Posted by: frroberts | November 10, 2017

Reflection on the Particular Judgment

In the cemeteries of Medieval Europe, Christians were always buried facing east. The rationale behind this practice was a passage from Saint Matthew’s Gospel, “For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” In the Universal Judgment on the last day, each soul will stand before God with no secrets. Every careless word uttered will be disclosed and every hidden sin brought to light. That was why every Christian was buried facing east, every Christian that is, except for priests. Priests were buried facing west. This was because on Judgment Day, priests would first have to look to their flock in order to see all of the sins that their parishioners committed because their negligence and bad example. Only then, after they were aware of the sins of their flock, could priests turn and render an account for their own souls.

As a priest, I keep this image before me when I read the Gospels. Jesus tells us to “fear the one who can destroy body and soul in Hell” and that “whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

We Catholics traditionally speak of four last things, death and judgment, Heaven and Hell. I know death is not a popular topic these days. We like to pretend that if we don’t talk about it, it will never happen to us. But come it will to each and every one of us, and quite likely sooner than we’d think. After death comes judgment, the moment when we will have to render an account of our souls to God. It is quite popular to think that being judgmental of others is a sin, and it is. But this is so not because judging is a bad thing, but because when we judge we usurp an office that belongs to God alone. It is bad for us to judge others because God Himself is the only judge. At the moment of our death, our ability to choose will come to an end. We will not longer be able to repent and ask forgiveness for our sins, but be frozen in the disposition of our will at the last moment of our life. God will reveal Himself to us as He is, that is, we will see that our only true happiness lies in loving God and being loved by Him forever.

Those who die in a state of friendship with God will go to be with God forever in heaven. Those who die outside of God’s friendship will, by their own choice, be eternally separated from His love forever in the torments of Hell. Now we get to the very practical question of how we know whether or not we are friends of God. Seeing as our eternal destiny turns on whether or not we are God’s friends when we die, it is important for us to be able to say what does and does not constitute friendship with God. The Church teaches, consistent with Jesus’ preaching, that we are friends with God if we are in a state of grace. The words “state of grace” describe a soul with no unrepented mortal sins. The soul in the state of grace is united to God by living a moral life and by having faith in God’s revelation. Conversely, a soul that is in a state of sin is separated from God’s friendship because he has either rejected God’s revelation as it has been transmitted by the Church or is unrepentant for one or more mortal sins that he has committed.

The important thing to remember about Heaven and Hell is their eternity. If we go to Heaven, it will be for all eternity. Our worst day in Heaven will be infinitely better than our best day here on earth. If, God forbid, we go to Hell, it will be for all eternity. The length of our earthly life, seventy, perhaps eighty years, is little more than a grain of sand on the immense seashore that is eternity. The worst pain and suffering we can imagine in this life will pale in comparison to the torments of Hell, which will not only be exceedingly more intense, but unrelenting.

God loves us so much that he gives us the free choice whether or not we will love Him. He will not force Himself on us. The very real prospect that we can, through our sins, say no to God’s love in a definitive way, should give us pause. We might ask ourselves when was the last time we made a good confession. We might seek to educate ourselves as to what exactly a mortal sin is.

All of us will enter into God’s presence at the end of our lives. For some of us, this closeness to God will be an unspeakable joy, the consummation of a life centered on seeking Him in all things. For others of us, those of who spend the better part of their lives trying to hide from God, it will be Hell. If God were to call us home today, into which group would we fall?


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