“Just a little while longer…”A Meditation on the brevity and urgency of life.

"Wooden hourglass 3" by S Sepp - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“Wooden hourglass 3” by S Sepp – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

There is a passage in John 16 that is unusual for its repetition. This past Sunday it was the assigned Gospel in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The expression “in a little while” is repeated seven times in the brief passage. In fact, its repetition is almost to the point of being annoying, such that the reader is tempted to say, “Alright, already! I get it! In a little while!” But obviously John, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit want to drill this into us. The “little while” of this passage is seemingly a critical perspective for us to lay hold of.

Let’s look at the whole passage:

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy (John 16:16-22).

OK, do you get it? A Little while! Clearly this text is a perfect illustration of the old expression repetitio mater studiorum (repetition is the mother of studies). “A little while” x 7. Obviously we’re supposed to lay hold of this; obviously it was significant to the Lord.

The Greek word translated here as “a little while” is even more evocative of brevity. It is μικρὸν (mikron), which at least in its English connotation, speaks of something very little.

Contextually, the Lord seems to be referring to the brief time between his death and resurrection. And indeed that time was brief. He was trying to prepare his disciples (in the hope?) that they might not lose faith and would be able to endure the passion. But it seems these and other words promising his resurrection “in a little while” (on the third day) had no real impact on them. All but John fled in fear, and all of them were astonished and incredulous at the resurrection when it first broke in to their reality.

But in a more extended and pastoral context, the words of Jesus are also intended for us. He wants us to grasp that “in a little while” we will see him.

This for us is a very important perspective to gain: life is short!  And this truth is both consoling and challenging for us.

It is consoling because whatever pain we are going through we need to remember that we are going through it; if we are faithful, it is not our destination. And whatever the current difficulties, they will be over “in a little while.” An old African American Spiritual says, Hold on just a little longer, everything’s gonna be alright. Another old spiritual says, Trouble don’t last always. As most of us who are a bit older know, life passes quickly—so very quickly. And whatever our troubles, they will be over in a little while. And if we have been faithful, eternity dawns with far great glories than the trouble we have endured for just “a little while.”

We ought to expect that life here will be a little uncomfortable. We live in paradise lost. We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures. We who are baptized now live in this world as strangers and aliens. We’re just passing through a world with strange customs and a strange language. We’re living out of a suitcase and have all the discomforts of travel. But in a little, while we get to go home—if we but hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Scripture speaks often of this aspect.

  1. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7).
  2. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:16-18).

And thus we ought to be consoled by this perspective that, whatever difficulties you’re currently going through, stay faithful. It will be over in a little while. And meanwhile it is producing and storing up glory for you.

It is also challenging to consider the “little while” of this life. Simply put, you are going to die and you don’t get to say when. You are not promised even the next beat of your heart. Tomorrow is not promised, so you’d better choose the Lord today. Do not delay your conversion to the Lord.

Life passes very swiftly. I am celebrating my 25th anniversary as a priest this year. Wow, how did that happen? I feel like I just got out of high school! Life goes so quickly. Scripture says,

  1. Our life is over like a sigh. Our span is seventy years, or eighty for those who are strong. And most of these are emptiness and pain. They pass swiftly and we are gone (Ps 90:9-11).
  2. But as for man, he is like the grass, of the flower of the field. The wind blows and he is gone and his place never sees him again (Ps 103:15-16).
  3. Remember your Creator—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Eccles 12: finis).

Yes, life passes quickly and for most of us, the memory of our existence will linger but a generation here on earth.

But here comes the challenge. Life is short—prepare for judgment. Scripture says,

  1.  It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment (Heb 9:27).
  2. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10).
  3. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:13).

Jesus also warns: 

  1. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping! What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” (Mark 13:33-37) 
  2. I am coming SOON; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown….Behold, I am coming SOON, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done (Rev 3:11; 22:12).

Yes, life is short. And, in a little while we must all report to the judgment seat of Christ for a very honest conversation. Prepare confidently with faith, but not presumption, which is a denial of the faith. The Lord has said that we must be sober, awake, and ready. In just a little while the moment will come. You will die, and you don’t get to say when. Get ready.

There it is—perspective. The consolation is that the troubles of this life pass in “a little while.” The challenge is to be ready, for in just a little while our time here is up and the question is called.

In a little while!

