If you could pick one sentence that you would rejoice to hear, what would it be?
“Congratulations! You hit the lottery!”
“You are cancer-free.”
“Your child has come back to the Faith.”
How about this one?
“Truly, I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
During November, the Church asks us to pray for our beloved dead, and to think upon the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Last week, I wrote a meditation on death; now let’s look at the Church’s teaching on one’s “particular judgment,” that is, when, as soon as one’s soul leaves the body, one stands before Christ the Judge to give an account of one’s life.
As I write this, I see that according to “How Long Have I Been Alive For?” since I was born, there have passed 20,895 days. (That weighs in at over 500,000 hours, or over 30,000,000 minutes, or over 1.8 billion seconds.) I don’t remember most of them. But I will have to stand before Christ and account for each one of them.
As I write this, I’m packing up for my third move in a year. Jesuits move a lot. (We’re taught: “The only true home for a Jesuit is the road.”) As I pack things up and give other things away, I remember how so often this year I’ve looked at an object and wondered why I’ve been carrying it with me for so long. I look at objects that once meant so much to me, and now I let them go—often gladly, sometimes sadly, and, in a few cases, with regret that I had held onto it all.
When I stand before Christ the Judge, I will undergo a similar process. For every moment of my life, for every act of commission or omission, for every act of decision or indecision, for every choice for or against love, I will give an account—without excuses, without obfuscation, and with clarity about love, betrayal, graces accepted, opportunities missed. I will look at moments of my life, and akin to what I do while packing for a move, I fear that I will have to ask myself, “Why did I ever hold onto that?”
I fear too that at my judgment, I will look at all of the moments of my life, including the ones that I had forgotten, and recall these words of C.S. Lewis:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
I fear that at my particular judgment, I will see with perfect clarity that far too often (and even once is too often!) I was “far too easily pleased” and settled for something other than and therefore less than Christ.
10 Hopeful quotes about death from the saints
I fear too that at my particular judgment, I will recall these words of Our Blessed Lord:
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).
As I write this, knowing that I must have more days behind me than ahead of me, knowing that I have accumulated regrets, and knowing that my only hope is the merciful Christ, how ought I to spend whatever time remains to me?
- I must renew my commitments to prayer, fasting, and penance.
- I must fearlessly and stubbornly ask for the grace to banish from my life anything unworthy of my Christian dignity.
- I must re-order my life around Christ’s commandments to love God and to love my neighbor.
- I must urge others to do the same.
And what about you? How will you spend the remaining time allotted to you? How will you prepare to give an account of your life?
Friends, let’s urge each other on, to cultivate, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, a holy fear, a filial fear, a fear that dreads to offend the one who is loved. And let’s continue to pray for the holy souls in Purgatory, whose time of purification is not yet at an end.
When I write next, I will speak of the glories of Heaven. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
What Mary will do with the sinners who take refuge with her