Living in the End Times ~ Part 10

Living in the End Times

Being a Christian people, we are filled with a hope which peoples of other faith persuasions do not necessarily share. For we have a God who has gifted us with a faith in something unbelievably grander and a splendor infinitely far beyond anything this life has to offer on Earth!

In our last episode (Part 9), we reflected upon the first two subjects in our eschatological study of the End Times – Death and Judgment.

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 last two subjects of the Four Last Things – Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

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HEAVEN

Over the centuries, there have been many artists who have tried to conceptualize how Heaven would appear, but no one has ever been able to truly capture the beauty and the true essence of God’s Eternal Kingdom.

And we realize this when we ponder the words which Saint Paul uses to describe the wonders of God and the gift of Heaven which awaits each of His faithful children, for he writes, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9b).

And it is this gift of God, this truly marvelous, eternal wonder which is the subject matter that I wish to address first.

Since this Evangelization Apostolate of God’s Divine Love and Mercy is totally dependent upon the inspirations and guidance given to me by the Merciful Love from the Spirit of God Himself, I would first like to include some of the most pertinent passages we find in Saint Maria Faustina’s Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, a diary formally approved by Saint John Paul II, himself, as being worthy of belief and serious study.

Saint Faustina wrote several times about the wonders of Heaven, and I have included below selected passages:

  • In 1934, Our Blessed Mother said to Saint Faustina, “I am not only the Queen of Heaven, but also the Mother of Mercy and your Mother.” (Diary, § 330)
  • In 1935, Saint Faustina wrote in her Diary, “No greater joy is to be found than that of loving God. Already here on Earth we can taste the happiness of those in Heaven by an intimate union with God, a union that is extraordinary and often quite incomprehensible to us. One can attain this very grace through simple faithfulness of soul.” (Diary, § 507)
  • In 1936, she wrote, “I learned in the Heart of Jesus that in Heaven itself there is a Heaven to which not all, but only chosen souls, have access. Incomprehensible is the happiness in which the soul will be immersed.” (Diary, § 592)
  • “The Saints in Heaven worship the mercy of the Lord.” (Diary, § 745)
  • “The mercy of the Lord is praised by the holy souls in Heaven who have themselves experienced that infinite mercy.” (Diary, § 753)
  • “November 27, 1936. Today I was in Heaven, in spirit, and I saw its unconceivable 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.” (Diary, § 777) and
  • “February 10, 1938. During meditation, the Lord gave me knowledge of the joy of Heaven and of the saints on our arrival there; they love God as the sole object of their love, but they also have a tender and heartfelt love for us. It is from the face of God that this joy flows out upon all, because we see Him face to face. His face is so sweet that the soul falls anew into ecstasy.” (Dairy, § 1592)

The subject of Heaven or Paradise is mentioned in Sacred Scripture almost 300 times. Our Lord Jesus speaks about it frequently, as well as the writers of the Epistles and the Book of Revelation.

And the Catechism of the Catholic Church, incorporating Sacred Scripture and the Magisterial teachings of the Church, together with the inspired writings of the early Church Fathers and various renowned saints, teaches us about Heaven in a very detailed way. Noted below are some of the selected passages I have chosen from the Catechism:

  • § 1023  “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they ‘see Him as He is’, face-to-face. (1 John 3:2; cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12; Revelation 22:4)”
  • § 1024  “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called ‘Heaven’. Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.”
  • § 1026  “By His Death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has ‘opened’ Heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in His Heavenly Glorification those who have believed in Him and remained faithful to His will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.”
  • § 1027  “This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the Heavenly Jerusalem, Paradise: ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.’(1 Corinthians 2:9) and
  • § 1029  In the glory of Heaven, the blessed continue joyfully to fulfill God’s will in relation to other men and to all creation. Already they reign with Christ; with Him ‘they shall reign for ever and ever’. (Revelation 22:5; cf. Matthew 25:21, 23)

One of the early Church Fathers, Saint Cyprian of Carthage, in one of his many Epistles, wrote, “How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God…to delight in the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of Heaven with the righteous and God’s friends.”

Of course, the gift of Heaven is offered by God to all who have truly embraced a loving, holy and intimate relationship with Almighty God in this life, a God who always calls each of us into oneness with Himself – a oneness of love, peace and eternal joy.

For each of us reading this, however, we know that we must first complete our temporary sojourn here on Earth, embracing God’s will for us in our thoughts, words and deeds. May I include the words which Saint Faustina wrote in her Diary:

  • “January 27, 1937…before we go to our Homeland, we must fulfill the will of God on Earth; that is, trials and struggles must run their full course in us.” (Diary, § 897)
Painting of Heaven titled “Supreme Sanctuary” by Akiane Kramarik, the artist who painted the famous “Prince of Peace” as a child

And when all is finished and the General Judgment is completed, Saint John gives us God’s words of promise about the new Heaven and the new Earth, words with which many of us are familiar from the Book of Revelation:

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.’ The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation 21:3-5a).

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HELL

Our faith teaches us that God is Infinitely Good and a Most Merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject His Love and His Mercy once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with his Creator, Savior and Sanctifier.

It is precisely this tragic situation which our Christian doctrine speaks of when addressing the reality of eternal damnation or Hell.

Hell is not a punishment imposed by God Himself, but rather a development of personal choices already embraced by people in this life. In other words, we are each given the gift of free will from the very moment of our conception, and we are completely innocent until we arrive at the age of reason, a time in which we begin to discern the differences between right and wrong.

