Sunday, November 6, 2011

Homily: Catechesis on the Four Last Things

The Last Judgment of Michelangelo
The last few weeks of the Church's liturgical year speak about eschatology, or the last things.  Traditionally  we speak about the four last things of death, judgment, heaven, and hell.  The readings for today's Mass, the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, speak a great deal about the eschaton, or the end of the ages.  It is important to remember that Jesus Christ is the Eschatos, the last One, the first and the last, alpha and omega, by whom each person will be judged, by whose life we are all measured.

Listen to my homily for today:

If you have trouble listening, click here.

Because there is such great ignorance and of teachings of Christ on the last things.  I will give in this homily a brief catechesis.

First we have to know from where we get our doctrine of the faith.  Is it from personal revelation, speculation, or good studying habit of the bible.  No, definitely not.  There are over 40,000 different "Christian" denominations based on personal opinion, especially those more obscure passages of Scripture.  Christian faith, whereby we say it is not our teaching but the very teaching of Jesus Christ himself, comes from the unity of presentation of Scripture, the teaching of Christ passed on through the ages we call Sacred Tradition, and the authoritative teaching of the successor of St Peter, the Pope and all those united with him.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the united and authoritative teaching of these sources of the one Christian Faith, the very teaching of Jesus Christ himself.  Anything else is simply not the Church's teaching and not the teaching of Jesus Christ.  And so, what does the Catechism say about the last things?

The human soul
Each human soul is created immediately and directly by God himself out of nothing at the moment of conception when a child's mother and father cooperate in the act of co-creation.  It is immortal and made for God.  Man is a moral being and all of his acts either contribute to the quality of his goodness or lack thereof.

When we die, our soul is separated from our body and we are immediately judged by God based on our acts, upon the measure of charity in the human soul.  This is called "particular judgment."  Or as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in 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 or immediately, or immediate and everlasting damnation.  At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.
Hell is real.  It is a place or torment for those who have rejected God's grace and love.  We read in the Catechism 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." 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.
How many people when they die are perfectly kind, unfailingly patient, unwaveringly charitable?  Not many.  Thanks be to God for the gift of purgatory, which is a place for those who still need to be purified before entering eternal life.  Thanks also to God's mercy for the gift of indulgences that can remit all temporal punishment due to sin, i.e. a get out of purgatory free card.  Read about them here.  Also, if we love our dearly departed, we will offer masses for the repose of their souls, something which has been done since the very first Christian century.  The Catechism says in 1030:
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.
Heaven is the reward of the just, the place of eternal enjoyment of the blessedness of union with the Most Holy Trinity.  It is the place where every tear will be wiped away and all will praise and glorify the Lord for ever in holy communion as God's holy family.  CCC 1023
According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints . . . and other faithful who died after receiving Christ's holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died, . . . or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death, . . .) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment - and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven - have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature.
Final Judgment
Jesus shall come again to judge the living and dead.  This is called the Second Coming.  There is not an intermediary coming of Jesus as some might say, calling it a "rapture" where those who are faithful to Christ will be taken up into the air before having to endure the final tribulation that is said to immediately precede the Lord's coming at the end of time.  This teaching has been invented in the past few generations and is not coherent with Scripture and the Church's Tradition of martyrs who won their glorious crown by perseverance through trial.  In the CCC we read in 1038:
The resurrection of all the dead, "of both the just and the unjust," will precede the Last Judgment. This will be "the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man's] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment." Then Christ will come "in his glory, and all the angels with him .... Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.... And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."[623] 
The New Heavens and New Earth
After the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the chaff, the good and evil, have been sorted, God will divinize the just and make a new heavens and new earth.  Where God will be all in all, Christ will be all things in all men.  CCC 1043:

Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, "new heavens and a new earth." It will be the definitive realization of God's plan to bring under a single head "all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth."
What does this mean for us?
If you knew you would be dead by the end of the day, how would you live?  Our end in life makes clear what we do now, and how we act.  If we are clearly aware that we may merit either eternal reward or punishment for our actions and that we are responsible for leading others to life, we can be sure that will act differently.

You can make your marriage, your workplace, your parenting, your relationships, your very life here on earth a kind of heaven or hell, and may very really receive either as your eternal destination.  We ought to think about these things frequently to put before our eyes what is truly important in life.

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