The Final Judgment is Certain

33rd Sunday of ordinary time 2014 

“And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'”

As the Church’s liturgical year draws to a close, the liturgy directs out attention to the world to come, to the so-called last things, death, judgment, the reward of Heaven or the punishment of Hell. Today the world we live in doesn’t pay much attention to these last things, especially the notions of judgment and Hell. Atheists, who don’t believe there is another life beyond the present one, don’t pay attention to any of these last things but death, which they can’t ignore no matter how hard they try. Likewise, today many Christians don’t believe there will be a final divine judgment, and thus they don’t believe any longer in the existence of Hell or at least don’t believe that anyone but monsters like Hitler will end up there.

This new Christian religion perhaps makes life here more comfortable since one does not have to worry about damnation since no one will have to render a final account of one’s life to God, and so it really doesn’t matter in the end what we do here in this world – we are all going straight to Heaven, which most of these new age Christians still affirm as real.  So today we live among unbelievers who live however they choose because they don’t believe in the world to come and any God to judge us. And we also live among many Christians who, while they do believe in the world to come and Heaven, don’t really believe that God will demand a strict account in justice, and thus do not believe in hell.

All of this, of course, for a Christian in tune with the Scriptures and the Church’s constant teaching, is simply wishful thinking of the worst sort. Whether one personally believes in God or not does not settle the objective question of God’s existence. Likewise, whether or not one believes that following death he or she will have to render a strict account of his or her life does not really affect the fact of the final judgment.  However, it does affect the way we live and the way we view justice in this world and the next, and it does affect the way we approach very concrete problems, like vengeance for injustices.

For instance, if I really don’t believe that there is any justice beyond this world, then, when I see someone getting away with great injustice, that is, escaping any significant punishment in this world for wat I and others see as grave injustice, the desire for private vengeance is much more likely to arise in my heart. People who don’t believe in any justice beyond this world must feel extreme anger and despair that someone like Adolf Hitler truly escaped any real justice in this world. To this day families of his victims may well feel gravely cheated that he somehow escaped the punishment he truly deserved.

And Hitler is only one of countless criminals who escape earthly justice. Today, indeed, there is a growing trend for moral monsters to commit the worst kinds of crimes against innocent victims and then escape man’s justice by taking their own lives immediately. Again, the families of these victims – like the families of the victims of nine-eleven get no relief in this world from seeing justice done to the perpetrators.

But for those who truly believe in the final judgment and in divine justice, they know by faith that every single act of evil and injustice in this world will be paid for, if not in this world, in the world to come. In truth, nobody gets away with anything when it comes to divine justice. Jesus pointedly said “And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”

Moreover, we Catholics know by faith that even those who repent of their grave sins in this life and are spared the eternal punishment due to these sins by the merits of Jesus Christ, must nonetheless still make atonement for their sins in terms of temporal justice. This must be accomplished either in this life through suffering voluntarily accepted or penance voluntarily undertaken, or in the next life by suffering the temporal punishment due to their sins in justice. This is the Catholic belief in Purgatory, when viewed at least from the perspective of temporal justice being rendered for one’s sins. So again, no act of evil or injustice, not the smallest nor the largest escapes the judgment of God and the demands of justice. In other words, No one gets away with anything forever.

It’s truly amazing how Christians can ignore the clear teaching of Jesus and of the whole New Testament regarding the truth of a final judgment according to justice, and the reality of hell. Belief in these realities gives to believers a realistic vision of divine justice against which to set the course of their moral lives. If we believe that justice is truly required for all of our evil acts, and recognize that our life is short and the challenge is great, we will be more likely to seek the narrow way that leads to heaven and avoid the broad way that leads to hell.

Of course all true Christians believe that the mercy of God, merited by Jesus Christ, rescues repentant sinners from the divine justice that demands eternal punishment for grave sins. But we Catholics also believe that temporal punishment, due to that same justice still remains for those sins, and must be satisfied by us either in this life or in the next in Purgatory. Given this set of beliefs, earthly life becomes a great challenge to avoid all sin and to acquire the glory of heaven through good deeds and true repentance and satisfaction of temporal justice.

Likewise, this set of beliefs enables us more easily to leave vengeance for crimes either to the justice exercised in this world by earthly authorities, or, if someone escapes this earthly justice, to leave it to divine justice in the next world.  Then our focus more likely will be on our own sins rather than our neighbors’ sins. And we will find true peace even in the face of great injustices, and mercy will be ours because of this peace.

The Church, then does a great service each year for us, and for the world at large, by recalling to our attention this realistic vision of life, this bigger picture, and confidence in God’s justice.  As Paul says “Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.”

Indeed, this realistic view of life and judgment keeps us sober and alert, so that at the end of time we will not be caught by surprise at the final judgment, which Paul warns  “will come like a thief at night.
when people are saying, ‘Peace and security
,’ ” “Then all this wishful thinking will be rudely contradicted and people will find “sudden disaster has come upon them.” For then they will meet the true judge who will demand an accounting of every single act in their lives, and if they have not repented, they will hear those awful words of Jesus at the end of the  Sermon on the Mount:  “I never knew you, depart from me you evildoers.”

So believing in the last things, final judgment and Heaven and Hell is important in this life, for how we live, and how we die. It is a wisdom that makes us ready to meet Christ our judge and render the account of the way we used his talents, the gifts of His grace, to live our earthly lives. If we have used them wisely and borne the fruits of repentance and good works, then we have a solidly grounded hope of hearing those other glorious words of Jesus that we heard in today’s Gospel, “Come, share your master’s joy.”;

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