In the month of November we meditate on the four Last things: death, judgement, heaven and hell. In the modern age we think little of such things. This is dangerous and ill advised. That death will come is certain. It may come in an instant. Tomorrow is not promised. I can’t even promise you that you will make through alive, reading this post.
Not only do modern people think little of death, but even less do we think of the judgment to follow. The Book of Hebrews says, It is appointed to man to die once, and after this the judgment (Heb 9:27). Even Church-going Catholic largely pass over any notion of judgment after death. This is most evident at Catholic funerals which are dominated by gleeful canonizations of the deceased and never a mention of jjudgment or the need to pray for the one who has died. Our neglect to pray for the dead is a terrible dereliction of duty.
At every funeral I spend almost half of the homily reminding the assembled mourners that they are going to die and that they must ready themselves for this fact. At most funerals, the majority of those attending have little spiritual roots in their life and I use the opportunity to urge them to a greater sobriety about their condition and ultimate appointment with God. Indeed, too many people today are not serious about their spiritual life. They do not pray, they do not go to Mass, receive the sacraments or read scripture. They go on laughing and playing and goofing off like life were some big joke. But it is not and we must ready ourselves to meet God and face judgment.
Over and over again Scripture reminds us that we will face judgment.
- I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matt 5:22)
- Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison (Matt 5:25)
- For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matt 7:2).
- And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you (Matt 11:23)
- But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. (Mat 12:26)
- The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here (Matt 11:23)
- Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son (John 5:22)
- I have much to say in judgment of you. (Jn 8:26)
- For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead (Act 17:31).
- Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matt 25:11-13)
- But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (Rom 2:5)
- When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matt 25:31)
- This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares (Rom 2:16).
- Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart (1 Cor 4:5).
- For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10)
- For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people (Heb 10:30)
- Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral (Heb 13:4)
- Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful (James 2:13)
- But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Pet 4:5)
- For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Pet 4:13)
- And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books (Rev 20:12)
Well, by now you get the point, to ignore judgment is to ignore a LOT of Scripture. And this is only a partial recording of the judgment texts here. Despite the voluminous Scriptural affirmation, little is said of judgment by modern Christians. The problem must certainly be laid at the feet of many clergy who seldom mention judgment or warn of it. While this is not true of all, it is certainly true of many.
The Catechism speaks of Judgment in the following way:
Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus 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. 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 or immediately, — or immediate and everlasting damnation. (CCC 1021-1022)
The Scripture often emphasizes the suddenness of death and judgment.
- Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour (Matt 25:13)
- So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matt 24:44)
- Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mk 13:35-37)
- When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape(1 Thess 5:3)
Hence we must live our lives in readiness. Our central priorities must be prayer, the reading of Scripture and other spiritual works, devotion to the Sacraments, holy fellowship and weekly Mass. We must repent of serious sins and seek seriously to grow in holiness. Scripture says that we must Strive for peace with all men, and that holiness: without which no one shall see God (Heb 12:14). Some of us have to bury the hatchet and offer forgiveness to others for the Lord warns sternly, If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matt 6:15) and James also warns: Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful (James 2:13). We cannot go on living in presumption that the judgment we face is of little account for Scripture gives no basis for such a casual attitude. Neither should we despair for God is rich in mercy and does not spurn those who are humble and contrite. Perhaps the best approach is simply to have a kind of sobriety about the fact that we will all face judgment and to thoughtfully prepare for it.
A word about the nature of judgment we face. None of us can say for sure what that moment will be like. However it would seem that the key word to describe what must go on is “honesty.” In that moment, before the Lord, all masks will be removed. All the little excusing lies we like to tell ourselves will be set aside. We will see ourselves as we really are. Perhaps too we will also see more clearly some of the grief and trouble we have been carrying and have a truth compassion for our self even as we have a sober understanding of our faults and incompleteness. For a true believer the judgment is not simply between heaven and hell, but even more so, an assessment of what remains incomplete in us. The Lord promised us perfection (Matt 5:48) and St. Paul wrote: May God who has begun a good work in you bring it to completion (Phil 1:6). Hence our judgment must also certainly include the question of what, if anything, remains incomplete in us. For it is impossible that a promise of God would remain incomplete for us or anything be less than perfect. Whatever is judged to be incomplete or imperfect is set right in purgatory which is for us not against us.
But the fact is, judgment awaits us all and we must soberly prepare for it. Death will come (perhaps when we least expect) and thereafter the judgment. Prepare for your own judgment and pray for those who have already gone there. Judgment is certain. Prepare and pray.
Here’s a little video I put together on the topic of death and judgment and the end of the world. It is rooted in the Song by Credence Clearwater Revival “There’s a Bad Moon on the Rise” The refrain says, “Hope you’ve got your things together, hope you are quite prepared to die.”
And here’s a sermon excerpt I have posted before from a funeral I preached last year. This clip is typical of the exhortation I give in most of my funeral sermons to the congregation that they are going to die and must prepare.