“Brethren: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:15-16 RSV).
True in St. Paul’s day. Perhaps even more so in our day. If the Apostle to the Gentiles was so urgent for his contemporaries to “make the most of time,” how much more urgent is it for us today?
A lot of sand has slipped through the hourglass since Paul wrote that, and yet for a great deal of that time, life was somewhat stable and comprehensible. From century to century there were, for example, important technical advances, but they developed at a pace which was rather more human than the way new things pop up now.
The years of our life are threescore and ten,
or even by reason of strength fourscore;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away (Ps 90:10).
Time flies, as Virgil wrote: “fugit inreparabile tempus … time flies, irretrievable.” Hourglasses are sometimes depicted with wings.
Speaking of flying away, in the span of a Biblical man’s life, we went from the first manned, powered flight at Kitty Hawk to a man walking on the Moon, which we could watch in real time in our living rooms.
Before the invention of telegraphy, news travelled on the average at about 5 miles per hour. It could happen that a Pope would die and his successor be named and people would have no idea of it until perhaps even the new one had gone to God and yet another had been chosen. They got along just fine not knowing. Now we have the internet, bringing news in 5 seconds. Now we know with inhumane speed far too much about everything Popes do, so much so that we can’t shut it out if we try. Are we happier for that?
In a couple of centuries, we have gone from the rare treatments to create immunity of variolation (putting someone’s infection under the skin of another) for disease prevention, and insufflation (blowing the same up someone’s nose) to worldwide maniacal virtue signal charged pressure for global “vaccination.”
Today, TV screens, movies, and hand-held devices are the ubiquitous vehicle for promotion of behaviors that, not long ago, weren’t topics for decent conversation much less universal, ideological, tyrannical advancement.
The Church herself, though clearly retaining her attributes of infallibility in matters of faith and morals and indefectibility, seems to be teetering on the edge of a demographic sink-hole and her highly visible leaders, high by position or by self-promotion, send messages to the world that are somewhat less than clearly Catholic.
Could anyone have imagined in, say, the Jubilee Year of 2000, that a papal document would insinuate that couples in the objective state of adultery could receive Holy Communion or that a Jesuit relentlessly promoting a homosexualist agenda would be celebrated and supported by Catholic bishops at every level?
Who would have believed in the 1950s that what our forebears built, our schools, parishes, hospitals, seminaries etc., would in a few decades be empty, shut down, sold off?
Who would have conjectured that in a few fleeting years after the death of Pope St. John Paul II, there would be a wholesale attempt to cancel his Magisterium, especially major contributions such as Fides et ratio, his 1998 encyclical on the relationship of faith and reason? Remember how that one begins?
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.
The problem is that, back then, someone could and did imagine those things, in the general outline if not in the specifics. As true believers, they worked diligently, patiently, cleverly and they made it happen. And they still are.
There is a Latin phrase: Motus in fine velocior… As you approach the end, things go faster.” That’s certainly apparent to those with graying hair. You would have to be fairly numbed to idiocy by the incessant distractions of our surrounding accelerating world not to have a sense that something big is coming because, well, things can’t go on like this much longer.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Christians have always had a sense that time was short. From the beginning they thought that the Lord was going to return very swiftly. Wise Christians live in a sense of urgency, a constant state of readiness, like the servants in the parables of the Lord, who await the return of their master at a time they do not know. The wise keep enough oil on hand and the wicks of their lamps trimmed. The foolish do not. I have always thought that the parable of the wise and foolish virgins had one of most harrowing lines in all of Scripture. The foolish virgins arrive too late to enter into the wedding banquet – in Christ’s parables always a symbol of the bliss of Heaven. The door is closed. They pound and cry out to be let in only to hear a voice from the other side say, “I do not know you.”
Our Savior concludes, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
Heaven is not automatic. We must prepare and strive for it with the grace of God to guide us.
For those who are somewhat awake, not woke but awake, this evil time into which God has called us according to His unfathomable plan should spur our desire for Heaven rather than depress, demoralize, or distract us from it. The trials of the times can be stimuli for our constant conversion and attention to our vocations. Stimulus is from the Latin for “cattle prod.” God has His own saving jabs, his vaxes against the world, the flesh and the Devil.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (+1153) remarks that God draws us to Heaven, as if against our will, by means of trials (Sermones de diversis 99). He describes four different sorts of people who get into Heaven: “alii violenter rapiunt, alii mercantur, alii furuntur, alii ad illud compelluntur… some seize it by violence, some buy it, some steal it, and others are forced to it.”
What does the Doctor Mellifluus mean by these negative analogies? Some, Bernard says, are like violent soldiers who sacrifice everything, live austerely with many mortifications to lay siege to Heaven and thereby win entrance. Others buy Heaven through giving alms and gaining intercessors for themselves who ask God to bestow graces on them to live well and piously. Others steal Heaven, like thieves in the night, whom no one notices, humble and invisible concealing their good works from notice by others. On the other hand, Bernard says that the most numerous are those who must be “forced.” Think of the parable of the Lord we heard last week. The king compelled people to come into the wedding feast. Heaven, however, wasn’t automatic even for those whom the king dragged in. They, too, had to be clothed in the proper garment (charity, habitual grace) for the nuptial banquet.
Bernard’s thought is that when people experience calamities, being so compelled they come to God. Evil times ought to make the Christian more inclined towards the life God wants us to live, not less.
Paul teaches about evil days. Days mark the passage of time. Days are pretty short. The older you get, the shorter they seem.
The shortest unit of time ever measured, by the way, is the zeptosecond, which is the length of time it takes for a light particle to cross a hydrogen molecule, a trillionth of a billionth of a second, or a decimal point followed by 20 zeroes and a 1.
Our time in Heaven will be unbounded and unfettered by any sorrow. Time, eons or zeptoseconds, will stretch to eternity and will be filled with the greatest riches of meaning and joy in the presence of our infinite God, the Holy Trinity. On the other hand, time will have none of that meaning in Hell. If, in Heaven, the blessed make use of time in abundant happiness, a zeptosecond or an eon is pointless for the damned. Were they even to have a useful zeptosecond, they would use it for repentance… if they were able. Remember Dives and Lazarus in Luke 16: the rich man, suffering in the flames of Hell, begs Abraham to send from Heaven the poor man whom in life he spurned to obtain for him a single drop of water for his burning tongue. He didn’t get it.
I mentioned Kitty Hawk, above, where the first powered airplane flight famously took place. The precise place was south of the town at Kill Devil Hills. Tempus fugit. Time is flying. Knowing full well that sin makes us stupid, severing the connection between faith and reason, claim for your souls the wings God offers, especially if you have lost them. If your soul is dead in mortal sin, take flight in the fight against the Enemy and “kill the Devil” in the confessional. Afterward you will feel lighter than air and the ever-accelerating passage of time will have a whole new meaning.
Convert from Lutheranism, ordained to the priesthood in 1991 by St. John Paul II in Rome for the Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni. Classics at University of Minnesota. Licence and Doctoral studies in Patristic Theology at the Augustinianum in Rome. Formerly a collaborator of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” moderator of the Catholic Online Forum, columnist for The Wanderer and the UK’s Catholic Herald, Fox News contributor. Speaker. Blogist. fatherzonline.com @fatherz