The Value of Time
What good reasons we have for valuing our time, and making good use of it! The few years which God gives us to live, enclosed as they are between the centuries that are gone and those that are to come, are indeed a trifle compared with eternity. Regarded from this standpoint, our life resembles that of those insects called, I believe, Ephemera. They are born in the morning, and in the evening they have ceased to exist. Better yet, our life resembles a wave, raised up by the wind on the bosom of the sea, that scintillates an instant under the rays of the sun, and then falls back and is no more. Or again it is like to those flashes of lightning which, on a stormy night, dazzle the eye for a moment, and then disappear without leaving a trace of their existence. And this inconceivable rapidity, this nothingness of human life condemns at once all the ambitions and desires which attach us to the earth. What folly, then, when we consider the brevity of life, to dream of cutting a great figure here below, to yearn for the admiration of the world, and to attach our hearts to those earthly goods from which we shall be so brutally separated on the morrow.
All this is truth itself! These thoughts are truly Christian thoughts! The pleasures of life could not seduce the holy men who sounded the vanity of those earthly attractions which captivate the worldling.
But so far, we have considered only one side of the question. Though life is brief, it is, at the same time, a treasure, the most precious of all treasures.
Americans have an adage which well expresses their principal preoccupation: “Time,” they say, “is money.” Let us adopt this adage, but let us Christianize it, and say: “Time is the money with which we can purchase eternity.” Yes, it is during our fleeting existence here that our eternal destiny must be decided. It is on the employment of these few days which we have to live, that our eternal lot depends.
Hence, how important it is for us to realize the value of time, and use it to advantage. Each one of the instants of which it is composed, if we employ them according to the will of God, is the small coin with which we can purchase a superior degree of glory in Heaven. Yes, the present moment, which to all appearance is such a trifle, and which to mind is but the lightning flash, this moment, if I utilize it according to the designs of God, will give me a more intimate possession of God, and a more entrancing communion with Him for all
Why be astonished then that the Holy Ghost places so much insistence on the good employment of our time! I should never end were I to repeat to you all the passages of Holy Writ in which we are exhorted not to lose a moment of our time. I shall confine myself to these short extracts: “Son, observe the time, and fly from evil.” (Ecclesiasticus iv, 23.) “Therefore, whilst we have time, let us do good.” (Gal. vi, 10.)
Need we be astonished at the fidelity with which the Saints have put their maxims into practice? I defy any one to find even one of them who did not employ his time to the best advantage. Are not holiness and the proper employment of time intimately related then? A saint who would have trifled with time, who would have squandered it, or thrown it to the winds of vanity or frivolity, would be one whom we might well ridicule, and you yourselves would politely invite him to descend from a pedestal to which he had no right. Saint Francis Borgia, when he was yet in the world, thus answered those who sought to have him devote a part of his time to the vanities of social life: “Let me alone, for I prefer to pass for a common person, rather than lose my time.” Saint Alphonsus bound himself by a vow never to lose a moment of time, and it is this vow that accounts for the wonderful works of the saint; it was this vow that enabled him to accomplish by word and example a sum of work that appears to us beyond the power of man.
Others there are, my daughters, who appreciate the value of time–but alas; too late. These people are at this moment in Hell. What would they not give could they have but one hour in which to do penance! Listen to the expression of their regret: “I had ample time, when I was on the earth, to save my soul, and prepare for myself a place in Heaven; but I foolishly squandered it. I employed it in the pursuit of vain phantoms which men call pleasure, riches, and honors. These, all these in turn were mine; but they left me, when perchance I had attained them, naught save emptiness, deception, and chagrin. While on earth I was ignorant of true happiness, and behold I shall be ignorant of it throughout all eternity. Oh! for one moment of that time which I have so foolishly squandered.” And lo! like to a mocking echo, the voice of the Demon responds: “Too late! too late! For you time is no more. You have lavished your time on all the vanities with which I have tempted you. Attain these, I said, and you will be happy. Fool! Well may you weep over your folly.”
My daughters, if the Elect in Heaven could experience regret, it would be a regret for the loss of time; and if they could form a desire, that desire would be for a moments of time. A pious Benedictine, appearing after his death to one of his companions, said to him, that he was, indeed, perfectly happy, but that if he were able to desire anything, it would be to return to earth so that he might make a better use of his time, and thus secure a higher degree of glory in Heaven.
Let us consider now, my daughters, the various ways in which we are losing time: by remaining inactive, by permitting ourselves to be idle, and by indulging in daydreams. To squander our time in this fashion means to render our lives sterile, and talent unproductive. We become like to the fig-tree cursed by Our Saviour because it bore no fruit.
Moreover, what ought we to think of those things which we do–according to the accepted expression–“to kill time”? Are not occupations of this kind equivalent to a loss of time? To deliver ourselves up to useless babbling, to waste an afternoon in visiting without some good purpose, to read dangerous novels, though they be of great literary excellence, to fill our minds with the refuse of newspapers, all this is, I grant, an occupation; but occupations of this kind are, rightly understood, a real loss of time.
Behold now another way in which we lose time: by amusing ourselves, not for the sake of refreshment or relaxation after work, but independently of all work, merely to pass away the time pleasurably. This immoderate desire for pleasure is one of the temptations of riches, and one of the reasons, doubtless, which led Our Saviour to say that it is exceedingly difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. I often recall the text which Cardinal Langenieux chose when preaching a Lenten sermon at the Tulleries, in the reign of Napoleon III. This venerable and saintly man chose no other words than those which were repeated every morning in this frivolous court of the third empire: “How shall we amuse ourselves today.” Self amusement was the great end of the lives of these courtiers. Take care, my daughters, that you do not bring into your lives something of these deplorable manners, and remember well that to run after pleasure is to lose the true life.
Let us consider, finally, one more way in which we lose time: by doing something other than that which we ought to do. You yield, for example, to a temptation to make some fancy work during the time set apart for an exercise of piety. You are not at all inactive during this time, nor could you be accused of idleness. But you are losing your time, nevertheless, by employing it in a manner contrary to the actual design of God.
What resolutions should we adopt, then, in the face of these considerations?
1. I shall never remain idle, nor lose one single instant of my time.
2. I shall draw up for myself a rule of life, adapted to my state, comprising only a few articles, and capable of being applied to the diverse circumstance of my life. I shall ask myself every evening if I have observed this rule in all its essentials.
3. I shall be faithful to the following rule which, so to speak, multiplies time, and permits even the busiest person to find time for everything. The rule is this: I shall never put off what I can do now.