In Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, Jesus stands as the awesome central figure. This reminds us of the Gospel’s final rendering of justice depicting those who have been found worthy and those who have not (Matthew 25:31-46).
We know that two kinds of judgments will be rendered and we cannot help but ask how we might be judged. The short answer is that the Lord who extended us mercy from the Cross will simply reveal the truth about what we have made ourselves to be in our earthly life. At the point of death, our choices become final and we become the result of those decisions made of our own free will. All the illusions and falsehoods that we now clothe ourselves with are stripped away and we are seen in divine light.
First is the particular judgment where each is judged according to their free acceptance or rejection of the Gospel and God’s gifts, including the grace of baptism which heals the stain of Original Sin and by which we become God’s adopted children. Jesus will not judge how successful we were in business, how much wealth or power we acquired, or how popular we were. We will be judged on our love – of God and neighbor – and on whether we sought to live in goodness and truth (CCC 1021-22). Basically, Christ will determine whether we have shown that we want an eternal relationship with him or not. Those who genuinely do will have it in heaven. Those who do not, the Lord will respect their choice also – this is called hell. Since our will becomes fixed at death, there is no changing our minds and thus no changing the judgment after we have died. This should serve as a wake-up call for how we lead our lives here and now.
With respect to the “hard cases,” like those who die ignorant of Christ’s Gospel and unbaptized children, the Church entrusts to the mercy of God who desires that all should be saved (CCC 1260-61). Regarding those who in their final moments might commit what is objectively mortal sin, such as suicide, the Church also commends to the mercies of God, recognizing their subjective responsibility might be diminished by psychological disturbance or other factors, and that by ways known to him alone, God might provide an opportunity for repentance and salvation (CCC 2283).
At the end of time, Christ will return in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil and establishment of his kingdom, the dead will be raised up and there will be a general judgment. This will not simply be a repeat of all the particular judgments. Rather, in this Last Judgment, the Lord will bring all to completion. The old order will pass away and a new creation will be established. Those who have accepted God’s call will be granted incorruptible life to their bodies to live in Christ.
To this eternal life that we now understand so poorly, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ Let the hearer say, ‘Come.’ Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water” (Revelation 22:17).
This is the third entry in a multi-part series on the Last Things.
Tags: Last Things