Monday, May 16, 2011

The Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell

Adult Confirmation Class Four

The Last Things - Salvation . . . or Not (CCC 988-1065)

In Love and in Truth, God created us. The meaning of life, the purpose for which we were made and the reason we exist, is to live in and for truth and love. In God, who is Love and Truth, all things are possible. Love and Truth can even defeat death and, so, part of our purpose for being is to live with and in God's love for all time. Thus, we proclaim our faith and hope in "life everlasting."

Our life on this earth is not the "be all and end all," but is a preparation for eternal life with God. The eternal life can even begin now if we definitively choose to respond to God and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. The problem is that many of us do accept God, but not definitively, and we then go on to be unfaithful to Him. But, we must return to Him while there is still time. Indeed, the time for making a definitive choice to accept the grace of salvation is during this life -- it ends upon death, which, as Jesus reminds us, could come at any moment. At the moment of death, each person is subject to a "particular judgment," whereby if you die in mortal sin and unrepentant, having failed or refused to seek and accept God's mercy and forgiveness, then you will have necessarily not chosen eternal life, but eternal death instead.

Hell exists as an actual state of being, although precisely what Hell is like is a mystery. Given that we are bodily creatures who experience things by our senses and understand things in a physical manner, scripture describes Hell in various physical terms, such as physical pain from fire or coldness and darkness. Whatever else Hell may be like, the worst aspect of it is eternal separation from God. And it is not God who sends us to Hell, we necessarily send ourselves there.

Why would anyone choose Hell?

Well, by rejecting God, by saying "I don't want God, I never want God," by dying in mortal sin, which separates us from Him, one necessarily chooses to be separate from God. And since true love is never imposed upon someone, God being Love, He does not impose Himself on anyone against their will. He does not save them against their will. He does not force them to spend eternity with Him against their will. One need not actively hate God or directly reject Him; by choosing to remain in mortal sin, by choosing not to be restored to a state of grace, one necessarily chooses to be apart from God, and that is what Hell really is in its essential aspect, that is what damnation is -- eternal separation from God -- God who is Love and God who is Truth, in Whom is Life itself -- eternal separation from love and truth and life. But God does not cause that separation, God does not cause that damnation out of a petulant fit of pique, He does not use His divine boot to crush, like ants, those that tick Him off. That is not who or what God is.

God is Love, and He remains Love whether you are a saint or a sinner, whether you love Him in return or whether you hate Him. God does not return hate for hate, or anger for rejection. He will always remain faithful to you and offer love in return for your infidelity, but He will not make you take His love. If you are willing to accept His love, including seeking and receiving the sacraments, including the Sacrament of Confession, such that, upon death you are not in a state of mortal sin, God will always extend to you mercy, forgiveness, redemption, and the joyous gift of eternal life with Him in Heaven. The Lord delights not in the death of anyone, He is a God of the living and desires that all be saved and reconciled to Him.

Now, in order to be able to enter the perfection of Heaven, we must ourselves be in perfect grace, or made perfect. If we are not already totally pure when we leave this world, if we are not in a perfect state of grace, we must be purified. If you die in the grace of the Lord, but with the stain of some "venial" sin, if you sincerely seek to conform yourself to God's will, yet die without full healing and repentance from sin, then the fire of the Holy Spirit must purge that imperfection from you. However, purgatory is not a "second chance" to choose to be saved after death. The time for choosing is here and now.

Although we must choose God to be saved, we must be clear that our mere choice is not the cause of salvation. We are not our own saviors (that is the error of the fruit of the Tree), we cannot earn salvation, and we cannot justly demand salvation as a right. Nothing we do, think, or believe, merits forgiveness and salvation. Only Christ is our Savior, and redemption is a completely gratuitous gift. But salvation, like love and forgiveness, is not a unilateral action. It is a transaction. The graces of salvation and forgiveness are something that is offered and given, but to be complete, they must be accepted. We must choose to accept and then actively accept forgiveness and the salvation of being with God eternally. If someone is disposed to reject what is offered, and not make that choice of being with God, then they have necessarily chosen to be apart from God. And He will respect and grant that choice.

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