One of the most efficacious meditations to wake us up, to shake our indolence and complacency, to motivate us to focus on the most essential and important things in our lives is the meditation on the so-called Last Things! In theology, this branch of knowledge is called Eschatology—the study of the last things! Seminarians will often have a full semester in this study. Saint Ignatius of Loyola encourages this meditation as a most efficacious means to renounce sin in our lives and choose a life of holiness, pointed to God, our Supreme and Everlasting Good.
What then are the Last Things, couched in and imbued with the reality of the stark, but so real, concept of Eternity? They are the following: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell, and for Catholics, the reality of Purgatory.
A serious meditation upon these five realities and the concept of eternity, which means forever and ever and ever and ever, can shake us from a life of indolence and complacency and inflame our hearts, minds, and wills to focus on the one essential—attaining the possession of God for all eternity.
The style of this meditation will be, very simply, a brief commentary on each one of these realities, accompanied with a Biblical passage and several brief meditation points. Our thrust and hope for all those who engage upon this meditation is to arrive at a deeper conversion of life and a firm purpose to do all in our power to get to heaven. Also from this, to bring as many people to heaven as we possibly can.
Therefore, let us launch into this most noble endeavor of the meditation on the Last Things, from a deeply Biblical perspective, and formulate concrete proposals that will help us for time into eternity.
One last point for meditation. Our life is very short in comparison with eternity. The Psalmist reminds us: “Our life is like the flower of the field that rises in the morning and withers and dies as the sun goes down.” (Ps 90:5-6) The great Doctor of the Church, Saint Augustine asserts: “Our life in comparison with eternity is a mere blink of the eye.” Saint Peter expressed it in these words: “For God one day is like a thousand years…” (2 Pt 3:8) Our Lady of Fatima said: “If people would simply meditate upon eternity, they would be converted quickly.”
THE LAST THINGS AND ETERNITY: TIME FOR CONVERSION OF LIFE!
I. DEATH: INEVITABLE REALITY FOR ALL HUMANS
(Lk. 12: 16-21: Parable of the Rich fool)
1. DEFINITION: Death is the reality of the separation of the soul from the body.
2. IMPORTANCE. The great woman Doctor of the Church, Saint Catherine of Siena, states: “The two most important moments in our life are now and at the hour of our death.”
3. REALITY. We must constantly remind ourselves, not with a morbid depression or anxiety, but with truth and reality: one day I will die!
4. WHEN? That is the question! None of us know the day, nor the hour, nor the moment, nor the circumstances, nor the manner. This is a mystery.
5. TIMELY PROVERB. A great proverb I learned in Argentina with respect to death: “La muerte is lo mas cierto pero lo mas incierto.” In English: “Death is the most certain, but the most uncertain.” For the simple reasons stated above: we do not know the time, the day, the manner, nor the circumstances. This is indeed a great mystery!
6. JESUS’ WARNING: “Be prepared because death will come like a thief in the night.” (Mt 24: 42-44)
7. UNTIMELY DEATHS. We should all meditate upon the constant reality of untimely deaths on an international plane, as well as national, local, and personal…. We all have been in contact with sudden deaths.
8. THE TWO WORST THINGS: Mortal sin; worse yet, dying in mortal sin! The former is the death of the soul; the latter is the death and loss of the soul for all eternity!
9. A GOOD DEATH. A good death is going to the Sacrament of Confession. Why? By confessing well, we die to sin and rise to grace and friendship with Jesus!
10. OUR LADY. Beg Mary for the grace of a holy and happy death. This can be done by praying the Hail Mary and the Holy Rosary.
II. JUDGMENT: THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
(Mt. 25: 31-46: The judgment of the nations)
1. JUDGEMENT. Follows immediately after we die, the very second!
2. JESUS. Who will judge us? It is Jesus, the Lord! We pray every Sunday in the Creed: “He (Jesus) will come to judge the living and the dead.”
3. REINCARNATION? No! We do not believe in reincarnation. This goes directly against the belief in the Paschal Mystery—the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who died to save all mankind, but also, each one of us individually.
4. ONE LIFE. We have one life to live, after which, at the moment of our death, Jesus will judge each one of us.
5. TWO JUDGMENTS. The Catechism teaches us the reality of two judgments: The Particular Judgment and the General Judgment.
6. PARTICULAR JUDGMENT. This judgment takes place immediately after we die, in which we go before Jesus Christ who is our Judge.
7. WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE? If you like a modern image, it will be like watching a movie (or DVD) of your life, just you and Jesus. It is the moment of truth. Or if you like, you will present to the Lord the Book of your life. Hopefully it will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Shame!!!
8. WHAT WILL BE JUDGED? All we have ever done, or not done! Our thoughts, our actions, our omissions, our intentions. The most secret of our actions and our intentions will be brought to light before the eyes of Jesus! Nothing will be hidden.
9. GENERAL JUDGMENT. This will take place at the end of the world. All the people who have ever lived will come together, and as we read in Mt 25, Jesus the Judge will separate the goats from the sheep, the saved from the damned.
10. A PRAYER: “Lord Jesus, now that I have time, help me to convert my life. Lord Jesus, be not my judge; rather, be my Savior and Redeemer!”
