Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell

by Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC

Here we are, deep in the heart of Lent, hopefully learning to love God more perfectly.

To help you on that front, I wanted to take some time in this newsletter to discuss a highly worthwhile Lenten activity: meditation on the Church's teachings on what we call the Four Last Things — death, judgment, Heaven, and hell — with the purpose of helping you to face death with courage and confidence.

By focusing on our ultimate end, we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves for our ultimate goal — that of going to Heaven.

To begin, let's talk about the end of this life. I'd like you to think of death this way: as another sign of God's mercy.

Unlike all the other creatures, we humans are well aware that we have a limited time of existence in this life. As we mature and age, we see glimpses of what's in store for us. We see this through our illnesses and in the emotional and psychological dying process. These experiences only help us to appreciate the good things, as limited as they may be. These good things are shadows — or at best, a foretaste — of the fulfillment of our desires in God, who is the treasury of every good gift.

Upon our death, we come to our judgment. As Scripture tells us, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Cor 5:10).

In her Diary, St. Faustina gives us a mystical insight into what our judgment may be like. She writes of Jesus calling to the soul not once, but three times. If the soul remains unresponsive, whether hardened or despairing, here's what happens:

Then the mercy of God begins to exert itself, and, without any co-operation from the soul, God grants it final grace. If this too is spurned, God will leave the soul in this self-chosen disposition for eternity. This grace emerges from the merciful Heart of Jesus and gives the soul a special light by means of which the soul begins to understand God's effort; but conversion depends on its own will. The soul knows that this, for her, is final grace and, should it show even a flicker of good will, the mercy of God will accomplish the rest (1486).

Ultimately our judgment will be the fulfillment of God's mercy because the Father will not be able to look at us except through the wounds of Christ, through which we were redeemed. Jesus, who opened Heaven to us, will offer to us a final opportunity to accept His mercy, and the Holy Spirit will urge us to allow ourselves to be embraced by mercy.

Those who die in God's grace and friendship enter Heaven or may be in need first of the purification of Purgatory.

God, indeed, wants us with Him in Heaven. He seeks to save us. He wants us to be fully alive, to reign with Him for all of eternity, to share in that eternal exchange of love of the Holy Trinity.

Saint Faustina was once given the grace of gaining a glimpse of Heaven. She writes:

... and I saw its inconceivable beauties and the happiness that awaits us after death. I saw how all creatures give ceaseless praise and glory to God. I saw how great is happiness in God, which spreads to all creatures, making them happy; and then all the glory and praise which springs from this happiness returns to its source; and they enter into the depths of God, contemplating the inner life of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, whom they will never comprehend or fathom.

This source of happiness is unchanging in its essence, but it is always new, gushing forth happiness for all creatures. Now I understand Saint Paul, who said, "Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him. (777)

Yes, let's underscore this point: "for those who love Him." Loving God is the very key to Heaven. Saint Faustina writes earlier in her Diary that God gave her the understanding "that there is but one thing that is of infinite value in His eyes, and that is love of God. ... Oh, with what inconceivable favors God gifts a soul that loves Him sincerely!" (778).

And if, at our judgment, we still refuse God's embrace?

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him" (1033).

In that case, what awaits us is what I'll call an awesomely overwhelming abyss of mercy: hell. I call it that because the only souls who go there are the ones who choose it for themselves. Hell is for those who refuse to believe and be converted. It is for those who refuse to love God.

It's by God's mercy that souls have the freedom to choose, even if that choice amounts to eternal separation from Him in hell. Yet, even if you reject Him, He continues to love you and continues to allow you to exist.

Death, judgment, Heaven, and hell should be on our minds this Lent — and throughout our lives on earth — as a reminder of the responsibility incumbent upon us. We are called to make the best use of our freedom by choosing our eternal destiny in Heaven.

May we spend the remainder of Lent loving God more perfectly, here and now, in preparation of loving Him perfectly in eternity.