Take you heed, watch and pray: for you know not when the time is.
Read Chapter 13
Athanasius the Apostolic
The end of all things is concealed from us. For in the end of all is the end of each, and in the end of each is the end of all [on the last day]. Whereas this time is uncertain and always in prospect, we may advance day by day as if summoned, reaching forward to the things before us and forgetting the things behind. For who, if they knew the day of the end, would not disregard the interval? But if ignorant, would they not be more ready day by day? It was on this account that the Savior said: “Watch; for you do not know when the time will come.”
Some will perhaps think, that it would have been much better, if the Almighty had not left the hour of death uncertain; as in that case, they would not have been so solicitous with regard to its arrival. But St. Augustine, St. Gregory, and other saints assure us, on the contrary, that it is a very great mercy of God to keep us in this ignorance, that we may always be prepared for it. For, if we knew the precise period, this assurance would give occasion of living more unguardedly, and of sinning more freely. If, with this uncertainty of the hour of our death, we live notwithstanding, so very remissly; what should we do, were we assured that we were not to die for some years? Sts. Gregory, Augustine, and Bonaventure say, that God chose to leave us in this uncertainty, purposely to prevent all attachment to temporal things; that, seeing every hour, nay every moment, we may lose them, we may not be tied to them, but aspire to those we shall always possess, when once we have obtained them....
How useless is the advice of those simplistic moralists who teach that after death rewards and punishments fall with lighter weight! That is, if any judgment at all awaits the soul! Rather it ought to be assumed that judgment will be weightier at the end of life than during it. For nothing is more telling and complete than that which comes at the very end. So no judgment could be more complete than God’s. Accordingly, God’s judgment will be incomparably radical and comprehensive, because it will be pronounced at the very last, in an eternal irrevocable sentence, both of punishment and of consolation. Then souls will not conveniently dissolve into senselessness, but will return into their own proper bodies. All this occurs once for all, on “that day, too, of which the Father only knows,” in order that a full trial be made of faith, and of faith’s concerned sincerity which awaits in trembling expectation, keeping her gaze ever fixed on that day, in her perpetual ignorance of when it will...