed compared with limitless eternity the present life is nothing, or almost nothing. But if in length it is nothing, in importance it is everything. So ‘those that use this world, be as if they used it not... for the fabric of this world is passing away’ (I Cor 7.29).

‘My days... have passed as ships carrying fruits’ (Job 9.25). They have passed with their pleasures, and what remains of those pleasures now? The great ones of the world, those who have lived for pleasures, when they have died, are spoken of for a while, but they are soon forgotten: ‘Their memory has passed with a noise’ (Ps 9.7).

... As they say to themselves: ‘What hath pride profited us? or what advantage hath the boasting of riches brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow, and like a post that runneth on, And as a ship that passeth through the waves: whereof when it is gone by, the trace cannot be found, nor the path of its keel in the waters: Or as when a bird flieth through the air, of the passage of which no mark can be found, but only the sound of the wings beating the light air, and parting it by the force of her flight; she moved her wings, and hath flown through, and there is no mark found afterwards of her way: Or as when an arrow is shot at a mark, the divided air presently cometh together again, so that the passage thereof is not known.

‘So we also being born, forthwith ceased to be: and have been able to shew no mark of virtue: but are consumed in our wickedness.  Such things as these the sinners said in Hell: For the hope of the wicked is as dust, which is blown away with the wind, and as a thin froth dispersed by the storm: and a smoke that is scattered abroad by the wind: and as the remembrance of a guest of one day that passeth by. But the just shall live for evermore: and their reward is with the Lord, and the care of them with the most High’ (Wis. 5).

b)  The Use of Time

‘Nothing is more precious than time’, says St. Bernard, ‘but nothing so despised’. See these  men standing hours on the street, looking at the passers-by, exchanging obscene or idle words. Ask them what they are doing, and they will say: ‘We are passing the time’. Poor, blind men, who lose so many days, but days that shall never return!’ The Master of the Vineyard rebukes the men in the street for ‘standing idle all day long’ (Mt. 20.6): not for doing evil, observes St. Alphonsus, but simply for wasting time; whereas on Judgment Day the Lord will demand an account for every idle word, indeed for every thought.

Let us reflect how each moment of time we may acquire new treasures of eternal riches. Were all the land around which you could walk or all the money you could count on a day promised to you, would you not hasten to acquire as much of both as you could? But now what about the merits which you can gain for eternal life? Why do you not care to preserve your soul in the state of Grace, and so to acquire and to augment your eternal glory and beatitude?

Some might say: ‘I am young’, I shall give myself later to God’. And yet we read in the Gospel that Our Blessed Lord cursed the fig-tree the first time he found it without fruit, although the season for figs had not yet arrived, signifying that we must give forth good works from our youth.

Or what of the one who is no longer young? What of the fig-tree that Our Lord found without fruit after three years? You, my brother and sister, have been in this world for more than three years, and what fruit have you yet produced? Our Lord seeks not only the flowers of desires and resolutions, says St. Bernard, but the fruit of holy works. Learn then to profit from the time which God in His mercy has given you.

c)  The End of Time

O time despised during life! says St. Alphonsus, How ardently will you be desired by worldlings at the hour of death. They will then wish for another year, another month, another day; but they will not obtain it. How much would they then not pay for the time to settle the accounts of their conscience? To obtain a single, miserable hour, they would, says St Lorenzo Giustiniani, prepared to give all their wealth and worldly possessions. But this hour shall not be given. The assisting priest is already saying to the dying man: ‘Set forth o Christian soul from this world: Proficiscere anima Christiana ex hoc mundo - for time is no more.

How great the distress and misery of a traveller who, when the night has descended, perceives that he has lost his way, and that there is no time left to correct his error. Such at death will be the anguish of the sinner who has lived for many years in the world, and has not spent them for God. ‘The night cometh when no man can work’ (Jn 9.4); ‘He has called against me the time’ (Lam 1.15); ‘The harvest is over, the summer is passed, but we are not saved’ (Jer. 8.20).

Conscience will then remind the worldling of all the time God gave him, and that he has spent for the destruction of his soul; of all the calls and graces that he has received from God for his sanctification which he has not heeded. The sinner will then see that the gate of salvation has been closed to him forever. Hence he will weep and cry: ‘O fool that I have been! O time wasted! An entire life wasted! O years wasted, in which I could have, but have not, made myself a saint. And now the time of salvation is gone forever’.

‘But what purpose do these sighs and lamentations serve? when already the scene is fading, the lamp is on the point of being extinguished, and the terrible moment approaches on which depends Eternity’.

‘O my Jesus! Thou hast spent Thy whole life for the salvation of my soul. There has not been a single moment of Thy life in which Thou hast not offered Thyself to the Eternal Father to obtain me pardon and eternal glory. And I have been so many years in the world, and how many have I hitherto spent for Thee? Ah! All that I remember serves to arouse my regret. Great has been the evil, and little has been the good, and the good that there was, all full of imperfection, tepidity, self-love, and distraction... O Infinite Goodness worthy of infinite love... make me forget all things, that, during the remainder of my life, I may think only of loving and pleasing Thee, I place all my confidence in the merits of Thy Most Precious Blood, and in the intercession of my Most Holy Mother. Amen