Traditional Catholic theology has distinguished the “Four Last Things” : Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. We are admonished to meditate upon these things frequently. We WILL die, be judged, and spend eternity either in Hell or in Heaven (likely after some time in purgatory).
Beginning with the end, or starting with the last things, is, paradoxically, a good place for Lent to commence.
Regarding Death – All men are appointed to die once, and after that face The judgment (Hebrews 9:27) The video posted below is of a song by Johnny Cash on the topic of judgment. Here are some of the words:
You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time,
run on for a long time
Sooner or later
God’ll cut you down
Go tell that long tongue liar,
go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler,
the back biter
Tell ‘em that God’s
gonna cut ‘em down.
We will all die one day, or as the song puts it, be “cut down.”
Regarding Judgment – Scripture says, 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). And of the unrepentant St. Peter says, but they will have to give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5). And in Hebrews, For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31). And of this salutary fear we should have of our Judgment Scripture says, Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13). And Jesus himself warns, But I tell you that for every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. (Matt 12:36)
Regarding Heaven – Heaven is our true goal, not all the other stuff we run after endlessly. The heart of heaven is to be with God, to look upon his beautiful and serene face and become fully alive with him for all eternity. As Scripture says, there is a deep longing in us for this look: My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I seek! (Psalm 27:8). This is really what our desires are all about: God, and the healing, fulfilling, and beatific glory of being in His presence forevermore, transformed by the Look and the glory of his love.
So glorious is this promise that it cannot be reduced to words; eye has never seen it, nor ear heard it. Scripture says, Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. (1 John 3:2).
Jesus said to St. Catherine that if she ever saw the state of a human being fully alive with him in heaven, she would fall down and worship because she would think she was looking at him (Jesus). This is our dignity and our call. Heaven is beyond what we could ever imagine in its glory and beatitude.
Regarding Hell – The teaching of Hell bothers a lot of modern Christians who have had God’s love emphasized to the exclusion of just about everything else about God. For example, they have learned that He is Truth and utterly Holy, that nothing unholy can tolerate His presence, and so forth. No one loves you more than Jesus does, and yet no one warned of Hell and judgment more than Jesus did – in parable after parable, warning after warning.
God does want to save us all and have us live with him forever. This is clear in Scripture. But God has also made us free, and wants us to love Him freely and accept His invitation. This is His respect for our freedom.
And though everyone wants to go to heaven, it is a heaven as they perceive it. But not everyone wants to go to the real heaven, which is God’s Kingdom in perfection. You see in heaven, God’s Kingdom, there is love for the truth, love for chastity, love for the poor, love for justice, love for one another, esteem of mercy and forgiveness, and at the center, God himself. But NOT EVERYONE wants these things. Not everyone wants the truth, or wants to be chaste; not everyone wants to forgive and to love everyone. Not everyone wants God to be at the center; they prefer that spot for themselves or some other idol. Many people can’t stand to go to Church at all, or if they do, they want it to be as short as possible. If we don’t want to spend time with God here, what makes us think we will want to do so after death? If the liturgy is boring or loathsome to someone now, what makes him think he will enjoy the liturgy of heaven? And the Scriptures clearly describe heaven as primarily a liturgy of praise (cf esp. Rev 4-8) centered on God.
So God invites, but not all accept or are even interested in the real heaven to which God invites them. In the end, God respects our choice. This is why there is Hell; it is for those who do not want what the Kingdom of God is.
We ought to pray for a deepening desire for heaven. Death is on the way; sooner or later we will all be cut down. And the Lord Jesus will judge us, among other ways, by asking this question: “What is it that you want?” Do not think that we will magically change at that moment. By that time our choice for the Lord and his Kingdom, or for something else will be firmly fixed. Behaviors become habits; habits become character; character becomes destiny.
The Four Last things are actually a pretty good place to begin our Lenten reflections.
Ponder this video: