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Retreat on the Credo
Faith in Christs Judgment on the Last Day
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
We profess to believe, "From thence," that is, at the right hand of His heavenly Father, "He will come to judge the living and the dead." What do we believe when we say this? We believe that Jesus Christ will come back to the earth in visible form on the last day to judge mankind. The living are the good, the wicked are the dead.
What do we call this judgment? We call this the general judgment or again the final or the social judgment or the total judgment. Each of these names, honored by the Church, has its own special meaning. It is to be the general judgment because the whole human race is to be judged and not as happens when each one of us dies, when we receive a particular judgment. This is the universal judgment. It is to be the final judgment because there will be no other of anyone after that. It is to be a social judgment because the whole society of mankind from Adam to the last person to be born will be judged and judged together as a body; it will be public in the extreme. And it is to be a total judgment not only of our moral conduct but of all the accumulative blessings or injuries that have resulted from each person's good or evil deeds. You see, God judges not only on what we do but on the consequences of our actions.
When will the day of judgment of the world come? Of that day Christ told us no one knows for certain, not even the angels of heaven. Nevertheless there are a number of signs that are to precede the coming of the last day. Thus Christ in St. Matthew says, "False Christs and false prophets will arise and produce great signs and portents enough to deceive even the chosen, if that were possible." Again in Mark's gospel Christ tells us, "Nation will fight against nation, kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes here and there" - which in biblical language means everywhere - "there will be famines. This is the beginning of the birth pangs understood of the new world. Then just before the end of the world Christ foretold that after that time of distress the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers of heaven will be shaken.
How will Christ appear on the last day? In His own words, "the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven." Needless to say, that's the Cross. "Then too, all the peoples of the earth will beat their breasts; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet to gather His chosen from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." This second coming of Christ will be quite unlike His first coming in Bethlehem. No longer as a small child, hidden and obscure but now as Master of the universe in power and great majesty, this is how the Lord of lords and the King of kings will come to judge the human race.
There is one principal lesson we are called upon to learn by way of anticipation from Christs prediction of the last day of the world. It is explicitly taught by the Savior Himself. "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, escorted by all the angels, then He will take His seat on His throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before Him and He will separate men one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on His right hand and the goats on His left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you whom My Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you made Me welcome; naked and you clothed Me, sick and you visited Me, in prison and you came to see Me.'
"Then the virtuous will say to Him in reply, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and make You welcome; naked and clothed You; sick or in prison and go to see You?'
"And the King will answer,' I tell you solemnly, insofar as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it to Me.'
"Next He will say to those on His left hand, 'Go away from Me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave Me food; I was thirsty and you never gave Me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made Me welcome; naked and you never clothed Me; sick and in prison and you never visited Me.'
"Then it will be their turn to ask, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to Your help?'
"Then He will answer, 'I tell you solemnly, insofar as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to Me.' And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life."
What do we learn from this dramatic and detailed prediction of the final judgment? Many things. We first of all learn that Christ will separate the whole human race into two groups: the saved from the lost or, as Matthew has it, the sheep from the goats. There is a marvelous passage in St. Augustine's City of God where he anticipates the last day and he says, "Until that last day the sheep and the goats are all intermingled. And the most important thing we have to do in this life is to be able to distinguish the sheep from the goats now to make sure we'll be among the saved on that last day." Great wisdom. God now knows who on the last day will be saved. He already foresees who will be lost. And the mystery of mysteries, the greatest mystery on earth - the greatest in heaven is the Trinity - the greatest mystery on earth is human liberty. God who foresees will not tamper with our freedom. In other words it's up to us. God wants everyone to be saved. Faith tells us not everyone will be saved. And is that ever a hard article of the Creed to believe! There will be a separation.
Again, Christ the King will speak first to those who are saved. He will tell them to come and take possession of the kingdom of heaven. They will be told why they are being saved. Why? Because they had practiced Christian charity; had fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, visited those sick and in prison. Each one of these exemplifies a basic human need. The essence of charity is with the mind to recognize people's needs. No wonder so many people are so uncharitable: they just don't think about anyone else except themselves.
Third lesson. This practice of charity the Church understands to refer not only or mainly to bodily food and drink. Though before we go on let's make sure we do not underestimate the material and bodily needs of people even in a nominally prosperous country like America. No one knows the exact number, the lowest estimate is ten thousand "baggy women" in New York City. A "baggy woman is a woman not always up in years, though generally older, who is hopeless, with no place to live, nothing to eat except what she can beg on the streets. I repeat, they are not all old women. The derelicts of society.
