Tuesday’s in Lent, the Community and Old St. Mary’s come together for Stations of the Cross at 6:30, followed by Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and a talk on one of the Four Last Things. Last week’s sermon was on the second of the Four Last Things – judgement. It is presented below:
The Four Last Things – Judgement
As we heard last week, the first of the four last things is death. Death is reality that will come for us all, and hopefully not at a moment when we don’t expect it. To die well, is to have lived well. Meaning that we have lived a life of grace, and a life surrounded by the Church. Our live is a life in which we struggle in our temptations and difficulties. That everyday of our lives we are presented with temptations from the devil, the worst of which is the temptation to sin because we can simply go to confession afterwards. If we fall into that temptation, there is no guarantee that we will have that grace and opportunity; we may be called upon to make an account of our lives that evening. Death certainly isn’t the last word and something we must prepare for, because what comes afterwards is eternity. To die unprepared and unexpected would be terrible, because what follows is the second of the ‘Four Last Things,’ judgment.
The people of the early world originally believed that the way in which a man had eternal life was through his descendants. The promise made to Abraham, that he would be the father to a great nation, was a great promise for him. Abraham would have understood this as a promise for eternal life. This is one of the reasons why it was believed that somehow barrenness was the result of sin and displeasure with God, fertility on the other hand was a sign that the couple was pleasing to God. It was only in descendants, which remembered and honored one’s memory, that one was able to have eternal life. A lack of descendants was condemnation.
We know now, however, that physical maladies are not the result of sin, at least not in the sense that God seeks to punish us for sin through sickness or physical ailments. But we do know that we have an immortal soul; a soul that requires our great care. Unlike our bodies, unlike our material possessions, unlike our prestige and reputations, our soul alone is what will be what will last into eternity and we only have one soul.
Many today teach that at the moment of death nothing happens, similar to the belief of the ancient world. Others believe that at the end of our lives we fall asleep into some holding pattern. The Church, however, teaches that there is not just the General Judgment at the end of time. A judgment in which the whole world will be judged as a whole, and our bodies will be united back to our souls to enjoy the same reward or suffer the same punishment as our souls.
But before we get to the General Judgment, there is a Particular Judgment. The dogmatic teaching states that: “immediately after death, the particular judgment takes place. An event in which, by a Divine Sentence of Judgment, the eternal fate of the deceased person is decided.” In that moment, we will be transported before the judgment seat of God. Everything that we did, everything that we said, everything that we failed to do, everything will be under scrutiny.
Confusion will overwhelm us in that moment when everything will be revealed. All of those secrets that we hold in the deepest recesses of our hearts will be exposed. Think of how difficult it is for us to reveal these sins in the secrecy of the confessional. In the book of Genesis, the sons of Jacob discovered that the Egyptian Lord they were speaking with was their bother Joseph. When Joseph said ‘I am your brother whom you sold,’ great silence and fear came over his brothers. What fear will come over us when Christ comes before us as the judge? When all of our faults are revealed, and not a single secret of our hearts are left hidden? As the great Funeral Sequence the Dies Irae says: “When therefore the Judge will sit, whatever hides will appear: nothing will remain unpunished.”
It will be in that moment that the soul will suffer more at seeing the indignation of Christ than at the fear of punishment in hell. He will judge us with the same charity and justice that we judged others. What will ultimately be our judge will be two books. The first being the Gospels that we should have used to instruct us in what we should have done. The second will be our own consciences to condemn us for what we have done or failed to do. The Lord has given us these two things to guide us, and yet we so often go against their counsel. To the point that they alone will be all that is necessary to either gain our salvation or seal our damnation.
At our judgment, there will be three witnesses called to testify against us before the Lord; the first witness being the devil. He will declare all that we did in accordance with his temptations. He will affirm to the Lord that he did not endure blows and scourges to win our esteem, that he suffered nothing for our obedience. Yet, we left Christ, the one who did endure the scourging at the pillar. The one who did suffer and die for us. The devil will accuse us of having forsaken Christ, who loved us beyond love in order to win our friendship. And yet, we went with the one who is a murder and liar. The one who tortures the souls of the condemned for all eternity. He will declare us to be his, because in that moment we are his for all eternity if we haven’t lived well and died well.
The second witness will be our own Guardian Angel; the angel that was given to us to guide us, to protect us, and keep us in God’s grace. He will report to the Lord how we always ignored every warning we were given. How, rather than responding to the gifts and graces that God gave us, that we ignored our angels counsel. This gift from God, to help ward off the power of the enemy, will accuse us for rejecting this gift.
The final witness will be the wounds of Christ. The nails that nailed the author of life to the tree will complain of our sins. We forced those nails to be the instrument of death. The wounds themselves will speak of against us. Because we rejected the life giving graces that flowed forth from those wounds. Finally The Cross of Christ will preach against us. That dogwood tree, that tree that at one time stood so straight and proud as tradition tells us. A tree that is now withered and hunched over because of its shame for being the instrument of torture that crucified our Lord. These will accuse us before the Lord. Accuse us of all that we did, and all we ought to have done; the temptations that we gave into, the opportunities that we missed. All because we sought a passing pleasure, rather than the happiness that only eternal life can give.
