“Beginners in religion ought to exercise themselves principally in meditation
on the Four Last Things.”
–St. Philip Neri
In our secular society, advertising focuses on external beauty, acquiring the next thing “you can’t live without”, and the newest tech update. Conversely relationships are only important when they are convenient (which means continued attack on the preborn and pushing aside the elderly), and poor mental health for young and old alike is a rising concern.
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless
until it rests in you.”
–St. Augustine of Hippo
Our culture of consumerism provides many distractions, but the restlessness within our hearts will not be satisfied by anything or anyone except Jesus. We are only passing through this life to arrive in heaven, our true home. To assist us on our journey it is the Church’s long-standing custom to focus on the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell.
“Death is the end of earthly life. Our lives are measured by time, in the course
of which we change, grow old and, as with all living beings on earth, death
seems like the normal end of life. That aspect of death lends urgency to our lives:
remembering our mortality helps us realize that we have only a limited time in
which to bring our lives to fulfillment…” (CCC 1007)
Reflecting on our own death helps us live with the end in mind. St: Paul taught “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). Jesus transformed death in His obedience to the Father. When a soul is separated from the body, death is no longer the end, but it is transformed into a blessing of eternal life.
Further, the Catholic Church can aid people in preparing for their own deaths. In the Litany of the Saints we ask the Lord to deliver us from a sudden and unprovided death. In the Hail Mary we ask Our Lady to pray for us at the hour of our death. We also can ask St. Joseph to intercede for us as he is the Patron of a Happy Death:
O Blessed St. Joseph, who gave up your last breath in the arms of Jesus and Mary,
obtain for me, I beseech you, the grace of a happy death. Defend me from all evil,
especially in my final hour. Assist me by your presence, protect me by your power,
and obtain for me this grace, O holy St. Joseph, that I may breathe forth my soul
in praise, saying in spirit, if so I am unable to do so in words: Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
I give you my heart and life. Amen.
“Judgment” refers to both the “general judgment” (the second coming of Christ at the end of time) and the “particular judgment” (the judgment of each individual soul). At the moment of death each person is judged by God based on the conduct of his or her life. In that final hour all is laid bare, the time for repentance is over, and the merciful Father is the Just Judge. This seals one’s destiny for the blessedness of heaven or everlasting damnation.
“At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.” (CCC 1022)
“Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ.” (CCC 1023) In heaven there is a communion of life with the Holy Trinity, the Virgin Mary, angels, and all the blessed. This glory in heaven is also called “the beatific vision”.
Those who die in God’s grace and friendship but are not perfectly purified undergo purgation, or a cleansing, in preparation for being in the presence of God. For those souls the Church offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and recommends the faithful engage in almsgiving, indulgences, and penances to benefit the Holy Souls.
God does not predestine anyone to hell. On the contrary God and His Church constantly call each of us to repentance. “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice.” (CCC 1023)
Today people avoid talking about purgatory, and avoid talking about hell even more. But Jesus in the Bible is clear. Church teaching on the matter has never wavered. In modern times the children at Fatima had much to say about the vision of hell the Blessed Mother showed them, and they spent their lives praying for the conversion of sinners.
So Then, How Should We Live?
- Respond to Christ’s call to follow Him.
- Turn away from sin, repent and go to Confession on a regular basis (monthly, if possible).
- Attend Mass on Sundays, and weekdays when possible.
- Ask your guardian angel to guide you, and the Blessed Mother and saints to intercede for you.
You can learn more about the Four Last Things by reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Chapter 3, Article 12. Another helpful resource is The Four Last Things: A Catechetical Guide to Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell by Fr. Wade Menezes available at EWTN’s Religious Catalogue.
Remember that Catholic radio, in much of its programming, focuses on the Last Four Things. We invite you to listen at thestationofthecross.com or download our iCatholicRadio app to listen on your Apple or Android device.