Tag Archives: heaven

The Four Last Things: A Catechetical Guide to Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell

Fr. Wade L.J. Menezes, C.P.M.
EWTN Publishing, 110 pages

No one likes to dwell much on the fact we draw nearer to death with every passing moment, but that is an inevitability of life. So is judgment, and so is our final destiny of eternal happiness or eternal separation from God. Father Menezes’ book walks us through these ultimate realities with the assurance that we need not fear any of it if we trust in Christ, lead lives of faith, and keep our eyes on the Beatific Vision for which we were created. His closing section on “The Necessity of the Spiritual Life” offers practical guidance for doing just that.

Order:  EWTN PublishingAmazon

Year of Mercy points the way to heaven

Let’s face it, we all want to go to heaven. That’s one destination with no downside. The harps. The white fluffy clouds. A mega-buffet 24/7 and all the champagne you can drink, right?

novecosky

Patrick Novecosky

I hate to burst your bubble, but heaven is far better than that! It’s an unending praise and worship session before the Father’s throne. Jesus, of course, is at his right hand and the Holy Spirit is everywhere. It’s eternal ecstasy beyond anything possible on this planet.

Now that I’ve placed you (figuratively) before the throne, let’s talk about how to get there. That’s the tricky part. Sort of. Jesus is the gate to heaven. He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” How to get to heaven through Jesus? The clearest answer is in Matthew where Jesus talks about how he will gather “all nations” before him (that’s us) and separate the sheep from the goats.

“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me’” (Mt: 25:34-36).

Jesus makes it abundantly clear that if we don’t care for those in need and put others first, we will not enter heaven. And I don’t read any exceptions into his mandate.

Living in an affluent part of the world in the 21st century, I often ponder how this passage applies to me. I can’t fly off to India and work with the poor. There are very few destitute people living close to me. I am, however, defending “the least among us” in every possible way and tending the flock God gave me — my own children — and instilling in them the importance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

In this Year of Mercy, I’m taking Jesus at his word. I yearn for heaven, but I know it isn’t “earned” by works. He opened heaven for me. I’m doing works simply out of love for him, and that’s what he asks of each of us.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.

Heaven is calling: Encountering Jesus in real time

When Jesus encountered people in the scriptures, some responded positively, others negatively. For some, it wasn’t just a one-time experience but a process of growth as a disciple/witness for Jesus. Let’s follow St. Peter’s journey.

Bishop Sam Jacobs

Bishop Sam Jacobs

The first encounter, according to St. John, was not a positive one between Peter and Jesus. When Peter’s brother Andrew brought him to Jesus, the Lord indicated Peter’s future role by changing his name from Simon to Cephas or Peter. The future disciple’s response was to return to what he did best: fishing.

Jesus encountered Peter a little later. Jesus asked him to put out into the deeper water even though he hadn’t caught anything hours before. After the miraculous catch of fish, Peter recognizes his sinfulness and asks Jesus to leave him. Instead, Jesus invites him to leave his occupation and security to become his disciple. Peter accepts.

Other significant encounters follow. Jesus stretches and hones Peter from a fisherman to a fisher of men — from a brash, put-your-foot-in-your-mouth person to one who was willing to surrender to the Lord’s will. Along the way Peter failed many times. He sought to distract Jesus from his prophetic destiny as Suffering Savior before denying Christ all together. At each step, there is a significant encounter with Jesus.

Finally, Peter’s transforming encounter occurs after the resurrection — again at the place of his first, positive response to Jesus: the Sea of Galilee. Again, there is a miraculous catch of fish and the recognition of Jesus as Lord. Taking Peter aside, Jesus asked him probably the most challenging questions of his life. Three times he asked Peter: “Do you love me more than others?” In spite of all Peter’s failures, the Lord invites him into the intimacy of love.

Peter’s response was sufficient. “Lord, I know you love me unconditionally. But at the moment I love you as a close friend. I hope to love you one day the way you love.” The first invitation — “Come, follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men” — now becomes an invitation to follow Jesus to the cross in total surrender of his life in witness for Christ. All this as a result of Peter’s continual encounters with Jesus.

Our lives are filled with many encounters with Jesus. We are aware of some, but not others. Our response to some of these were positive, others negative. Yet Jesus was persistent, never giving up on us, even when, like the Prodigal Son, we ran away from him. But hopefully there was an initial encounter in which we experienced the certainty of his love and the invitation to become his disciple. Even then, our journey was probably not straight but crooked with many ups and downs.

Our past relationship with Jesus is very important, but more important is how attentive we are in our current encounters with Jesus. How conscious are we of our last encounter? How prepared are we to answer the most important questions in our lives, when at the moment of death, Jesus asks: “Who am I to you? Do you love me more than others?”

