The Last Four Things
A teaching of the Catholic Church that is often forgotten
deals with the four last things: Death, Judgement,
Heaven, and Hell. Purgatory is not included in this
teaching since the holy souls in purgatory are assured
of heaven but first undergo purification. The last four
things are inevitable for each and every person in the
world. Each of us will die, meet the Merciful and Just
Judge, and be ushered to heaven or hell according to
our state of life. God desires that all should be saved
and come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4).
In today’s Gospel, Jesus prays that his Father's name
be glorified when he draws all to himself through his
passion, death, and resurrection. So how can we
participate in the salvific work of God fulfilled in Jesus
Christ? I think we must be heaven-minded.
Heaven-minded people live an active sacramental life
daily which includes attending mass and confession
regularly as well as reflecting on our baptismal vows
and consecrating our life in the Holy Spirit. As Catholics,
we cannot live a heaven-minded life if we do not
steadily receive the sacraments and pray daily. A
prayerful life involves a conscious decision to pray,
understanding different modes of prayer (for example,
Mass as a liturgical prayer, reciting prayers from a
prayer book, and mental meditational prayer), and
creating a structure to the prayer.
Another way of being heaven-minded involves living
according to God’s will. You may ask, how do I know if
I am living according to God’s will? I think three ways
help us discern the will of God in our lives. If I can
interiorly, honestly and consciously, without even letting
anyone know, say that to the best of my knowledge I do
not have any mortal sin, then I can say that I am living
according to God’s will. Remember, one mortal sin can
alienate us from God so if we die and are unrepentant
with just one mortal sin, it could lead our soul to hell.
A second way to live according to God’s will implies
fulfilling our duties according to our vocation of life.
God will never ask us to live a life that is not consistent
with our nature of life. Married people fulfill God’s will
when they live their marital vows. Finally, the will of
God requires profound humility. We have to move away
from self-praise. St. Maximilian Kolbe wrote that “the
only purpose of the will of God is God Himself and His
love. Everything else is a means to that end.”
Should we fear death? I am sure if we asked everyone
in the church if they want to go to heaven, all the hands
would go up. But what if the question was how many
want to go to heaven TODAY? Probably few or no
hands would go up. Our physical death completes our full
incorporation with Christ, the seal of the sacramental
dying in the Baptism. So, the three times of pouring or
submersion in the waters of Baptism reunite us with the
death of Christ. That is why at funerals, we always
have baptismal symbols next to the casket.
Living as a heaven-minded person means to pray for a
happy and holy death. Five elements comprise a happy
death: 1) The person dies in a state of sanctifying
grace which means that at the moment of death, one
does not have any known unrepented mortal sin. 2) The
person receives the sacrament of the sick. 3) The person
receives the Holy Viaticum, the last communion before
death. 4) Prayers of commendation are administered,
including the litany of the saints. 5) The person receives
absolution from the priest.
The church teaches about the particular judgment at the
time of death. The church borrows from the Gospel of
Luke (16:22) and others when Jesus said to the repentant
thief, “Amen, I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with
me in paradise.” The church says that souls that die in
the state of grace and do not have to atone for any sins
are received at once in heaven while the souls that die
with an unrepented mortal sin are alienated from God
for eternity. The church also teaches that one’s particular
judgment will take place at the time of death while all
souls await the general judgment when Christ the King
will come in his glory to judge the living and the dead
and reunite each soul with its body. God plans that
souls go straight to heaven when they die. The souls that
die without having atoned for their non-mortal sins will
go to purgatory.
The Catholic Church also teaches about the reality of
Hell as one of the last four things. Since God made
humans to love him freely, God also does everything to
win our love. He pursues humans through his grace but
alienates the souls who knowingly and willfully turn
against him and at the moment of death die as his
enemies. God’s attributes of Mercy and Just Justice
find infinite perfection in God at the moment of death.
St. Augustine said that either we love God and despise
ourselves or we love ourselves and despise God.
The Gospel this week invites us to reflect on the reality
of Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Are you heaven-
May God bless you and your family.
Fr. Maina Waithaka
With you a Christian, for you a priest.