Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
During these last few weeks of our liturgical year, which ends with the Solemnity of Christ, the King, on November 20, our Church looks to the end of all things - the end of time on earth. This is traditionally a good time to reflect on the last four things we all must deal with: death, judgment, Heaven and Hell. The following is a brief presentation on each of these topics that may help you in a personal meditation.
Death: it is certain that each of us will experience physical death. At the time of death the soul or the basic source of life that animates each human person separates from the body. This separation was intended by our Creator when He made our first parents. Rather, death is the consequence of Original Sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us:
“"It is in regard to death that man's condition is most shrouded in doubt (Gaudium et Spes 18)." In a sense bodily death is natural, but for Faith it is in fact "the wages of sin” (Rom 6:23; Gen 2:17). For those who die in Christ's grace it is a participation in the death of the Lord, so that they can also share his Resurrection (Rom 6:3-9; Phil 3:10-11).
Death is the end of earthly life. Our lives are measured by time, in the course of which we change, grow old and, as with all living beings on earth, death seems like the normal end of life. That aspect of death lends urgency to our lives: remembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfillment:
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, . . . before the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. (Eccl 12:1, 7)
Death is a consequence of sin. The Church's Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of man's sin. (Gen 2:17; 3:3; 3:19; Wis 1:13; Rom 5:12; 6:23;) Even though man's nature is mor-tal God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin. (Wis 2:23-24) "Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned" is thus "the last enemy" of man left to be conquered. (Gaudium et Spes 18; 1 Cor 15:26)
Death is transformed by Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, also himself suffered the death that is part of the human condition. Yet, despite his anguish as he faced death, he accepted it in an act of complete and free submission to his Father's will. (Mk 14:33-34; Heb 5:7-8) The obedience of Jesus has transformed the curse of death into a blessing. (Rom 5:19-21)
Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Phil 1:21) "The saying is sure: if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him. (2 Tim 2:11) What is essentially new about Christian death is this: through Baptism, the Christian has already "died with Christ" sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ's Grace, physical
death completes this "dying with Christ" and so completes our incorporation into Him in His redeeming act:
It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to reign over the ends of the earth. Him it is I seek - Who died for us. Him it is I desire - Who rose for us. I am on the point of giving birth ... Let me receive pure Light; when I shall have arrived there, then shall I be a man. (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Rom., 6, 1-2)
In death, God calls man to Himself. Therefore the Christian can experience a desire for death like St. Paul's: "My desire is to depart and be with Christ." (Phil 1:23) He can transform his own death into an act of obedience and love towards the Father, after the example of Christ… (Lk 23:46) (CCC 1006-1011)
Judgment: after death each of us will undergo what is called the particular judgment. Our Catechism teaches us:
“Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the Divine Grace manifested in Christ (2 Tim 1:9-10). The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in His second coming, but also repeated-ly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in ac-cordance with his works and Faith. The parable of the poor man Laz-arus and the words of Christ on the Cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul - a destiny which can be different for some and for others (Lk 16:22; 23:43; Mt 16:26; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23; Heb 9:27; 12:23).
Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of Heaven - through a purification (Council of Lyons II - 1274; Council of Florence - 1439; Council of Trent -1563) or immediately (Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus - 1336; John XXII, Ne super his – 1334) - or immediate and everlasting damnation (Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus – 1336).
“At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love”” (St. John of the Cross). (CCC 1021-1022)
Heaven: this is part of what our Catechism states about Heaven:
“Those who die in God's Grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they "see Him as He is," face to face (Jn 3:2; 1 Cor 13:12; Rev 22:4):
By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: Ac-cording to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints… and other faithful who died after receiving Christ's holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died,… or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death,…) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment - and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into Heaven - have been, are and will be in Heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial Paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the Holy Angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the Divine Essence with an intuitive vi-sion, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature” (Pope Benedict XII - 1336).
This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the Angels and all the blessed - is called "Heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. (CCC 1023 - 1024)
Hell: here is what our Catechism teaches on Hell:
“We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love Him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against Him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 Jn 3:14-15)." Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from Him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are His brethren (Mt 25:31-46). To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from Him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the
blessed is called "Hell."
Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost (Mt 5:22, 29; 10:28; 13:42, 50; Mk 9:43-48). Jesus solemnly proclaims that He "will send His Angels, and they will gather… all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire (Mt 13:41-42)," and that He will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire (Mt 25:41)!"
The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of Hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into Hell, where they suffer the punishments of Hell, "eternal fire (DS 76; 409; 411; 801; 858; 1002; 1351; 1575; Paul VI, CPG # 12)." The chief punishment of Hell is eternal separation from God, in Whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of Hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Mt 7:13-14)."
Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with Him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth (Lumen Gentium 48; Mt 22:13; Heb 9:27; Mt 25:13, 26, 30, 31 46)."
God predestines no one to go to Hell (Council of Orange II – 529:
Council of Trent -1547); for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the Mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance" (2 Pet 3:9): Father, accept this offering from Your whole family. Grant us Your Peace in this life, save us from final damnation, and count us among those You have chosen” (From Eucharistic Prayer I). (CCC 1033-1037)
Let us take time pray with our Lord Jesus on these realities and make every effort through the Sacraments to befriend Him, especially through Confession and the Holy Eucharist.
Through the intercession of the Mary, Queen of Heaven, St. Joseph, St. Paul, and St. Michael, may the Holy Spirit prepare us for Eternal Life!
In Christ through Mary,