Tuesday, November 2, 2010

On Death and Judgment

Yesterday, we were talking about the realism of the Saints in contrast to the accusation of the world that the Church is not in touch with reality. Today, our commemoration of the faithful departed brings to mind realities which the world prefers not to think of – namely, death and judgment. Contrary to the claim that the world we live in is truly in touch with reality, it is truly in state of denial. By the bombardment of images of youthful beauty, the world tries to deny that one reality which, whether we like or not, will one day confront us all – and that is Death. And because it denies death, the world also tries to brush under the rug the reality of judgment. The world detests the thought of responsibility for everything we think, say, and do.

And yet, no matter how vehemently the world tries to deny these realities, the truth remains: there is death and judgment. One day, we shall die and the world is afraid of this. This fear of death comes from the fact that it does not have any idea of what lies beyond it. Denying what is invisible, the world sees nothing beyond the materiality of death. Thus, death to the eyes of the world is simply the end: the end of life, the end of relationships, and the end of existence. And this thought drives man to take all he can out of life – to eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we die. Live without accountability. Enjoy without responsibility. Nothing waits for you at the end.

But such is a very naïve view of human life. To limit human life to simply what is temporal is to cheat man of the great destiny that is truly his. Reality is not simply limited to the temporal. Temporality is but a small portion of what we call “reality.” Beyond it is the bigger part, the more substantial part and that is the Eternal. I was struck by what Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said this morning. He said that of the three sectors of the kingdom of God, ours (the Church Militant) is the smallest. For if only we take to mind the actual number of those who have gone before us in death – those who compose both the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering – we who are on earth, the Church Militant, will simply be a minority. And this is true. We are not the only ones alive. Those in heaven and in purgatory are also very much alive. Death did not end their existence. St. Therese in her last moments said: “I am not dying. I am entering into life!” When people say that life is short, I agree only to the extent that “life” here is meant to refer to life on earth. And indeed, it is very short as compared to the eternity that awaits us. And yet, short though it may be, it is so decisive that it determines the quality of our eternity. Our eternity will be the retribution that we shall receive at the moment of death (CCC, 1022). This eternity will either be entrance into the blessedness of heaven – either through a purification or immediately, - or immediate and eternal damnation.

Eternal retribution speaks of accountability. It involves judgment, reward, and punishment. Divine Revelation puts names to these realities: Heaven and Hell. Of course, hell is outside the Kingdom of God. It is the place of punishment and exclusion for those who have persistently rejected Divine Mercy through mortal sin. Heaven, which we have meditated on yesterday, is the place of reward and communion with the Blessed Trinity. How we all wish that at the end of our lives, we could enter Heaven as a just reward. However, the beauty of Paradise could not admit the ugliness of sin: “Nothing impure can enter Heaven.” The perfection of God is the high standard of Heaven: “Be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect.” Our obsession with perfection on earth is not yet quite the perfection that is the Father’s. Our perception of goodness is not yet quite close to the Holiness of the Father which is beyond all our imagining. We oftentimes think that what we have done is good enough only to find out at judgment that it is not quite proximate to the Holiness that is the Father’s. Oh how we wish that it were as easy as rounding off fractions to the next power, but it is not. Jesus said, “You will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” The justice of God is exacting. Yes, He is Merciful, but He is also Just. It will be in Purgatory that we shall realize that the sin we once disregarded as trivial will involve so much reparation and purification. It will be in Purgatory that we shall realize how thorough the Lord’s judgment is. No thought, no word, no act – even the most covert, the most hidden – will be unaccounted. Everything will be reviewed. Every moment will be considered.

This is why we cannot afford to trivialize anything. We cannot afford denying the truth of accountability and judgment. But how can we ever achieve the perfection which the Father requires? How can we be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect? Think: who is as perfect as the Father is perfect? Is He not His only begotten Son? And how was the Son made perfect in obedience? The Letter to the Hebrews says: Jesus learned obedience through suffering. And when perfected, He became the source of salvation of those who believe in Him. He was made perfect in suffering. The Cross, which we oftentimes trivialize, is the instrument of heavenly perfection. The Cross, which we wish we could do without, is the one necessary instrument by which our lives might be perfectly conformed to Jesus. It is by suffering that we are purified. It is by suffering that we are perfected.

And when a man’s voluntary sufferings on earth are not enough to atone for his sins, he bears the remainder in Purgatory. And in the wonderful mystery of the Communion of Saints, we can augment their deficit with our own sacrifices and prayers. “The Church, in its pilgrim members, from the earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and ‘because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins,’ she offers her suffrages for them. Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making intercession for us effective.” (CCC, 958.) The Communion of Saints involves the communion in Charity. It is a communion that is not destroyed by death. Beyond death, we continue to bear one another’s burden. And this mutual carrying of burdens has only one interest in mind: that of helping each other be perfect as the Father is perfect.

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