Certain poems can be easily registered in one’s memory. This is due as much to the profundity of the words as their rhythmic meter. Such is the case with the following passages of a poem by Fr. Joseph Stedman.
Life is short, and death is sure,
The hour of death remains obscure.
A soul you have, and only one,
if that be lost, all hope is gone.
Waste not time, while time shall last;
for after death ’tis ever past.
All-seeing God, your Judge will be,
and Heaven or Hell your destiny.
All earthly things will speed away,
Eternity, alone, will stay.
The poem forces one to think about how time is precious and not to be squandered. Time is given to us by the Creator for specific purposes. It can be used not only to glorify Him but also to bring honor upon our families, the associations to which we belong and ultimately ourselves. When this gift is used wisely it brings joy and a tranquil conscience.
The wise use of time can be seen in an episode in the life of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga. One day he was playing billiards with some fellow novices, and one of them asked what the others would do if they knew that Our Lord’s Second Coming was only a few hours away. One said he would rush to the chapel while the other admitted he would run to a confessional. The saint calmly responded, “I would finish my game of billiards.” This is the response of a man who had a tranquil conscience about his use of time since he would never think of using it unwisely.
“I Am Going to Die Young!”
Contrast this attitude with a very common modern-day expression. When asked what they are doing, some people respond, “Oh, just killing time.” This is the equivalent of saying, “I am wasting time.”
How then might we use this inestimable gift wisely? We must realize that we have a limited amount of it. Our time on this Earth was already calculated before we took our first breaths. For some, this may be a long life; for others, it could be short, like that of the husband of Mrs. Diana Lapp.
I gave a lecture on the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima at her home many years ago, and she recounted the story of how she and her husband Richard first met. He was only sixteen, and she was fourteen. He pointed her out to a friend at a social gathering and said, “Introduce me to that girl. She is the woman I am going to marry.” After that first encounter, she went home that night and told her parents, “I have just met the man I am going to marry.”
Five years later, as he was about to propose marriage, he dropped a bombshell. “I am going to die young,” he said, “so if you want to back out now, I will understand.” She might have found this more than a bit odd but did not allow it to deter her. They would go on to marry, have six children and life was good to them.
She converted to the faith, a desire she had harbored since she was six years old. At that young age, a girlfriend showed her a rosary. Mrs. Lapp saw it and immediately said, “I want to be Catholic, and one day, I will have my own rosary.” In the evenings she would sit in on the lessons in the Catholic Faith Mr. Lapp would give their children.
Their Last Conversation
Throughout the years of their happy marriage, he would periodically remind her of his early death by telling her she needed to learn how to do things like arranging an oil change for the car, doing the taxes and balancing the checkbook.
“You will need to know how to do these things,” he would say, “when I am gone.” One can only imagine what a loving wife might think of these reminders from a husband who seemed to be in good health. She might have eventually disregarded this morbid consideration after they had been married for over twenty years.
On Mr. Lapp’s 48th birthday, he went hunting with some friends and bagged his first deer after ten years of trying. Naturally, he was excited, and the first thing he did was call his wife to share the moment. Little did she know when she hung up that this would be their last conversation. As Mr. Lapp was leaving the forest, he suffered a massive heart attack and fell dead to the ground.
The Clock of Hell
What impressed me about this story is the seriousness with which Mr. Lapp lived his life and prepared for his early death. Scripture counsels us to think about our last ends as a means of not committing serious sin. This seriousness does not prevent one from enjoying a game of billiards as Saint Aloysius nor hunting deer as Mr. Lapp. However, it does demand that we make good use of each moment that passes and will never come again.
As Mr. Lapp, every man will one day leave this earthly existence, and time for them will immediately stop. There will be no more seconds, minutes or hours. We will not have another chance for misusing that priceless gift.
After death, there will only be eternity where there are no clocks, except for one: the “clock” of Hell. That proverbial “clock” is a constant reminder of time badly used and will torment souls who could have avoided eternal misfortune by using it better. That “clock” does not measure seconds with a “tick-tock” indicating a terminal point. The “clock” of Hell constantly reminds tormented souls that Hell is permanent and thus repeats, over and over, “Always, Never.”
Thus, waste not time, while time shall last; for after death ’tis ever past. Time is precious…how are you using yours?