In the judgment, we will remain proud. Acting like Lady Eve, we won’t humbly admit our faults. We will remain indignant, making excuses. We will blame other forces for our failures. Grasping at straws, we will claim ignorance. Claiming that we did not know something was a sin. And yet, have been born in a heathen nation? Have we never gone to Church? Do we not have ready access to Sacred Scripture? To the Catechism? To the priests of the Church? We cannot claim ignorance. For all the difficulties we face in the 21st Century, we have more opportunities to become saints than any saint before us. We have our consciences and the gospels to guide us, and they will condemn us in the end. Ignorance will be no defense. The truth is at our fingertips, we choose to remain ignorant.
We will claim that our passions were too strong. That we couldn’t help ourselves. And yet, are we really just animals? Did the Lord make us no different than the brute beast? We were the crown of God’s creation. Having been given reason, intellect, freedom, and the ability to love. And yet, we still claim we are nothing more than an animal? We can’t control ourselves because we don’t want to. We know the remedy for sin and the passions. We know that we must practice virtue and perform penances if we hope to lead a holy life. We do whatever it takes to have the perfect body, the perfect mind, the perfect reputation. We strive at great lengths for these things. Yet when it comes to virtue, we put that off until tomorrow. Refusing the hard work that it takes to be a saint.
God has given us the Sacraments, and yet how often we simply approach that with indifference. These seven gifts have the ability to transform us if we allow them, and yet we approach them with such ease. Do we truly believe that what we receive is the Eucharist? The body of the Lord. If we did, we would ensure that our souls were clean and come to the rail with such preparation that we would almost not want to receive the Eucharist out of unworthiness. Think of how we pray before the Exposed Eucharist, as if He isn’t even present. As if it us doing Him the favor of sitting with him. How easily we approach the Sacrament of Penance, knowing that the next time we present ourselves, we will confess the same thing. We will claim that we are not strong. The Lord, however, will remind us of everything he has given to us, and how little we took advantage of those gifts. How we were not at all transformed by these gifts. In that moment, we will hang our heads in shame.
Our final defense will be a claim that we had no examples. Yet we have the Blessed Virgin Mary. We have Saint Joseph and the Apostles. We have the St. Philip Neri and the Oratorian Saints and Blesseds. We have St. Therese of the Child Jesus. We have the confessors, the virgins, and martyrs. We have the priests and nuns of the Church. We choose not to follow them, but follow those who suit our fancy. We follow our own wills. The Lord has given us every opportunity for grace and holiness, and pass up every one. God is merciful and desires our salvation. But he is also just and allows our freedom to make decisions. Decisions that can lead to our salvation or damnation. And this defense will be our very condemnation, because we have no excuses.
We gave into temptation and our passions because we sought a passing pleasure. This passing pleasures that only gives a slight reprieve. What will eating all that food and practicing gluttony really get us aside form a moment of joy? What will the excesses of the flesh really gain for us but a very quick pleasure? These earn us just a temporary joy, but lead us to eternal sadness.
We have been given two eyes, two ears, two hands, and two feet. If we lose one of them we will still have one. But the Lord has given to us only one soul, and if we lose that, we lose eternal happiness. We must take care to save our souls and seek the happiness that is eternal. What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?
We must strive to make your soul the temple and the abode of the Divinity. Never losing sight of the solemn and awful day when we will appear before the tribunal of Christ to render an account of all our works. How much tremor there will be, when the Judge will come, investigating everything strictly!
We must say with St. Ambrose. ‘Woe is me if I weep not for my sins! Woe is me, O Lord, if I rise not in the night to confess and proclaim the glory of Thy name! Woe is me if I do not dissipate the errors of my brethren and cause the light of truth to burn before their eyes, for the axe is now laid to the root of the tree.’
Eternal life is given only to those who have labored courageously and profitably. Eternal death is given to those whose works are barren and useless.
We must pray each day another line from the Dies Irae: ‘Just Judge of revenge, give the gift of remission before the day of reckoning.’
Because if we wait until that day of reckoning we won’t hear that we have been a good and prudent steward. Rather, as our head hangs in shame, the Lord will pronounce his judgment: Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire that was prepared by the devil and his angels.
Let us pray with St. Alphonsus
My God! If I do not appease Thee now, there will then be no more time for turning away Thy anger. But how shall I, who have so often despised Thy friendship for miserable beastly pleasures, be able to appease Thy wrath? I have repaid with ingratitude Thy immense love. How can a creature ever make sufficient satisfaction for having offended the Creator? Ah, my Lord! I thank Thee, for giving me in Thy mercy a means of appeasing Thy anger and satisfying Thy justice. I offer Thee the blood and death of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, and behold! I see a superabundant atonement and satisfaction made to Thee. To appease Thy anger, my repentance is also necessary. Yes, my God! I repent with my whole heart of all the injuries I have done Thee. Judge me now, O my Redeemer! I detest above all things all the offences I have offered to Thee. I love Thee with my whole heart and above all things, and I purpose to love Thee always, and to die rather than ever offend Thee again. Thou hast promised to pardon all who repent. Ah! judge me now, and absolve me from my sins. I accept the punishment that I deserve, but reinstate me in Thy grace, and preserve me in it till death. Such is my hope. O Mary, my Mother! I thank thee for all the mercies that thou hast obtained for me. Ah! Continue to protect me to the end.
St. Alphonsus Liguori – Preparation for Death
St. John Vianney – Sermons
Ven. Louis of Granada – The Sinner’s Guide