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Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgment

Nov 26

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11/26/2017 12:00 AM  RssIcon

Throughout the month of November, the Church holds up the Four Last Things for our reflection. We start the month with the two great feasts of All Saint’s Day and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (commonly called All Soul’s Day). This weekend, we end the month, so to speak, with the Feast of Our Lord Christ the King; celebrating and acknowledging that Jesus is the ruler and king of all the known universe, which is not a bad title to put on a business card!

The Four Last Things are Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgment; things I think we fail to recognize and acknowledge all too often in our world today; after all, they can be scary things to think about. Admittedly, Heaven is a nice place to ponder. In our imagination and dreams, we see it as a place of ultimate serenity and peace. In popular culture, images of clouds floating by, angels playing harps, the Lord God sitting on a massive throne, etc., are all circulated widely. The image in the Book of Revelation is a little more precise, as St. John describes heaven as a new city of Jerusalem and at the center of this city is the Lamb of God, Jesus, who is the Light, the Temple and the Altar of Sacrifice. Those who have earned entrance into this realm are washed clean by the blood of that same Lamb and eternally worship Him, along with the heavenly choirs.

On the other hand, Hell is not so popular a discussion topic. It has become vogue, in a way, to even deny the existence of hell, even in Catholic circles. Yet, it does exist. The irony is that Hell is not the absence of God, for no place in creation nor in eternity can be ‘absent’ of God; rather Hell is a place where those who have spent a lifetime on earth running from and denying God’s existence are eternally tormented by the reality that God does actually exist and they are so jaded and closed off to His presence, that they cannot even bear the thought of His presence. Looking at Hell from this point of view, it does reconcile the eternal question: ‘How can a good God condemn someone to Hell?’ He does not, we do by our own inability to love the Lord God with our whole heart, mind and soul.

Looking at November in the Church calendar, we realize that death is an inevitability. But for the Christian, it is not something to fear or approach in trembling, for Christ has conquered death; it has no power over us. But because of our human weakness, there is still that cloud of unknowing in our approach to this final act of life in the world. So we look at the saints who approached it with confidence; we look towards Christ the King who reigns over death; and we know, death is not the end, but a new beginning of life with Christ.

That life in Christ is determined by the last of the Four Last Things: Judgment. When we die, we face a particular judgment that determines our course into eternity. Today’s Gospel passage reflects that: the sheep will be placed on His right and towards eternity with Jesus, the goats on his left towards eternity fighting away from Him. Notice, they are not separated based on whether or not they were a ‘good person,’ but on whether or not they lived their faith out in the world: did they see Jesus in the poor, needy, hungry and forgotten; and respond to their needs? To recognize and see Jesus active in our lives is the key to our entrance into heaven.

As we close out the Church year and begin again anew next weekend with the First Sunday in Advent, we keep our eyes fixed on the things to come so that we can worthily navigate the things of this world.

In Christ,
Fr. Kyle Schnippel


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Re: Why do we place a white pall on the casket of the deceased at funeral Masses?
I have been wondering about that. Thank you for explaining it.

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