The FOUR LAST THINGS: Prepared for Friends of Catholic Family Podcast
I don’t want to end the year on a heavy-duty note. But I’ve prepared an end-of-year reflection for my own website (www.deacontomonline.com) and it was done for use on December 29th 2008. And I used the Mass readings of that day and I think they lead us to a proper (although some might say a not so super upbeat) topic for the end of the year or the beginning of a new one. But, I invite you to think with me for a bit.
These words contained in the Gospel for December 29th are the same words mentioned in the past Sunday’s Gospel: “Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled; my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” The words of Simeon – the gift given to him: a vision of the Holy One with whom he, Simeon would spend eternity.
And yet – we humans must pass through death to gain access to what God has ready for us. This leads to the theology of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. A preacher shouldn’t need to spend much time on death because it is about the only unarguable, permanent, proof-positive fact that everyone in the world agrees upon. Yes, Virginia there is a reality called death. For most of us, death will be a liberation from some amount of suffering in our lives (JPII). Death is the ultimate surrender from which none of us can escape. And so, according to the words of the Lord God, pronounced after the sin committed by man at the beginning of his earthly history: “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Have you ever been around anyone who has had a near-death experience? Father Dwight Long told a story of his grandfather who was run over by a car… the grandfather saved two of grandsons from harm – but the man himself was crushed… and his internal organs were so damaged that it was impossible to surgically repair him…. And he died. His wife was with him at his hospital bed – and just moments before he died – he came back to consciousness and he looked up to the corner of the ceiling. He said, “Can you see them Esther? They are so beautiful.”
Many of us have heard such stories – people gifted with a vision of what it’s like on the other side… they are given a glimpse of who is waiting for them… or there is an inviting white light… These stories give us comfort – and for some, they may give faith or hope of a better world to come. And what we need to take into our inner belief – what we need to accept and prepare for (by the lives we live) is that heaven is more real – totally real more than anything else we know of here on earth. In fact everything here isn’t real – if by real we mean permanent.
There are enough Biblical and other stories to remind us that heaven is real… and not just from anecdotes. St. Therese, the Little Flower spoke of a vision of heaven where, in heaven, each piece of dust is a jewel. Other holy ones gifted with heavenly or beatific visions have had their lives radically changed. St. Paul was one of them and he tells us that no eye has yet seen what God has ready for those who love Him. And C. S. Lewis in his book The Great Divorce, wrote of souls given a day pass from Purgatory and allowed to visit Heaven. And when they get there – they find they can’t walk on the grass because each blade of grass is like a tiny sword… cutting their feet. It is so much more real than anything experienced in our human life.
And so most Christians will believe or hope — taking comfort that there is a ‘goodness’ waiting for us on the other side. But many ‘believers’ don’t see or can’t accept the reality of judgment… and all-too-many have given up belief in hell. A good God wouldn’t condemn anyone to hell they say. Even some clergy give in and preach such a corrupted gospel.
It is beyond the scope of a short reflection such as this to expound on judgment and hell. I refer you to the Catholic Catechism for a scripturally based teaching on these matters. What is interesting is that there are countless examples of natural laws that no one will ignore or dispute… the law of gravity is but one example. You may dispute that a Good God would create a world in which someone could be killed for ignoring a law of gravity – and if that person wishes to test that law – he’d best be prepared for a smashing demonstration of the permanence of the effect of gravity – and he’d best be prepared for meeting his maker.
It takes no great leap of wisdom to believe that there are moral laws which are as absolute and which have consequences… and if (finally) – one comes to accept the truth of these absolutes, then to keep violating moral laws and expecting God’s eternal forbearance is not a wise position to assume.
In our parish – a few of us will be in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament on New Year’s Eve from 11pm till midnight – welcoming in 2009 in a quiet and peaceful manner. I, for one will spend some time considering these matters. I hope you will do so as well. So – as I prepare this last reflection for 2008 – or thoughts to take into 2009 – I recommend that each of us could spend time meditating upon the realities of
Thank you David and Allyson for the gift of your faith, your witness, your friendship and your family. May God bless you and the children and all of your worldwide Catholic Family.