Individual Death and Judgment
The Church believes in two final destinies â€“ one for individuals, and one for humankind as a whole.
What you can expect at the death is expressed in the new Testament letter to the Hebrews. It says, â€œIt is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgmentâ€¦â€ (Heb 9:27).
Your life as an earthly pilgrim reaches its point of arrival at the moment of death. Having passed beyond the world of time and change, you can no longer choose a different reality as the ultimate love of your life. If your basic love â€“ choice at the moment of death was the absolute Good whom we call God. God remains your eternal possession. This eternal possession of God is called heaven.
If your ultimate love-voice at the moment of death was anything less than God, you experience the radical emptiness of not possessing the absolute Good. This essential loss is called hell.
The judgment at the instant of the death consists in a crystal clear revelation of your unchangeable, freely chosen condition â€“ eternal union with God, or eternal alienation.
Purgatory and the Communion of Saint
If you die in the love of God but possess any â€œSaints of sin,â€ such stains are cleansed away in a purifying process called purgatory. These stains of sin are primarily the temporal punishment due to venial are mortal sins already forgiven but for which sufficient penance was not done during your life time. This doctrine of purgatory, reflected in scripture and developed in Tradition, was clearly expressed in the Second Council of Lyons (A.D. 1274).
Having passed through purgatory, you will be utterly unselfish, capable of perfect love. Your selfish ego â€“ that part of you that restlessly sought self satisfaction â€“ will have died forever. The â€œnew youâ€ will be your same inner self, transformed and purified by the intensity of Godâ€™s love for you.
Besides declaring the fact of purgatory, the Second Council of Lyons also affirmed that â€œthe faithful on earth can be of great helpâ€ to persons undergoing purgatory by offering for them â€œ the sacrifice of the Mass , Prayers, almsgiving, and other religious deeds.â€
Implied in this doctrine in this bond of oneness â€“ called the Communion of Saints â€“ â€˜that exists between the people of God on earth and those who have gone before us. Vatican II focuses on this bond of union by saying that it â€œaccepts with great devotion the venerable faith of our ancestors regarding his vital fellowship with our brethren who are in heavenly glory or who are still being purified after deathâ€ (The Church, 51).
The Communion of Saints is a two-way street. In the section quoted above, Vatican II points out that just us you on earth can help those who undergo purgatory, those in heaven can help you on your pilgrimage by interceding with God.
God, who is infinite love and mercy, is also infinite justice. Because of Godâ€™s justice as well as his total respect for human freedom, hell is a real possibility as a personâ€™s eternal destiny. This side of Godâ€™s mystery is difficult for us to grasp. But Christ himself taught it, and so does the Church.
The teaching on hell is clearly in scripture. In the Gospel of Mathew Christ says to just: â€œ Come, O blessed of my father inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world .â€ But to the unjust he say: â€œDepart from me you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angelâ€ (Mt 25:34, 41). Else where Jesus is recorded as saying: â€œIt is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fireâ€ (Mk 9:43).
One point that emerges quite clearly from this doctrine is the reality of human freedom. You are free to seek god and serve him. And you are free to do the opposite. In either case, you are responsible for the consequences. Life is a serious matter. The way you live it makes a serious difference. You are free, radically free, to seek God. And you are free, radically free, to choose the inexpressible pain of his absence.
Grace, godâ€™s presence within you, is like a seed â€“ a vital, growing seed that is destined one day to break forth full-grown.
God has given himself to you, but in a hidden way, for the time being, you seek him even as you posses him. But the time will come when your seeking will be over. You will when see and posses god completely. This has been revealed.
In his first letter Saint john tell us: â€œbeloved ,we are Godâ€™s Children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he isâ€ (1 Jn 3:2).
And in his first letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul says: â€œFor now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understoodâ€ (1 Cor 13:12).
This is heaven: direct face to face vision of God he is â€“ Father, Son, and Spirit; total and perfect union with God, an ecstasy of fulfillment beyond human imagining: the â€œnowâ€ of eternity in which everything is ever new, fresh , and present to you ;the warm flood of joy in the company of Jesus, his Mother, and all the people you have ever known and loved; a total absence of pain, regret, red memories; the perfect enjoyment of all your powers of mind and (after the resurrection on judgment Day) of body.
This is heaven. That is to say, this is a place; human indication of what God has promised to those who love him, of what Christ has gained for us by his death and Resurrection.
A New Earth and a New Heaven
Belief in a final judgment on the last day is clearly expressed in the Creeds of the Church. On that day all the dead will be raised. Through divine power we will all be present before God as bodily human being, then God â€“ the absolute Lord of history â€“ will conduct a panoramic judgment of all that humankind did and endured through the long centuries in Which the spirit struggled to bring us forth as one people.
When will that day come? In a remarkable passage filled with the hope for all things human, Vatican II addresses this question and expresses the Churchâ€™s vision: â€œwe do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity. Nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As a deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away. But we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart.â€
Meanwhile, during the time that is left to us, â€œhere grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age.â€
After we have nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfiguredâ€¦. On this earth that kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns, it will be brought into full flower â€œ(Church in the Modern world, 39)
That kingdom is already present in mystery. The day has already begun when god â€œwill wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. â€œBehold, I make all things newâ€¦It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Endâ€ (RV 21:4,5,6).
Meanwhile, we work and pray for the full flowering of that kingdom to come. With the early Christians, we cry out: Marana tha! Come, Lord- Jesus! We seek you.