This is the sixth in a series on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.
In the past two articles we have recalled the reality of the judgment that is upon us when we die and we have surveyed the parables in which Jesus urgently warns us of it. In this post we consider something of a plan to prepare for judgment.
You are going to die and you don’t get to say when. This should inspire a sober, urgent, and daily preparation for death and judgment. Yet too many people today are not serious about their spiritual walk. They’re running around as if life is just some big game. They’re not thinking about appearing before the judgment seat. They’re not praying. They’re not reading Scripture. They’re not growing in their faith. They’re are not going to Mass on Sundays. Many of them are stubbornly locked in very serious and unrepentant mortal sin. They are not going to be ready. To them, the message must be turn to Jesus. Repent. Give Him your life.
Obviously, the main point is to live a life of faith and, through ongoing conversion, to permit the Lord to do what is necessary to prepare us. The following description of the Christian life appears in Acts 2:42: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Four things follow: that we should pray, be obedient to the Scriptures, faithfully and worthily receive the sacraments, and stay united to the Body of Christ, the Church. To this must be added ongoing repentance and the will to allow the Lord to free us from the grip of sin. Consider the following reflection and four-point plan of preparation:
Rest – Prayer is resting in the Lord. Prayer as rest is a great “power-nap,” so pray every day. Some folks tell me that it’s hard to pray or that they don’t know how to pray. Well, do you know what you’re doing when you say that? You’re already praying! Don’t tell me; tell God. If that’s where you’ve got to begin with your prayer, say to Him: “Lord, I don’t like to pray. I struggle to pray. Prayer is boring.” Tell Him whatever you need to tell Him. Prayer isn’t reading words that somebody else wrote that you don’t mean. Prayer is talking to the Lord and telling Him what’s going on in your life. At its heart, prayer is paying attention to God.
Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer, that calls me from a world of care. And bids me at my Father’s throne, make all my wants and wishes known. In seasons of distress and grief, My soul has often found relief, And oft escaped the tempter’s snare, By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!
Read – Read Scripture and only holy writings – We simply must read Scripture every day and study the teachings of the Church. Our minds will be polluted if we don’t cleanse them every day with God’s Word and the teachings of the Faith. Some people say that it’s hard to understand Scripture, but there are so many aids available: “My Daily Bread,” “The Word Among Us,” “Magnificat,” study bibles. Some folks even get the Word sent to their cell phones each day along with some commentary. Somehow, some way, get with God’s Word every day. We seem to find time for everything else; find some time for God’s Word.
The Word of God helps us to think more as God does, not as the world does. Our priorities improve and we begin to win the fight in the chief battleground: our mind. Sow a thought, reap a deed; sow a deed, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. It all begins in the mind. As Scripture itself says, we must be transformed by the renewal of our mind (see Romans 12:2). If you’re not winning the battle in your mind, you’re going backward and the abyss is approaching. Study Scripture. Be devoted to learning your faith.
Rehearse – Go to Mass every Sunday. Mass attendance and Church membership are essential for salvation. In the first place, God is worthy of our praise and adoration. To fail in our Sunday obligation displays an egregious lack of gratitude.
We also need to come to God’s house so that we can be instructed and then fed with the Body and the Blood of the Lord. Jesus says, If you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53). Some people say, “Oh, I watch the Mass on TV.” You can’t get Holy Communion through the television! People who don’t go to Mass are starving themselves spiritually and will not have strength for the journey.
If you don’t attend in person, you can’t get real fellowship. Fellowship is about more than coffee and doughnuts; it’s about mutual support and accountability; it’s about the love we are commanded to have for one another.
Go to Mass every Sunday. Receive Communion every Sunday, provided that you are in a state of grace.
Some say, “God doesn’t care if I go to Mass or not.” Yes, He does. He put it right in the Ten Commandments: “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.” We fulfill this each Sunday. When God puts something in the Ten Commandments, He is serious. Don’t mess around with the Ten Commandments. Missing Mass without a serious reason is a mortal sin.
Mass is the dress rehearsal for Heaven; it’s our training ground for what awaits. If you don’t even want to show up for the dress rehearsal, why should God trust you with the real thing? The fact is we are simply not able to endure the real Heaven unless we are well-rehearsed in its truths and purified by the sacraments.
Repent – If you are aware of any serious or unrepented mortal sin in your life, repent now and call on the Lord’s mercy. Go to confession; go frequently. Some folks tell me, “I’m in such a mess that I don’t know how to get out of it.” Go to the Lord and talk to Him about it. Say, “Help me, Lord!” But please, do not go on calling “good” or “no big deal” what God calls sin! The Lord says, No one who calls on me will I ever reject (Jn 6:37).
Upon hearing the call to repent, too many people today say, “I will not be told what to do. I will not be told what is right and wrong.” Be careful! The one thing that God can’t save us from is that kind of pride, because with it we don’t want to be forgiven. And so again I say to all of us: Repent—and be urgent about it.
No one loves you more than does Jesus Christ, and yet no one warned about judgment and Hell more than He did. Many people today are dismissive of judgment and Hell. They say, “Jesus would never do that.” But Jesus told us over and over again that there will be a judgment, and it’s not so much about what He decides but what we decide through the way we live our life. Jesus says this: Here is the judgment in question, that the Light has come into the world, but many prefer the darkness, because their deeds are sinful (Jn 3:18).
So there is a judgment coming. The Lord warns us in parable after parable. I simply ask you to be ready. In a future post we will talk more about Hell and why it exists. For now, though simply listen to what the Lord is saying. He teaches of a day of judgment, of the reality that “many” go to Hell, and of the need to call upon Him before our hearts are forever lost in pride and sin.
Tomorrow we will consider one final thing about judgment: the wonderful thought that we can have an influence on the standard with which the Lord will judge us.