7 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell
The Four Last Things end with a period, not a question mark.
Building a wall around a playground located next to a cliff won’t hold children prisoner but rather will enable them to play freely without risking injury, G.K. Chesterton wrote. As walls make a cliffside playground safer, a period protects a sentence from being lost in the chaos of unpunctuated text.
In recent years, this standard punctuation mark is no longer seen as necessary. Periods in texts and emails are considered superfluous because these messages are meant to express only a single thought, according to an online etiquette writer. They are viewed as insincere, overly emphatic, abrupt, unfriendly and even aggressive.
It’s not surprising that a culture which deems that all concepts, teachings and ideas are fluid, would view punctuation — and especially the period — as unnecessarily constricting.
But there are realities in all of our lives that are unavoidable and not open to interpretation. The Church refers to them as the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven and hell.
1. After death we will no longer be able to accept or reject God’s grace.
Death ends all opportunities to grow in holiness or improve our relationship with God, according to the Catechism (CCC 1021).
When we die the separation of our body and soul will be painful. “The soul is fearful of the future, and of the unknown land to which she is going,” Father von Cochem wrote. “The body is conscious that as soon as the soul departs from it, it will become the prey of worms. Consequently, the soul cannot bear to leave the body, nor the body to part from the soul.”
2. God’s judgment is final.
Immediately after death each person will be rewarded according to his works and faith (CCC 1021).
After that, the final judgment of all souls and angels will take place at the end of time and afterward, all creatures will be sent to their eternal destination.
3. Hell is real and its torments are unrelenting.
Souls in hell have excluded themselves from communion with God and the blessed, the Catechism states. “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice” (CCC 1033).
Saints and others who have received visions of hell describe torments including fire, hunger, thirst, terrible odors, darkness and extreme cold. The “worm that never dies,” which Jesus mentions in Mark 9:48, refers to the consciences of the damned that remind them constantly of their sins, Father von Cochem wrote.
4. We will spend eternity somewhere.
Our minds can’t comprehend the breadth of eternity. There will be no way to change our destination or shorten its duration.
5. The deepest human longing is for Heaven.
All souls will perpetually long for their Creator, whether or not they spend eternity with him. As St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
After we die, we will perceive at least in part that God “is the supreme and infinite Good, and the enjoyment of Him our highest felicity,” according to Father von Cochem. We will be drawn to God and long for the beatific vision but if we are deprived of it because of sin we will experience great grief and torture
6. The gate leading to eternal life is narrow and few souls find it.
Jesus did not forget to place a period at the end of this statement in Matthew 7:13-14. If we take the narrow way, it will be worth the effort.
St. Anselm advised that we should not only strive to be one of the few but “the fewest of the few.”
“Do not follow the great majority of mankind, but follow those who enter upon the narrow way, who renounce the world, who give themselves to prayer, and who never relax their efforts by day or by night, that they may attain everlasting felicity.”
7. We can’t fully comprehend heaven.
Despite the visions of the saints, we have only an incomplete picture of heaven.
Heaven is “immeasurable, inconceivable, incomprehensible,” and brighter than the sun and stars, said Father von Cochem. It will offer joys for our senses and spirit — foremost among them the knowledge of God.
“The more they know God, the more will their desire to know him better increase, and of this knowledge there will be no limit and no defect,” he wrote.
Maybe fewer sentences will need periods in eternity, but God still uses them (Isaiah 44:6): “I am the first and I am the last; beside me there is no god.”