These encounters are part of the growth in holiness we are called to by virtue of our Baptism. This is God’s will for each of us: Be holy as I, the Lord your God, am holy. Let’s reflect on Pope Francis’ words:

“Let us be infected by the holiness of God. Every Christian is called to sanctity and sanctity does not consist especially in doing extraordinary things, but in allowing God to act [through these encounters]. It is the meeting of our weakness with the strength of his grace, it is having faith in his action that allows us to live in charity, to do everything with joy and humility, for the glory of God and as a service to our neighbor. There is a celebrated saying by the French writer Leon Bloy, at the end of his life, who said: ‘The only real sadness in life is not becoming a saint.’”

The last encounter I desire with Jesus is to hear him say: “Well done, good and faithful disciple; enter into the kingdom prepared for you.” On the other hand, the encounter with Jesus I do not desire is to hear him say: “Depart from me. I do not know you.” The difference will be my attentiveness and positive responses to the different grace encounters between now and then.

BISHOP SAM JACOBS is Legatus’ international chaplain and the former bishop of the Houma-Thibodeaux diocese.

What are the Four Last Things?

PETER KREEFT breaks down the Catholic understanding of God’s judgment . . .

Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft

The Church’s teaching about life after death is summarized in the Four Last Things — death, judgment, heaven, and hell. However, even humanity outside the Church instinctively knows something about these four things.

Life’s one certainty is death. Everyone knows this, though not everyone knows what comes next. Nearly all religions, cultures and individuals in history have believed in some form of life after death. Man’s innate sense of justice tells him that there must be an ultimate reckoning, that in the final analysis no one can cheat the moral law and get away with it or suffer undeserved injustices throughout life and not be justly compensated. Since this ultimate justice does not seem to be accomplished in this life, there must be “the rest of the story.”

This instinctive conviction that there must be a higher, more-than-human justice is nearly universal. Thus the second of the Four Last Things, judgment, is also widely known. As Scripture says, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). The final judgment is an encounter with Christ.

Most men also know that justice distinguishes the good from the evil and, therefore, that after death there must be separate destinies for us — rewards for good and punishments for evil. Thus mankind also usually believes in some form of heaven and hell.

There are only two eternal destinies: heaven or hell, union or disunion with God. Each one of us will be either with God or without him forever. If hell is not real, the Church and the Bible are also liars. Our basis for believing in the reality of hell is exactly the same authority as our basis for believing in the reality of heaven: Christ, his Church, and her scriptures.

If hell is not real, then Jesus Christ is either a fool or a liar for he warned us repeatedly and with utmost seriousness about it. There is no reincarnation, no “second chance” after time is over. There is no annihilation, no end of the soul’s existence. There is no change of species from human being to angel or to anything else.

The particular judgment occurs immediately after each individual’s death. The general judgment takes place at the end of all time and history.

So the scenario of final events is: (a) first, death; (b) then, immediately, the particular judgment; (c) then, either hell, or purgatory as preparation for heaven, or heaven; (d) and, at the end of time, the general judgment; (e) and the “new heavens and new earth” for those who are saved.

PETER KREEFT, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 75 books. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Ignatius Press, 2001).


Catechism 101

Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ. The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith.

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. At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1021-1022

Everyone goes to heaven, right?

KARL KEATING writes that many people mistakenly believe they are heaven-bound . . .

Karl Keating

Karl Keating

Is that so? Haven’t you been reading the headlines? Many people behave as though they’re basically evil, including many who never make the news.

Is the abortionist a good fellow? What about those who seem to build their lives around a particular sin? Have they given their hearts to Christ — or to their passions?

True, God created everything good, including every person. But we have free will, which we can use or abuse. We all abuse it at times, and we call such abuse sin. Some people will continue in sin until the end, at which time they will take the down escalator. Others will repent of their sins and die in the state of grace; they will take the up escalator. How many will be on each escalator? We simply don’t know. Scripture doesn’t tell us the proportion outright, but there are unpleasant suggestions: “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life” (Mt 7:14); “many are invited, but few are chosen” (Mt 22:14).

When asked whether only a few will be saved, Jesus replied, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Lk 13:24). Indeed, in the New Testament hell is mentioned about 30 times. Our Lord refers to “eternal fire” (Mt 18:8) and “fiery Gehenna” (Mt 18:9). Paul wraps it up by saying that when the Lord returns, he will inflict with “blazing fire those who do not acknowledge God” (2 Thes 1:8-9).

The idea that most people will go to heaven arises, perhaps, when people lack a sense of the seriousness of sin — and when they concentrate on God’s mercy to the exclusion of his justice. More than that, the idea is that he will save even those who don’t want to be saved. He won’t force his mercy or his salvation on anyone.

Salvation is a free gift, which, as with any gift, can be declined. We have no good reason to think that there will be only a few decliners. It isn’t so much a matter of God consigning anyone to hell as of the unrepentant sinner consigning himself there. The damned choose to go to hell by choosing self over God. They remain there, impenitent, unable to repent because they have grown absolute in their hatred of God.

