The Word: Our own eleventh hour

Published 5:02 pm Saturday, March 18, 2023

We have all heard of deathbed converts, those lucky people who turn to Christ just before death calls them: from the Good Thief to Oscar Wilde to the countless undocumented instances of repentance and conversion known only to the dying.

These are clear examples of “eleventh-hour” converts. It’s tempting for us to exclaim, “That’s not fair!” Perhaps we are thinking of those who struggle for years to live virtuous lives and make many sacrifices in order to live their Faith, but who receive the same reward as those who have come to Christ after living long lives of sin, and still go to heaven in the end.

First of all, our complaints are addressed by the very words of Christ at the end of His parable about the workers who labored all day but still received the same pay (which they had agreed upon) as those who began working at the eleventh hour, just before quitting time: “Is thy eye evil, because I am good?” (Matthew 20:15) Christ wants us just to be happy for those converts. If they receive salvation, then He wants us to rejoice in His mercy, regardless of how unfair it appears to us in human terms.

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Secondly, our complaints may be quelled when we realize that there is some area in each of our lives in which we ourselves are eleventh-hour laborers. It is then we become grateful that we can all receive the same prize, even though we see that we have, in some way, been standing idle around the marketplace for hours like the workers in the parable, instead of laboring in the vineyard during the whole heat of the day.

Speaking of being eleventh-hour laborers, we are already more than halfway through Lent, the Church’s time of prayer and penance in preparation for Easter. “Unless you shall do penance, you shall all perish,” Jesus said (Luke 13:3). If we are eleventh-hour laborers in the whole scheme of our lives, then it is never too late to start working in the service of Christ. If we have tried to live faithful lives but still find ourselves eleventh-hour laborers (in the sense that Lent is almost over and we have not done much to obey the words of Christ regarding penance), well, then, it is not too late for us, either. Whichever category we fall into, Christ gives us hope in His parable that we will receive the same reward as those who have nothing with which to reproach themselves.

In the Old Testament, Boaz told Ruth, “Do not go to glean in any other field…” (Ruth 2:8). These are words we can remember during Lent. This “field” of penance and prayer certainly does not gratify us, but if we, like Ruth, stay to glean patiently in this field, then we will find that Christ will give us graces at Easter – unseen, perhaps, but fruitful nonetheless.

Br. Maximilian Watner is on the the staff at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Buckingham County. He can be reached at