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming SOON.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20)

14 Replies to ““Just a little while longer…”A Meditation on the brevity and urgency of life.”

  1. Everyone should read this every morning. If we truly believed this so much would change in our lives. But we live as if this world is our true and final destiny. I appreciate the image of living out of a suitcase. How wonderful to remember that! How freeing! We are indeed inhabiting a strange world with strange customs and language. And I feel more like an alien with every passing year. It is good to know that as a baptized soul that I should feel a stranger to much that is perceived as normal and acceptable by the majority.
    A truly great post!

  2. Msgr., when you look at life in this way, all of life’s issues seem so insignificant.

    It always comes down to my personal relationship with God and what I have done for Him. I know what He asks of me and it is up to me to follow Him. It is always a choice to love and follow Him.

    In thinking about this as a tough old Catholic, the natural tendency is to conclude you do not even need the structure of the Church to accomplish this. After all the shortcomings of the institutional Church, from sexual predation to money laundering to sweeping changes to the liturgy etc., well, who needs that? Yet spiritually this is the Church Jesus established for us for our salvation. In spite of all it’s failures, receiving Jesus through the Holy Eucharist is what binds me through it all. The Sacraments offer a support system for me as well, even if I worry a little about the spirituality of the priest on the other side of the confessional screen (I think Persona Christi). As for the rest of it, well, bring it on! I will hold in there and pray “I am so sorry, Jesus”. I hope I can be worthy to Him at Judgment.

  3. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
    (John 14:18-20)

  4. We are already, in the depth of my heart, at the threshold for the cup of transgression against GOD is overflowing. Maranatha! How long shall we wait? Yet, a thousand years is but a day to YOU. Have all heard of the Good News yet? No, not yet for the media had turned away from its ideal of truth. It rather tell of glamor and search for fleeting worldly happiness. We just pray that in some other way the world will come to its sense to come to understand and return to its CREATOR. As for us who believe, we stand and wait as sentinels waiting and interceding for those who do not. Thank you, Monsignor for this reminder. As what Gary Martin said, everything else seem so insignificant. Mea maxima culpa. Come LORD JESUS come!

  5. Thank you for this! My son is learning to drive and we’ve talked about going to frequent confession because well, you never know when tragedy might strike. I just never connected this passage to the concept of life is short. I hope to meet you “in a little while.” God bless you, Father!

  6. “Yes, life is short. And, in a little while we must all report to the judgment seat of Christ…..”

    But also…..

    Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. AND REMEMBER, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, TO THE END OF THE AGE.”

    The Eucharist!

  7. Beautiful! Each day at mass, I say to Jesus, “One day closer to being with You!”.

  8. It is more of this brevity of our sojourn here that makes it all more required of us that we constantly empty ourselves and then ask the Lord to fill the void therein. Else we only chase after the wind, getting nothing, soon die out and lose it all.

  9. Some years ago when I attended regularly the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, I was deeply moved every time a certain petition was intoned by the deacon (iirc). ‘Give us a Good Answer before the awesome Judgment Seat of Christ’. Lord have mercy!

  10. Dear Fr Charles
    Thank you so much for this.
    When I was a little boy and right through to my twenties, (and if I am honest, even to this day), I had this wondrous and glamorous dream that Jesus would return again – that is to say ” . . in the clouds with all the hosts of heaven . . .” as foretold in scripture – in my own lifetime!
    In more recent years, and certainly as I am now 68 years old, I have tried to hold on to the oh-so-obvious reality that I shall certainly and without a doubt see Jesus return in my own lifetime, when He comes to call me personally back to where I truly belong. It might be today, it might still be some years ahead – but dear Jesus – I hope and pray that I shall be ready for that ‘coming’ and that I shall be able to give a credible account of my activities here on earth.
    Come – Lord Jesus – come – and that right quickly!
    Let us all pray for each other that this may be true.
    Ray – Portsmouth – UK.

  11. Thanks to the main post and Ed’s broadening reference (John 14:18-20) I saw how the empirical and relative; earlier illustrated in the parable of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44 Luke 21:1-4); applies in bigger ways than known by self.
    Thinking that I’d had it figured out, on such as a thousand years being so short to God (Psalm 90:4) until encountering Ed’s comment he helped me to face the strength of the humility of “insufficient data” so that I can now pursue a greater understanding.
    A cake is usually in the oven for less than an hour but a crop takes months and a fruit tree years before the results. Looked down this tight line until a broader look at chapter 14 pulled the blinders off.
    Recall something I heard in the t.v. show, “All In The Family” about all beng my superior that I may learn from them – as presented by a severely mentally challenged character in one episode.

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