When sometime ago I was in need of a typist and a girl offered to help me with my typing, do you know what she, needed? A place to stay. I called up thirteen hostels for women before one would take her in. The suffering even in our own country in body, you have to be in a megalopolis like New York to appreciate. But go outside of United States and the destitution and the ocean of bodily human needs >is past description. The lowest official estimate is a hundred thousand people dying of starvation in India every month. No wonder Mother Teresa has so much work!
One of my Jesuits confreres, in my studies in Europe, told me, "We have got it figured out: the United States wastes more food each year than the whole nation of France needs to feed all of its citizens." No wonder there's communism in the world. As the late Archbishop Sheen said, "Communism is on the conscience of Christianity."
But that's only the beginning. And most the human race goes to bed hungry every night. Bodily needs, however, are only the first level in this practice of Christian charity on which we shall all be judged. Beyond our bodily needs is the crying need for spiritual food and drink, spiritual solicitude and concern. How the human heart craves kindness. We live on the manifestation of love and if we don't get it we choke and suffocate and then we die. In my five years as chaplain at a state mental hospital I found most of the people victims of human injustice. Speaking to those who wish to listen; that's why we've got lips. Listening to those who speak; dont tell me this is unimportant or secondary. All you have to do is be a priest and have people walk out on you to know how it feels to speak and not be listened to.
There is more loneliness in the world than I'm afraid anyone but the good God knows. - the loneliness in families, the loneliness in rectories, the loneliness in convents. We can be so preoccupied with ourselves it may never occur to us that someone else needs encouragement. It means showing that we understand others, and that means hearing people, listening to them. It means giving of our time, the most precious thing in my book after the grace of God. It takes time to help someone, to talk to someone. Let's never say that someone is wasting our time. It means giving our attention to others. I'm afraid some people have never really learned how to pay attention. As a teacher I'm very sensitive to people being inattentive. You're talking to somebody in conversation; it might just as well be, as far as you can tell, a monologue.
Above all, it means that we give our affection at no matter what cost to ourselves. Don't misunderstand me. There are ways and ways of showing our affection for people. There are some people, if we want to show our affection towards them, we embrace them. There are some people whom, if you want to show you love them, you don't embrace them. Who ever said that the only manifestation of affection is by pawing people? The ingenuity of love in showing that we love: a smile, a glance, a pause.
Beyond the practice of charity, on which our future depends, in serving people's bodily needs and being concerned about their emotional, psychological and spiritual needs, there is the practice of charity and with emphasis in what I call meeting the supernatural needs of others and meeting those needs by supernatural means. What Christ therefore demands of us as a condition for being among the sheep on the last day besides feeding, when we can, clothing, when we can, besides giving them the attention and affection that we all so desperately want, is that we have prayed and practiced virtue and carried our cross and made sacrifices and offered our Masses and Confessions and Communions and hours of Adoration for people who are in such great supernatural straits. This kind of apostolic charity is the highest form of service we can render to others. It is the most pleasing to God. It is the most meritorious and it is within the reach of every one of us. We are not always in situations where we can give food to people who are hungry. We are much more frequently in the company of people who want our personal attention and love. But no matter how far away people may be, no matter how numerous they may be, persons we will never have met until judgment day, we are able to serve and meet their needs by the alchemy of grace which we can obtain for them by all the ways at our disposal.
After those who are saved have been told why they inherit the kingdom of God, Christ will turn to the lost and tell them why they are being eternally deprived of the vision of God. Why? Because they had failed in the most fundamental virtue that Christ expects of us as human beings, the virtue of loving others out of love for God. That's why we were born.
It is possible to be scandalized at the stark simplicity of Christ's teaching and suppose this must be either an exaggeration or somehow rhetorical language. But it is neither. The main purpose of our faith is to love. The main reason God puts people into our lives is that we might go out of ourselves to meet their needs. The new commandment as Christ called it, is also the great commandment, great indeed, because on our faithful observance of this commandment depends our final destiny. And as we shall one day find out, on this depends the destiny of the whole human race.
Let's remind ourselves that when Christ foretold - He didn't have to, He did foretell what would happen on the last day, He wanted to make sure that we understood what it means to believe in Him. To believe in Him means to observe everything which He commanded. And everything that Christ commanded is locked up, capsulized in His telling us to love one another as He has loved us. How is that? By giving and giving and giving to the last drop of His Blood.
Conference transcription from a retreat
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica
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