As we approach the end of our liturgical year, the scriptures that we are given to meditate on at mass turn us towards the end of time and the coming of Christ the King. These meditations take on an “eschatological” flavor and turn our thoughts towards the “Last Things.” The “Last Things” are death, judgment, heaven and hell. Now I have to confess that I never need a “spoiler alert” because I like to peek at the end of the story to see how things are going to turn out. I will often look at the end of a book to see who is still around at the end of the book. I like to be prepared. Meditating on the Last Things helps us all to be prepared for what is certainly going to come in time. I also have to confess that I don’t like “horror” stories that promote fear. I don’t want to be afraid. Looking ahead at the Last Things should be an occasion for an anticipated joy, not a fear of judgment.
As Christians, we believe in a future full of hope in which we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells the Thessalonians: “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…Thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (1Thes 4,13f.17) Our hope that casts out all fear is the presence of Jesus with us always. Our hope is not wishful thinking, it is trust in a promise that Jesus has made to us: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28,20) From the time that we are united to Jesus Christ in baptism, we never have to be alone, we are always with the Lord. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, not angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8,38) The only thing that can separate us from God is our own free choice, our own rejection of the love of God, our own mortal sin.
In our world today there is a crisis of hope. Our lives have no meaning without hope. If life consists only of what we can see and nothing more then we are left with a great emptiness in our lives. As Christians, we are able to endure our present sufferings because we have a greater hope for the future and we live “with the hope that God gives of being raised up by him.” (2 Macc 7,14) Just as we acknowledge that faith is a divine gift from God so do we understand that hope is a gift from God “who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace.” (2 Thes 2,16) This hope gives us courage to face life’s challenges today so that we are prepared to live the “new life” that will be ours in the future.
What makes hope difficult these days is that “not all have faith.” (2Thes 3,2) We have to be ready to “give everyone a reason for our hope” (1Pt 3,15) as St. Peter exhorts us and that reason is the merciful love of God and his promise of eternal life. We must allow the Lord to “direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.” (2Thes 3,5) Jesus tells the Sadducees in the gospel that they are mistaken about heaven and eternal life. In heaven we will live like the angels, in God’s presence, in glorious freedom, in a fullness of life and love, “and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.” (Luke 20,36) There are no possessions or being possessed in heaven, just a glorious freedom of sharing life and love with all the saints and angels in God’s presence. Let’s take a quick peek at the Last Things.
Death and Judgment: “Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment, so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.” (Heb 9,27f) We die once, no second chances, no reincarnation and after death there is an immediate particular judgment, then at the coming of Christ an universal judgment for all.
Heaven and Hell: “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they “see him as he is,” face to face. (CCC 1023) “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (CCC 1030) “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him…To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.” (CCC 1033)
Go ahead and take a look at the end of your story. Meditate on the Last Things. Hold on to hope, you won’t be disappointed!