The 4 Last Things are brought before us these days ...
I lied to my students to scare them, but what I said was kind of true.
We watched The Sixth Sense in my Introduction to Cinema class at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, as we always do as Halloween approaches, and it was beautiful. They jumped at the jump scares and gasped at the twist. When it was over, they were scared and excited.
“Before you leave, let me warn you,” I lied. “The time between All Saints Day and Christmas is a holy, cozy time for Catholics. But between now and November 1, the world will be flooded with angry ghosts!”
It worked. They were (momentarily) terrified. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is something true about it: There may not be ghosts, but there is a lot of supernatural power in the days of October 30, October 31, then November 1 and November 2.
October 30 is a great day to reflect on the judgment.
We will face two judgments after death. We get a touch of each of them in Sunday Mass each weekend. Especially this weekend.
First is the “particular judgment” when we stand before Jesus Christ alone on the day of death.
We saw what that looks like Sunday in the story of Zacchaeus, the Chief Tax Collector of Jericho. He is like the characters we have met in parables recently — he made a career out of being the unjust judge withholding funds from widows, and then became the repentant tax collector who wouldn’t raise his eyes in Temple. The difference? Zacchaeus meets Jesus, and outdoes both. He pays the widow four times what he owes, and he looks down from a tree at God.
But there’s another judgment. “On Judgment Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory.” That’s the judgment we glimpsed in Sunday’s reading from the book of Wisdom, when God weighs the world like a grain in a balance, and in Thessalonians, when St. Paul advises we soberly await the Second Coming.
October 31, like it or not, has become a day to reflect on hell.
Secular Halloween is a night when people watch horror movies and children dress as gruesome monsters. None of it is Catholic, but the Breviaryis.
And this Monday, the Office of Readings says: “Mark this, you who never think of God, lest I seize you and you cannot escape …”
Monday’s Morning Prayer warns: “Merciless is the judgment on the man who has not shown mercy.”
God wants nothing more than to spare us from hell, but “the teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. … 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.”
So be afraid of the Halloween that never ends.
November 1 is, of course, a day to celebrate heaven.
The sun coming up on All Saints Day is a fitting end to the secular “hell night” of the night before.
Then, at Mass, itself a foretaste of heaven, we will hear: “I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. … They cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.’”
We get beautiful images of heaven in the Breviary, too, and pray, “The saints will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father, alleluia.”
It’s a day to look at the glorious leaves and the sun on the horizon and look forward to heaven, which isn’t a time of “nothing to do,” so much as it is the deep rest after a hard day’s work.
November 2, however, brings us back to earth to face our own mortality.
All Souls Day, the Day of the Dead, is a day to visit the graves of those we love or pray for their souls at Mass, grateful that “the souls of the just are in the hands of God,” as the Book of Wisdom will say, and “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him,” as the Letter to the Romans says.
Winter is surely coming. So are the four last things.
Autumn is a great time to contemplate heaven, hell, death, and judgment with Jesus, who will be there with us when they come.