This is all a consequence of the most frightening and glorious of our attributes: free will. God allows us to choose him or to choose ourselves. He gives us free rein to decide where we’ll go. He gives each of us enough grace to gain heaven. Only those who reject the grace go elsewhere.

KARL KEATING is the founder of Catholic Answers. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “What Catholics Really Believe — Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith.”


Catechism 101

The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1035, 1037

Mass brings heaven’s glory and joy to earth

Mike Aquilina writes that Mass is a participation in the worship going on in heaven . . .

When we’re at Mass, we are participating in the joyous worship that goes on eternally in heaven. Obviously we can’t know precisely what heaven is like — it’s too wonderful, too glorious for our limited mortal comprehension.

Scripture, however, gives us images to help us get some idea of what heaven is, especially in the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament book of Revelation. What we see in those images is our Christian liturgy, eternally celebrated in the heavenly court of the Father.

Many of the words of our liturgy come straight from those Scripture passages. The Sanctus, or “Holy, Holy, Holy,” is the hymn the seraphim sing at the throne of God. We also recognize just before Communion these words of the angel: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb” (Rev 19:9). In the Mass we participate for the moment in that marriage supper of the Lamb that goes on eternally in heaven.

But the most important way the Mass is like heaven is not in the details of the liturgy. To be in heaven is to be with Christ, dwelling constantly in the presence of the living God. In Holy Communion we are truly with Christ. When that happens we’re in heaven, and no matter how unheavenly the rest of our earthly lives may be, we carry heaven with us into the world if we have the faith to see what we’ve just experienced.

Although Mass is required every Sunday, thinking of Mass as an obligation is really a backward way of looking at it. Going to Mass is an extraordinary privilege. Instead of trying to decide when you have to go, why not go as often as you can?

Yet, our Sunday obligation satisfies the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath. The Catechism strikingly calls the Sabbath “a day of protest against the servitude of labor and the worship of money” (CCC #2172). It liberates us, if only for one day out of seven, from slavery to mundane concerns and frees us to look upward toward God.

Part of that rest is the spiritual refreshment of the Mass. Our Sunday obligation gives us two things we desperately need and that we tend not to leave time for if we’re left to ourselves: It gives us rest, and it gives us close contact with the divine.

Especially in modern society, the temptation is to work without ceasing — or to cause others to work constantly for us. But we are more than machines for performing work. We are God’s children with not only a right but an obligation to make ourselves better and to help others around us become better. The obligation to go to Mass on Sunday takes us out of the cycle of endless labor. It forces us to make room in our lives for joy, whether we like it or not!

This column is reprinted with permission from “Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers” by Mike Aquilina (Servant Books, Cincinnati, 2011).


Catechism 101

Having passed from this world to the Father, Christ gives us in the Eucharist the pledge of glory with him. Participation in the Holy Sacrifice identifies us with his Heart, sustains our strength along the pilgrimage of this life, makes us long for eternal life, and unites us even now to the Church in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints.

The Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed who have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified, so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1419, 1371

Why can’t everyone go to heaven?

Neither God nor anyone else can compel someone’s agreement or love through force . . .

Al Kresta

Historic Christian “universalism” insists that all types of people will be saved. But not all people, without exception, will spend eternity with God.

Jesus knew that people have the freedom to reject God’s love and often do. He lamented, “O Jerusalem … how often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Mt 23:37-39). Jesus’ desire to gather his people recalls the Old Testament image of God sheltering his people under his wings.

From the cross, Jesus’ arms are outstretched to gather up the entire race and reconstitute the universal human family in his embrace. Not everyone, however, will consent to this embrace. God cannot save all persons except by refusing to respect their will. When all opportunities for repentance have passed and all divine and human appeals are exhausted, we are still left with a person who must choose for himself or herself.

To believe that all human beings can be saved by a simple divine decree debases rather than elevates the human person. Think about your efforts to win people over to your love or your cause. Granted, compared to the deity and Dale Carnegie, we all fall short of winning friends and influencing people. But since a person’s will is a holy of holies, no one, not even God, can enter it by force without defiling it.

Neither God nor anyone else can compel someone’s agreement or love through overwhelming force. That would be rape not love, exploitation not cooperation. “Dehumanize the human so we can save him” deserves a place in Orwell’s 1984. It is simply doublespeak. “Hell is one of the eternal guarantees of human freedom, for it admits the right of a free man to cry out non-serviam throughout all eternity,” Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote. In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Lucifer would rather revolt against heaven than serve there; at least in Hell he can be king.

British evangelist John Wesley speaks for the vast majority of Christians when he writes that God’s goodness is displayed most clearly “in offering salvation to every creature, actually saving all that consent thereto, and doing for the rest all that infinite wisdom, almighty power and boundless love can do, without forcing them to be saved, which would be to destroy the very nature that he had given them.”

This column is reprinted with permission from “Why Are Catholics So Concerned About Sin?” by Al Kresta, CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon on Ave Maria Radio.