The Four Last Things

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). 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 one day die, or as the song puts it, be cut down. We will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (cf 2 Cor 5:10;  Heb 4:13; 1 Peter 4:5).

The reality of judgment and the possibility 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 that He is Truth, and utterly Holy, that nothing unholy can tolerate His presence and so forth.

How to explain the possibility of Hell to a generation with a rather simplified notion of God? Perhaps the word “respect” can help. God want to save us all and have us live with him forever. This is clear in Scripture. But God has made us free and wants us to freely love Him and accept His invitation. This is His respect for our freedom. Now everyone want to go to heaven as they describe it. But NOT EVERYONE wants to go to 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, mercy and forgiveness are esteemed and God is at the center. But NOT EVERYONE wants these things. Not everyone wants the truth, wants to be chaste, not everyone wants to forgive and love everyone. Not everyone wants God to be at the center, they prefer that spot for themselves or some other idol. As we discussed a couple of days ago 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 them think they 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 interested in the real heaven to which God invites them. In the end, God respects our choice and this is why there is Hell, it is for those who do not want what the Kingdom of God is. God still sustains the souls in Hell but he ultimately respects their choice to reject the Kingdom and its values.

So 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 things with 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.

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years(Deut 30:19-20)

Ponder this video:

9 Replies to “The Four Last Things”

  1. Now everyone want to go to heaven as they describe it.

    You get the “heaven” you choose, I suppose.

    If you want the heaven with God, it is offered to you. If you want the “heaven” without Him, you get that instead. The Great Divorce (C.S. Lewis) makes this very point, that there are those languishing in hell thinking that they are in heaven, notwithstanding their constant bickering and discontent and contempt for each other.

    And if you do get the “heaven” you choose, what’s there to complain about?

  2. Dear Msgr. Pope – Vital reality check for denizens of pop culture. Thank you. Two years ago April I was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney. Surgery was successful, but lesions returned and chemotherapy began (and continues). The Holy Spirit prompted me to write, if I may be blunt, a kind of “Holy Death for Dummies” book. Friend and author Dawn Eden pushed me to get it published:

    A Little Guide for Your Last Days.

    It has the feel of an AA group for the pre-death, sin-recovery sort: hard-living folks, suddenly seen the light, give me the quick and dirty (if you can, pretty boy). My effort is to say, ‘I’m right there with you, I won’t waste your time. I’ll give it to you as things are shutting down, and I won’t leave. Promise.’

    Lastly, I found and posted your superb Youtube Memento mori funeral homily, citing it at the Little Guide website as well.

    Thank you for your reminding us of the Four Last Things. Best/blessings – Jeff H.

  3. Justice demands the good to be rewarded and the evil to be punished. Heaven for the saints, Hell for the reprobates.

  4. THE LAST BATTLE will be with the demons for our soul. It will be in the hour of our death. To fight as any infantryman knows, one must prepare for the battle by knowing the enemy (size, activity, unit, location, time, equipment). If we are not spiritually prepared for this battle for our souls, we will simply be disarmed and not know what to do. No hope, or virtue, but only shame, despair, and confusion will overcome us. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians at 6:10-18 tell us to “Put on the amour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil; for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high place.” In THE DIALOGUE of St. Catherine of Siena, at the end of the book there is a letter describing how Catherine withstood grave assualts by demons at the hour of her death, as she suffered terrible physical agony. She bravely fought back those terrible demons saying: “I have sinned O’Lord, have mercy on me.” Saying this over 60 times, together with “blood, blood,” while raising each time her right arm, and then letting it fall and strike the bed. The she said “Holy God, have mercy on me!” Her face suddenly changed from gloom to angelic light, and her tearful and clouded eyes became serene and joyous. She cried out “For the love of Christ Crucified, absolve me of all these sins I have confessed.” Finally making the sign of the Cross while looking at a crucifix, in an example of our Lord she cried out and said: “Father, into Your Hands I commend my soul and my spirit.” …For a good tour of Hell, purgatory, and Heaven, a good book is Dante’s Comedy. It begins on Good Friday, and takes you on a tour of the nine circles of hell. In the very botton in an ice lake named Cocytus, Lucifer with his six wings resides where He holds captive Judas of Iscariot, Brutus and Cassius. Dante’s book shows purgatory (7 terraces) with its hopeful inhabitants, and he shows the full glory of heaven (9 spheres). The mystical counter to Dante’s book is The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena. Remember, every day above ground, is a good day.

  5. Death will bring one face to face with the memories of their past actions,emotions, longings and terminal state of mind. If one has not learned, understood, felt and longed for the true Heart and Will of God’s nature by that time, it may be too difficult to let go of their habitual attachments to the things of this world. Enormous chilling fears will engulf them and smothering burning anxieties will haunt their unquenchable guilt and shame. A darkness from which all kinds of visions and sufferings will well up and evaporate before their witnessing souls heart to repent or play into a meanderng trail of torment. Be it purgatory or eternal damnation is between each individuals dilusional pursuit or final release being ever present in God. If on dies with sin, they will surely have to absolve themselves of such willfuness. It is not as easy to change ones guilt and feelings through amends once you have departed from this worldly stage. Your actions affect your fellow man you leave behind as well as your mortal soul. There are stages of being after death of the physical body but being in God requires one give up the longing of their past and mortal life for that of God. No song will ever do that fact justice. He who keeps his life loses it and he who loses his life for God’s sake gains Life everlasting. The reward is far greater than most are willing to comprehend because sensual pleasues, habitual attachments, as well as subconscious longings developed through mental and sensual conditioning make salvation a 24/7 effort and objective. That’s a tall order for most people that have never touched the reality of their mortality. One needs to keep in mind that religion is a means to an end and even this shall pass. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and nothing was made that was made but by and of the Word. It’s good Will hunting. Christ paved the way, lets understand that everyone including the Catholic clergy are on a level playing field.

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