“If men only knew what eternity is, they would make all possible efforts to amend their lives”
– Saint Jacinta Marto
Human life in the 21st century often tends to focus on the ephemeral, the transitory, and those things which we are entirely powerless to control in any way whatsoever. For example, we often find ourselves focussed on what has already been and gone – the past; and on what is still to be – the future. We are constantly worrying about the past and all it once contained, even though we have no way to bring it back or to change so much as a moment of it. All we can do is try to learn from it – understanding it as far as we are able to, and seeking to learn from what we have already done, so that we don’t repeat any mistakes we may have made in it. And we fret so greatly about the future, even though we have no idea whether or not we will still be alive tomorrow – or even by the end of today.
For Catholics, we mention these two specific moments every day, asking for help in them, but it may be that we don’t actually think about them, nor consider why they are important for us. What are they? In the prayer of the ‘Hail Mary’, we ask the Blessed Virgin –
“Pray for us now and at the hour of our death”
These are the two moments, and they are the only ones that really matter – ‘now’ (this very moment we are living in) and that final one, the ‘hour of our death’.
They are the only two moments in all of time that we can do anything about, which we can alter or change in any way. But to do the very best with these two moments, we need the help of the Mother of God, and so we pray to Her and ask Her to ‘pray for us now, and at the hour of our death’.
It is in this present moment that we can choose to accept or reject God and His divine will for us; we can choose God over ourselves, or ourselves over God (the other word for this latter choice is sin). If we consistently make a choice in either particular direction, it is likely that this will become something of a habit for us, so each and every moment – and all the opportunities for grace which it contains – is really, really important. Once this moment has gone, it will never, ever be repeated. And so as Catholics, we appreciate the great import attached to the right now; and not least of all, because any one of these present moments may be our last.
And that final moment, the ‘hour of our death’, is the most crucial one of all. Everything depends on that last moment, and on the state of our soul at that moment – that is, whether or not we are in the friendship of God. Our eternity depends upon it. In that last moment, we have the final chance to make a choice – for or against God. Also in that final moment, all the powers of darkness will bear down upon us, seeking to influence our choice so that we do not choose God, that we do not ask His mercy and grace, or that we despair of receiving it. And it is for this reason that we confidently entrust our final moment to the Mother of God, whom the Church calls ‘the Star of the Sea’, for She leads us safely home.
When next we pray the Hail Mary, let us take a moment, pause, and deeply consider why it is that we ask Her motherly help ‘now and at the hour of our death’. And then, let us ask for that help with real conviction.