This age of reason, or what the Church describes in the Catechism as the “age of discretion”, may vary based upon cultural upbringing and familial circumstances, as well as various health factors. But, on the average, the Church considers one to enter the age of reason when the child has reached his or her seventh birthday.

And it is from this point, this “age of discretion”, that one generally becomes aware of the difference between sin and goodness. However, all true understanding of one’s moral character and ultimate judgment belongs to God, and God alone.

But it is the teaching of the Church that Hell becomes the eternal destination of the soul when one obstinately and persistently rejects God, willfully turning away from embracing the virtues of faith, hope and charity towards others in one’s life.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it this way: “God predestines no one to go to Hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want ‘any to perish, but all to come to repentance’” (CCC, § 1037).

And the Catechism further states:

  • § 1034  “Jesus often speaks of ‘Gehenna’, of ‘the unquenchable fire’ reserved for those who, to the end of their lives, refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost (cf. Matthew 5:22, 29; 10:28; 13:42, 50; Mark 9:43-48). Jesus solemnly proclaims that He ‘will send his angels, and they will gather…all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire’ (Matthew 13:41-42), and that He will pronounce the condemnation: ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!’ (Matthew 25:41)”
  • § 1035  “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of Hell and its eternity. Immediately after death, the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into Hell, where they suffer the punishments of Hell: ‘eternal fire’ (cf. Pope St. Paul VI (Jun 1968), ‘Credo of the People of God – Solemn Profession of Faith’). The chief punishment of Hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.”

Just as I explained Saint Faustina’s understanding of eternal happiness in the above subject of Heaven, I would like to include the enlightenments and experiences about which she wrote in her Dairy, Divine Mercy in My Soul, when our Lord allowed her to witness Hell itself:

  • (1933) One day, I saw two roads. One was broad, covered with sand and flowers, full of joy, music and all sorts of pleasures. People walked along it, dancing and enjoying themselves. They reached the end without realizing it. And, at the end of the road, there was a horrible precipice; that is the abyss of Hell. The souls fell blindly into it; as they walked, so they fell. And their number was so great that it was impossible to count them.” (Diary, § 153)
  • (1936) Today, I was led by an Angel to the chasms of Hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw: the first torture that constitutes Hell is the loss of God; the second is perpetual remorse of conscience; the third is that one’s condition will never change; the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it, a terrible suffering, since it is a purely spiritual fire, lit by God’s anger; the fifth torture is conditional darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own; the sixth torture is the constant company of Satan, the seventh torture is horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies.” (Diary, § 741a)
  • “These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the torments of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the Omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no Hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like.” (Diary, § 741b).
  • I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of Hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence. I cannot speak about it now; but I have received a command from God to leave it in writing. The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a Hell. When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright. How terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God’s mercy upon them. O my Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend You by the least sin.” (Diary, § 741c)

When reflecting upon the words of Saint Faustina and her personal witness of the reality of Hell’s torments for the souls damned for all eternity, one can only conclude that unrepentant, grievous sin is a great offense against God’s Divine Love.

And this brings to mind the vision which the three children at Fatima, Portugal, experienced during our Blessed Mother’s third appearance to the children on July 13, 1917. The Blessed Virgin Mary unveiled a terrifying reality before the eyes of the three children. Lúcia Santos, the eldest of the three Fatima visionaries, spoke about what they had seen with regards to Hell. The following is taken from the written account of Our Blessed Mother’s messages at Fatima, Portugal:

  • “Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire, which seemed to be under the Earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls, in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in this conflagration in clouds of smoke, lifted by flames coming out of their bodies. They rose and fell on all sides, like sparks in roaring fires, without weight or direction, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair that terrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals.”
  • “This vision lasted but a moment, thanks to our good Mother from Heaven who had warned us beforehand, and promised to take us to Heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of horror and fear. Then we raised our eyes to Our Lady, who said with kindness and sadness: ‘You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart. If people do what I am going to tell you, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.’

In 1992, Lúcia Santos, now Sister Lúcia, and who had been a Carmelite (Religious Sister) in Coimbra, Portugal since 1948, told a Cardinal who had come to visit her, “Hell is a reality…Continue to preach about Hell, for Our Lord Himself spoke of Hell and it is in the Holy Scriptures. God condemns no one to Hell. People condemn themselves to Hell. God has given mankind the freedom of choice, and He respects this human freedom.”

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Sacred Scripture is filled with numerous passages about the devil, and he is known or referred to by many names: Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebul, serpent, dragon, father and prince of lies, tempter, and this very sad list continues throughout the Bible. It is Satan’s purpose to claim as many souls as possible for Hell before his time on Earth is dramatically ended by the Glorious Second Coming of Jesus Christ!

May each of us, as God’s children, always reject the works and temptations of this father of lies and prince of this world, who only wishes to destroy us for all eternity, since his hatred for each and every one of us is very, very great!

Rather, may we always focus on improving our relationship with Almighty God, a relationship of intimacy, holiness and love for the God who created us out of Divine Love, the God who redeemed us out of Divine Mercy so that we may spend our eternity with Him in His Heavenly Kingdom, and the God of Enlightenment who constantly draws us to Himself through the virtues of faith, hope and charity.

And may the words of the psalmist always guide us in our continued journey on this side of Heaven: “My soul, be at rest in God alone, from whom comes my hope. God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress” (Psalm 62:6-7a).

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In next Friday’s segment of this continuing series of “Living in the End Times”, we will discuss the special prayers given from Heaven itself which can strengthen us daily in our continuing pursuit of holiness and a true oneness with our God.

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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