Living in the End Times ~ Part 9

Living in the End Times

In the world in which we live today, there are many issues which impact our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. There is extreme violence and acts of terrorism which affect many of God’s children throughout the world. There are various governments which suppress religious practices, and will even persecute and imprison those who practice their faith in defiance of such orders!

In addition, the number of natural catastrophes is increasing throughout the world, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and raging forest fires which cause tragedy to one’s health, sometimes even claiming the lives of unfortunate victims. And many of us know only too well that there are many diseases and medical conditions which can also shorten one’s lifetime.

Even many of those who have suffered or are suffering severe symptoms from the COVID-19 virus, especially pneumonia and who are placed on ventilators, there are some who end up with having severely damaged lung tissue.

With all this in mind, we are reminded of our own mortality and that no one will live forever in this life. But, as a Christian people, we are given hope in the words which our Lord speaks to us through Sacred Scripture:

  • “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26a) and
  • “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where [I] am going you know the way.” (John 14:1-4)

In our last episode (Part 8), we reflected upon two realities presented to us in Sacred Scripture – the False Prophet and the Antichrist.

In this continuing series on “Living in the End Times”, I would like to spend some time today reflecting upon what the Catholic Church teaches concerning the first two subjects of the Four Last Things – Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

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DEATH

Except for those who have been chosen by God to live and suffer through the times of great tribulation and also witness the glorious Second Coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, each of us will one day have to face the inevitability of our own mortality – physical death – a thought which many people find uncomfortable, especially those who have lived their lives without faith, without hope.

And yet, it was Saint John Paul II, who, in February 1984, wrote about this fact of life and death for each of us in his Apostolic Letter “Salvifici Doloris [Salvific Suffering]”. In Section 15 of this document, we read:

  • “[Death] is often awaited even as a liberation from the suffering of this life. At the same time, it is not possible to ignore the fact that it constitutes, as it were, a definitive summing-up of the destructive work both in the bodily organism and in the psyche…The soul survives and subsists separated from the body, while the body is subjected to gradual decomposition according to the words of the Lord God, pronounced after the sin committed by man at the beginning of his earthly history: ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return’ (Genesis 3:19b).”
  • St. John Paul goes on to write, “As a result of Christ’s salvific work, man exists on Earth with the hope of eternal life and holiness. And even though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in His Cross and Resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life, nor free from suffering the whole historical dimension of human existence, it nevertheless throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering: the light of [eternal] salvation.”

And this brings to mind the hope which fills each of our hearts with the words which our Lord once spoke to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).

And in Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, we read, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

Yet, death was not a part of God’s original plan. Rather, as Scripture teaches us, death entered into the world because of the sins committed by our first parents – the sins of pride and disobedience – which the Church refers to as Original Sin.

“Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned…But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam” (Romans 5:12, 14a).

And yet, we find hope in the words, “For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).

We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not ‘produced’ by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection” (CCC, § 366).

And it is this hope which we find in the words of the Resurrection hymn sung during the Easter celebration of the Byzantine Liturgy, “Christ is risen from the dead! Dying, He conquered death; To the dead, He has given life” (CCC, § 490).

Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the Apostolic Fathers of our Church, once wrote, “Our Lord had the power to lay down His life and to take it up again. But we cannot choose how long we shall live, and death comes to us even against our will. Christ, by dying, has already overcome death.  Our freedom from death comes only through His Death. To save us, Christ had no need of us. Yet, without Him we can do nothing.  He gave Himself to us as the Vine to the branches; apart from Him, we cannot live.”

Thus, out of His Divine Love, it was through the Paschal Mystery which our Lord and Savior chose to freely endure – His Passion, Death and Resurrection – all resulting in His Ascension into Heaven, which gives to each and every one of us a hopefulness in our own death!

For our physical death to this earthly life becomes the doorway through which we pass and are born again into a new life – an eternal life! But we must first face the judgment of the life we have lived here on Earth from the Divine Judge Himself.

JUDGMENT

Our Holy Catholic Church teaches us that, after our physical death, we will each face two judgments – a Particular Judgment and the final General Judgment. We will look at each of these individually.

Particular Judgment

I will let the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach us about the first judgment:

  • § 1021  “Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the Divine grace manifested in Christ (cf. 2 Timothy 1:9-10). The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in His Second Coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith.

    The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the Cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul – a destiny which can be different for some and for others” (cf. Luke 16:22; 23:43; Matthew 16:26; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; Hebrews 9:27; 12:23).
  • § 1022  “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a Particular Judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of Heaven – through a purification [Purgatory] (cf. Council of Lyons II – 1274 A.D.); Council of Florence – 1439 A.D.; Council of Trent – 1563 A.D.) or immediately (Pope Benedict XII (1336), “Benedictus Deus [Blessed God]”), – or immediate and everlasting damnation [Hell] (Matthew 7:13; Romans 6:23a).

    “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love” (St. John of the Cross, “Dichos de Luz y Amor [Sayings of Light and Love]” 64).

In other words, our judgment immediately after physical death will be based upon how we have selflessly loved in this life – how our thoughts, words and actions have helped others by the love we show in our hearts, not only to those we know around us, such as family and friends, but also to the stranger whom we do not know.

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40b).

General Judgment

In the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), it states, “Already the final age of the world is with us and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on Earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real though imperfect” (#48).

To better understand this concept of a General Judgment and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, we need to study what Sacred Scripture teaches us:

Our Lord spoke to His disciples of His Second Coming. He indicated that various signs would mark the event. Mankind would suffer from famine, pestilence and natural disasters. False prophets who claim to be the Messiah and will deceive and mislead people. Nations will wage war against each other. The Church will endure persecution. Worse yet, the faith of many will grow cold and they will abandon the faith, even betraying and hating one another (cf. Matthew 24:4-14; Luke 17:22-37).

Saint Paul describes a “mass apostasy” before the Second Coming, which will be led by the “son of perdition”, the “lawless one”, the “adversary who exalts himself above every so-called god proposed for worship” (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).

This “lawless one” is the Antichrist who comes from Satan, a topic which we covered in Part 8 of this series. But we need not fear, for “…the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord [Jesus] will kill with the breath of his mouth and render powerless by the manifestation of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world” (CCC, § 677).

After the soul has been rejoined to its resurrected body, it is during this final judgment, this General Judgment, that Jesus says, “…those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:29). And many if not all of us are very familiar with the words of Jesus which we find in Matthew’s Gospel:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me’” (Matthew 25:31-36)

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me’…And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41-43, 46).

For those who have died and already have faced the Particular Judgment, their judgment will stand; it will not change. Those living at the time of the Second Coming will receive a singular judgment during the General Judgment.

In closing, I would like to remind each of us of Saint Paul’s words which he wrote to the faithful in the Church of Colossae, words which we should each take to heart in our everyday lives as a Christian people:

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).

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In next Friday’s segment of this continuing series of “Living in the End Times”, we will continue this eschatological study – a study of the events of the End Times. With the help of Sacred Scripture and the Magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church, I will discuss the last two subjects of the Four Last Things – Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

Again, I ask that you please pray that I may be able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in all that He wishes for you to learn, in all that He wishes for you to know as we enter and live in these final days of the “End Times”.

And take to heart always the words which our Lord spoke, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).

May God bless you, God love you, and may God always keep you.

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