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The Four Last Things - February 2018

posted Feb 23, 2018, 6:33 PM by RSO The Fenwick Review
By Greg Giangiordano '18

“Gentlemen, you have a choice,” barked Fr. Larry Richards, his right hand resting absently on the forgotten podium next to him. He stood stiffly, gazing out at over two hundred attentive faces with an intense glare. “You can either become a saint, or you can go to Hell. Which will you have?” Immediately, we roared back “Sainthood, Father!” “All right, let’s get started,” he said, cracking a boyish grin and relaxing into a more leisurely pose.

This was how Fr. Larry began his talk on sainthood at a conference that I attended this past break. He was hinting at something central to the Catholic faith, something that most people are afraid to think about, let alone talk about. He was hinting at the four last things—death, judgment, heaven and hell. Put more officially, he was referring to eschatology, the doctrines of the final destiny of humanity.

Thinking about these four things might make you feel uncomfortable or even scared. If they do, good; that is exactly how we should feel. These are not easy topics to discuss, but it does us no good to run or hide from the reality of our situation. We are each faced with these four unalterable truths: we are all going to die, we are all going to be judged for how we lived, and we are all going to end up in either heaven or hell.


Death

You are going to die. Please stop reading for a moment and ponder that. There will come a time when you will not wake up, when you will be put in a coffin, and when you will be lowered into a rectangular pit and covered with six feet of dirt. For some, that time is a long way off. For others, it is just around the corner, maybe even minutes away. I don’t say this to be morbid; I say it to be candid. Whenever another of his fellow Jesuits would say that he would do something one or two weeks in the future, St. Ignatius was in the habit of saying, “What’s that? Do you think you will live that long?” Ignatius reminded his brothers, and reminds us, that death is utterly unpredictable. Since it will come “like a thief in the night,” we should live vigilantly, because we “know neither the day nor the hour” when we will die.


Judgement

Death is not the end. This life is not all there is, and we should not act like what we think, say, and do does not have consequences. St. Ignatius, in the First Principle and Foundation, spells out exactly how we are supposed to live: “Human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by means of doing this to save their souls. The other things on the face of the earth are created for the human beings, to help them in the pursuit of the end for which they are created.” Put another way, we should constantly live with eternity in mind. We should be constantly asking ourselves, am I showing God, by my way of life, that I love Him most of all, or am I showing God that I love something else more than Him? This is an extremely important question that deserves reflection, because God will give us what we truly want—either Himself, or not Himself. The famous passage from St. Matthew states it clearly: at our judgment Christ will gather all of humanity and separate us “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, with the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” To those on His right He will say “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” and they will be given this gift because “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” By their life, they showed Christ that they loved Him. But to those on His left He will say “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and they will be given this because “what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”


Heaven

I am not going to try and pretend to know what Heaven is like. I don’t. Nobody does. What I do know is that I love God. I love Him in an imperfect, fallible way, and often I do a poor job of it. But still, I love Him. And I do know that, however imperfect my love for God is here on Earth, it will be made perfect in Heaven. That, I think, is what Heaven must be; it is a perfect relationship of love with Him. We will be set free from our doubt, fear, pain and sin. There, we will finally experience perfect love, and we will be made perfect in our union with God and exist in unending bliss.


Hell

If Heaven is our perfect and final loving relationship with God, then Hell is the ultimate and final breaking of it. On Earth, we each have an imperfect relationship with God, but we can deepen that relationship when we choose to respond to God’s love for us. Conversely, we can also damage it when we choose to reject that love by committing venial sin, or even break it when we commit mortal sin. However, even committing mortal sin does not constitute a final break, because God, in His divine mercy, continually offers us forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. With Hell though, it is different. There are no more chances, and mercy can no longer be offered, because Hell is a final self-separation from God. It is something we choose when we choose to love things other than God without repentance. What is truly terrifying is that if we commit mortal sin, do not seek God’s forgiveness, and then die, God no longer recognizes us. We become unknown to Him who knows all things. We become like the five virgins waiting outside of the locked door at the wedding feast. We cry out and say, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” But He replies, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:1-13). The door is shut, we cannot get in, and we are alone. It is by our own foolishness that we are cut off from God, and we torment ourselves with that knowledge forever.

If we want to have a relationship with God, we need to remember the four last things. In meditating upon them in prayer, we are forced to prioritize what is important in life: love for God, and love for neighbor. Apart from these two things and the most basic living necessities, the rest is superfluous or even a hindrance to our spiritual goal. Therefore, as we begin this Lenten season, we ought to reflect closely on the four last things. When we’ve done that, we ought to ask ourselves: Will we become saints? Or will we go to Hell?

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