PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
I thought upon the days of old, and I had in my mind the eternal years (Psalm lxxvi. 6).
I. Consider first, that, speaking according to the grossness of our conceptions, there are three periods of time, past, present, and future. But there are really but two—past and future; since, if thou considerest closely, there is no present time. No sooner hast thou said that it is, than it is no longer; it has been. Imagine thyself seated on the bank of a rapid river; whenever thou choosest a fixed moment to say, “This water is here,” thou sayest what is not true, for the water which thou saidst was here has already flowed far away. Time passes more rapidly than any river; thou canst not stop it. When thou wouldst do so by affirming it to be present, it escapes thee in the act of speaking, and is already past. The true present is with God only, with Whom there is no time: “With Whom there is no change.” Do not wonder, therefore, if the Psalmist, speaking in the text of time, mentions but two periods, the past and the future: “I thought upon the days of old” – that is, the past; “and I had in my mind the eternal years” —that is, the future. He did not give a thought to the present, either because it does not exist, or because, at all events, it is so brief as to be valueless. What is that which is present to us? If it exists at all, it is but a moment, that is, a point: “The joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment.” A single moment! this is all that the time comes to which thou possessest. All that preceded this moment is the past, all that succeeds it is the future. Therefore the Preacher said, “Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly.” The adverb is instanter, and it is to show that the past is no longer in thy power, to be employed for thy profit; and as for the future, thou knowest not that it ever will be. It is true indeed that, to speak still more correctly, the Psalmist was not so much here thinking of the past and the future, as of the past and the eternal. “I thought upon the days of old “— that is, “the days which have been” — he said, “and I had in my mind” — not the future, but — “the eternal years.” All those years which will be eternal to us are future, doubtless; but all future years will not be eternal. The years which we have yet to live on earth are future, of course; but they cannot be called eternal, when after sixty, or at most seventy of them have passed, they will be at an end. The only eternal years are those which follow our death, for they will never end; and it is of these that David was thinking. Well is it for thee if thou, too, art in the habit of’ thinking of them, for the most salutary thought that our mind can harbour is this of our past days and of the eternal years; of the former, that we may see how swiftly they have flown, of the latter, to remember that they will never end: “I thought upon the days of old, and I had in my mind the eternal years.”
II. Consider secondly, why it is that this thought will prove so salutary. It is because the thought of past days will make thee have a still greater value for the eternal years, which, as has been said, will never end; and, on the other hand, the thought of the eternal years will make thee think less and less of the past days, which have flown so quickly, as also of all those which may yet be in store for thee. Only I would bid thee observe, that in order to make this thought more efficacious, it is necessary to think neither merely of the past, nor merely of eternity, but of both together, as thou seest holy David did: “I thought upon the days of old, and I had in my mind the eternal years.” The conjunction “and” shows the combination of the two. Wouldst thou know how valueless is all that passes away? Contrast it with that which never ends, and say to thyself, “Even though I should have to live, not merely my allotted number of years, which will very likely not reach eighty, but those of Noe, Nachor, or Mathusala, which were little short of a thousand, what would they be in comparison of those countless millions which are swallowed up in eternity? A mere nothing: ‘As yesterday which is past.’ How then can I possibly prefer those years which will so soon be over to those which will have no end?” In the same way, in order to know how to form a just estimate of eternity, compare it with the past, and say to thyself: “When all these millions and millions of years are gone, where shall I be at the end of them Nay, why do I say the end? I shall have to begin counting them again, as though they were but beginning. How then can I think less of a life which will never have a close than of one which will so soon be over? This is the right way to judge rightly of the two: to think of the past, to think of eternity, but to think of both together: “I thought upon the days of old, and I had in my mind the eternal years.”
III. Consider thirdly, that the Psalmist says that he “thought” of the days of old, and that he “had in mind” the eternal years. For as to the past, thou canst turn it over all at once in thy mind, divide it, take it to pieces, at thy will; but not so with eternity. It will be a great thing if thou succeedest in having it in thy mind without examining it. Indeed, thy mind cannot contain it as a whole, only in portions, according to our feeble powers of conception. And so it is that it is possible for thee to have in mind “the eternal years,” that is to say, those years which we have spoken of as endlessly succeeding one another; but not “eternity.” That is too vast an idea to dwell in any human mind; it dwells in the mind of God only, which contains it in itself; and sees it in its entirety. It will be enough for thee if, like David, thou keepest in thy mind “the eternal years,” often repeating to thyself, “When as many years of eternity have passed as there are leaves in spring, or sands on the shore, or atoms in the air, or stars in the heavens, will that portion of eternity which has been spoken of be really past in such a sense as that it will never return? Not at all. There will always be as much to come as is past.” And, after all, who is there that can understand what eternity is? As it will be infinite, so will it be unknown. All that we can do here is to let our minds meditate on the “eternal years,” which are things we can conceive of. Therefore, the conclusion of the subject is this: in this life there is no present, there is only past or future, as is the case in the waters of running streams which rapidly succeed each other, and all we mortals, thou shouldst think, are like these: “We all. . . like waters . . . fall down.” In eternity, on the other hand, there is neither past nor future, it is all present, as in the fountain from which the waters take their source. And such, thou shouldst think, is God: “Thou art always the self-same, and Thy years shall not fail.” What we speak of as past or future in eternity is not eternity itself, but only the time which flows forward in eternity. And this is what will belong to us, as it does now; only that now it is for a short space, and then it will be for ever: “Their time shall be for ever.” And on this, as has been so often said, thou hast to think, so as to see whether it is for thy advantage to have a brief happiness and eternal suffering, or brief suffering and eternal happiness.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
Copyright © 2013. Holy Cross Publications. All rights reserved.