III. HEAVEN: THE DESIRE FOR THE EVERLASTING HILLS
(Rev. Chapter 21: The new Heaven and the new earth)
1. PRINCIPLE AND FOUNDATION: The purpose of our short life on earth is to get to heaven.
2. SIMPLY PUT: “We are created to praise God, reverence God, serve God and by this means to save our soul.” (Saint Ignatius, #23 Principle and Foundation)
3. LONG FOR HEAVEN. We should have a constant desire and longing for heaven, our eternal destiny. The Psalmist summarizes this desire superbly: “As the deer yearns for the running streams, so my soul yearns for you my God.” (Psalm 42:1)
4. WHAT IS HEAVEN LIKE? Its beauty and greatness transcend any human imagination. Saint Paul expresses it as such: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man, the wonderful things that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2:9)
5. HAPPIEST DAY IN YOUR LIFE. Call to mind the happiest day, hour, and moment of your life, multiply that joy a million times, then add eternity to the equation, and you have a mere glimpse of what heaven is like! A mere glimpse!
6. FRIENDSHIP. In heaven the saints, and all of the saints, will be your best friends, and for all eternity.
7. ANGELS. Not only the saints, but also the angels will be there with you as your friends, united with you to praise and love the Trinity for all eternity.
8. ABSOLUTE AND TOTAL PEACE. While we live in this valley of tears and struggles, our peace is partial and incomplete. In Heaven, our peace will be total and absolute!
9. OUR LADY. One of the greatest joys of heaven will be to contemplate the glorious beauty of the Face of Mary and experience her Motherly love!
10. THE BLESSED TRINITY. Of course, the greatest of all graces once we arrive in heaven, will be the presence of God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit! We will contemplate the Blessed Trinity! God who is LOVE: He will love us and we will love Him, and we will be absorbed in the loving embrace of the Blessed Trinity for all eternity! How much we should long for heaven!
IV. HELL: SEPARATION FROM GOD FOR ALL ETERNITY!
(Rev 18: The terrible fall of Babylon)
1. REALITY. Whether or not we like the word, term, or even reality of Hell, and even if we were to deny hell, no matter: hell does exist! This is a doctrinal truth of Catholicism.
2. CAFETERIA CATHOLICISM. We cannot fall into the error of CAFETERIA CATHOLICISM—to pick and choose what we like and discard what is unsavory to our spiritual palate!
3. DEFINITION: Hell is a place of torment and separation from God and it is eternal—it lasts forever and ever!
4. WHO GOES THERE? The soul that dies unrepentant in the state of mortal sin, due to his own free choice, having rejected God due to mortal sin, merits the eternal chastisement of hell.
5. WHO IS IN HELL? The rebellious angels that we call the devils (Rev 12), as well as the damned souls.
6. WHAT ARE THE PAINS OF HELL? Jesus spoke clearly, and on more than one occasion, that there is ETERNAL HELL-FIRE.
7. ANYTHING ELSE? Yes, there is sadness, weeping, gnashing of teeth, and cries of despair. Do not forget, it is forever!
8. THE WORSE PUNISHMENT OF ALL? By far, the worse punishment of hell is having lost God for all eternity! We were created for God and eternal joy in His Presence! The damned soul, due to his own fault, rejected God and merited damnation due to his own machinations, his own perverse will!
9. REASON FOR HELL? Our Lady of Fatima (1917) said the reason why most souls go to hell is due to the sins against the 6th and 9th Commandments—against the virtue of holy purity.
10. Our Lady of Fatima insisted that we pray the prayer for the salvation of souls after every decade of the Holy Rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of your mercy.”
V. PURGATORY: GOD’S CLEANSING FIRE OF LOVE.
(2 Maccabees Chapter 12, especially verses 38-46)
1. PURGATORY. Also a doctrinal truth taught by the Catholic Church is the reality of Purgatory. It is a clear manifestation of the goodness and mercy of our Loving and Good God!
2. NOTHING IMPURE. The Bible teaches us with utmost clarity that nothing impure can enter the presence of God.
3. WHO GOES TO PURGATORY? The Church teaches that those who die in the state of sanctifying grace, free of the stark reality of mortal sin, but with less serious stains on their souls must go to a place of Purification. This we call PURGATORY!
4. WHAT MUST BE PURIFIED? Venial sins, as well as mortal sins, that have not yet been fully expiated or purified, must undergo a process of purification.
5. LENGTH? Different from Heaven and Hell which will last into eternity, Purgatory is temporal—that is to say, it eventually will come to an end. At the end of time, Purgatory will cease to exist!
6. WHAT IS IT LIKE? According to Catholic Tradition, Purgatory is a cleansing fire. As gold is purified in fire, so the soul is purified of all elements of sin and selfishness by the cleansing fire of God’s love.
7. AN ANALOGY. The Book of Revelation compares Heaven to a Marriage Banquet. Nobody is his right mind would enter a Marriage Banquet with dirty and smelly clothes. NO! They would have to be washed first! So it is with Heaven. Purgatory washes away the dirty stains of sin on our soul so that we can enter fully purified into the eternal Heavenly Banquet to be with God, and His angels and saints.
8. ANOTHER ANALOGY? Yes, Saint John of the Cross presents the cold, dirty, smelly, and rusty piece of iron cast into the blazing fire. In time the coldness, the dirt, and the rust fall from the iron, and in a certain sense, the iron becomes like the fire! So it is in Purgatory, the fire of God’s love must burn away the rust of our selfishness!
9. WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP THE SOULS IN PURGATORY? The three classical works of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The more we do, the better for the souls in Purgatory! Of course the most powerful prayer is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the reception of Holy Communion offered for the souls in Purgatory.
10. PLENARY INDULGENCE AND PURGATORY. This can be offered for the souls in Purgatory. Conditions? Confession, Mass and Holy Communion, Indulgenced prayer (Rosary prayed in the family or in front of the Blessed Sacrament), praying for the intentions of the Holy Father, and striving to give up sin, fully and totally.