Monday, November 23, 2015

The Final Judgment and the Four Last Things

From Vultus Christi:
Visions of Things to Come
We, for our part, are very much like the disciples who went to Our Lord asking for more information, for an explanation, for a more precise forecast of the things to come. Our Lord warned the disciples then, as today He warns us, not to be deceived by imposters and false prophets, nor troubled by tidings of war and the rumours of war. It is enough that we should be aware that, on the day and in the hour appointed by God, the world as we know it will come to an end, just as surely as my life and yours, as we know it, will come to an end in the hour of our death.

Daniel’s Lineage
To be sure there are holy men and women to whom God has given visions of things to come. The prophet Daniel to whom it was given to see visions in the night, even of “one like the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13) has his lineage in the saints and mystics of the Church graced, as he was, with visions and prophecies. Such things, of course, are to be read with an extreme discretion and prudence, lest an unhealthy curiosity overtake the sobriety of faith, and the Confuser (that is the devil) sow the weeds of inner turmoil where the Holy Ghost would sow only the seeds of confidence in God and the hope of everlasting life.

The Four Last Things
There is, I think, great wisdom in the liturgy’s attribution of a Gospel that speaks of the end of the world to this last Sunday before Advent. It brings before our eyes, in one powerful synthesis the four last things that we so easily forget or, at least, try to put out of mind, because they point to our own mortality. What are the four last things? They are: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. The Catechism puts it succinctly:
Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately, or immediate and everlasting damnation. (CCC, 1022).
The Way of Saint Benedict
In Chapter IV of the Holy Rule, our father Saint Benedict enjoins us to live with a sober awareness of the same four last things:
44. To fear the Day of Judgment.
45. To be in dread of hell.
46. To desire with a special longing everlasting life.
47. To keep death daily before one’s eyes.
The Way of the World
Compare Saint Benedict’s four injunctions with the way most people live. They have no fear of the Day of Judgment and no dread of hell. They hardly desire heaven with special longing, and they do whatever they can to avoid keeping death before their eyes. This the way of the world. This is the foundation of the whole industry of entertainment, distraction, pleasure, and pornography . . . as if by keeping oneself amused, by not thinking of death, by squeezing whatever fleeting gratification one can out of passing things, and by looking leeringly at  human flesh, one can keep death at bay. The man who loses sight of the four last things risks frittering away the short span of life allotted to him in time. The psalmist says:
Swift as a breath our lives pass away. What is our span of days? Seventy years it lasts, eighty years, if lusty folk we be; for the more part, toil and frustration; years that vanish in a moment, and we are gone. (Psalm 89:9–10)
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