The Four Last things: What happens after our death

3 08 2020

The Four Last things

Last month, I read about Eschatology, a Greek term that refers to the four last things in everyone’s life: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Among these, the one that we are all familiar with, because we see it often, is death.  Still, most of us, perhaps out of fear, do not consider what happens after we die.

Death

Well, according to Catechism of the Catholic Church, death is the separation of soul from body. The soul, being spiritual cannot die. The soul is immortal, self-reflective, and aware and knows.  It possesses the ability to move from one place to another, passing through walls and things like that. More important, as soon as we die, God grants our soul light to see with perfect clarity, the good or evil aspects of the choices we have made throughout our lives up until the moment before our death. Death makes these choices permanent, and the soul adheres to these choices, and can neither change nor repent any longer.  Thus, the soul of the dead perseveres in choosing or rejecting God forever.  Death irrevocably fixes the good or evil we have chosen in life and we cannot change. Put another way, death is the end of testing process, what remains is either reward or punishment.  God immediately judges and rewards the good soul with heaven, and judges and punishes the evil soul with hell. If the soul is in state of grace with some imperfections, it goes to purgatory for purification.  This immediate judgment is the particular judgment and it is differs from the general judgment at the end of the world.

Immediately after death, the soul is Judged in the Particular Judgment

At the particular judgment, the soul of the dead appears immediately before God (even as the relatives are weeping or preparing the decomposing body for burial). God grants the soul light to see the choices made while alive. If it has chosen God (good) it rushed towards God who is infinite love, beauty, happiness, joy eternal blessedness and the very source of all that is lovely. If it has chosen evil, it rushes away from God, towards hell: hatred, evil, misery, emptiness, and eternal separation from God. The truth of the particular judgment and the immediate retribution or punishment at the moment of death is borne out in sacred scripture by the words of Jesus on the cross to the good thief “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Regarding the fittingness of immediate judgment after death, it is argued that, since a dead man cannot choose good or evil anymore, there is no reason to wait until for the final judgment at the end of time, to reward the just or punish the wicked. Besides, such a “waiting” or “delay” will only punish the just, keeping them in a state of permanent anxiety, not knowing their fate, while at the same time it would be a reward for the damned soul whose punishment is put off as it where for a very long time till the end of the world.

Purgatory

If the soul is imperfect, having no mortal sin, but retaining imperfections, it goes to a place of purification we Catholics call purgatory. This is because, before a soul enters heaven, every trace of imperfection must be eliminated, and all attachment to sin or evil destroyed, and purified.

Though many people (mainly Protestants) argue that there is no purgatory, for it is not explicitly stated in the bible, and since we are saved by faith Christ in alone, we are perfectly ripe for heaven when we die. Yet, the Church teaches that purgatory is in the bible, even though it is not explicitly mentioned.  The sense of purgatory is clear from the Old testament, second book of Maccabees where Judas Maccabee took and gathered a collection of money for the sin offering for the souls of the his dead men to be released from their sins.( Mac  12:39). In the New Testament, purgatory is even clearer.  1 Corinthians 3:10–15, talks about two fires, there is one fire to examine the good or evil of men’s deeds and another fire to purify them before they are saved. Experience tells us that there are different shades of perfection, and we all can grow in perfection. Thus, purgatory answers the question, “What happens to the soul of the imperfect who dies.”

This is why the Church offers the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass, during the funereal and encourages all to offer suffrages for the souls in Purgatory. The souls in purgatory by the nature of their state can no longer merit graces for themselves and are wholly dependent on the people on earth to pray for them.

Pain of loss & pain of the senses

The souls in purgatory suffer two kinds of pain. The pain of loss consists in a certain delay of seeing God. The souls in purgatory no longer desire material things; they only have one consuming desire, to see God. That delay is pain, but it is much unlike the pain of loss suffered by the damned souls, in that they have the joy of knowing that it is only a temporal delay and they are sure of seeing and uniting with love of God. In addition, there is the pain of sense that some call fire. This fire purifies them of their imperfections. This suffering is not a meritorious act because it is not performed freely but with compulsion. Yet, the souls in purgatory gladly accept this fire and impatiently await the end of their trials so that they can be with God.  The duration and intensity of their suffering is dependent on the amount of suffrages we on earth offer for them through our good acts and Eucharistic devotions. It is a duty of Charity to pray for the souls in purgatory, since they are our brothers and sisters. It is a requirement of justice, since souls can be unduly detained because of our negligence, and finally it is obligation of piety that we owe members of our supernatural and natural families who might be in purgatory.

Hell

Truly, many do not understand what hell is, if they did, they would be anxious never to go there. Strictly speaking, the Catholic Church does not talk about those in hell because they are considered to be outside of the Church. They are no longer a part of the Church. The souls of people who die in the state of opposition to God through attachment to evil go straight to hell. Hell is the ratification of the choices they freely made up until the moment of death. Death makes the opposition to God permanent and eternal. In Hell, the separation from the all-loving God is permanent, irrevocable and without end. It is a life of complete frustration and emptiness. Hel is the opposite of love; it is hatred, darkness, and eternal punishment. It is eternally living with evil, and knowing that it is forever, without end. Recalling that we are going to die and that there is an afterlife could help us keep focus

Hell involves two kinds of pains. Pain of loss and pain of sense.

The pain of loss is the most intense and in enormity, surpasses every other suffering imaginable because it is the loss of the ultimate end, happiness, and eternal bliss desired by every creature. The souls in hell experience intense remorse, but not because of repentance from their sin, but because of the enormity and the eternal duration of their punishment .They also experience the pain of the senses, which some consider to be unquenchable fire, burning sulfur. Even if they do not know it, all men are created in the image of God, to live with God forever. Every soul hungers for this union of love and happiness with God. To be eternally deprived of ever achieving this is the most terrible suffering a soul can have, a loss of all meaning and purpose and a permanent state of frightful misery

This pain of sense on the other hand is comparable to dying but never dying, hence the name “eternal death.” Apart from this two pains mentioned above, there are other pains, such as the suffering of being in the eternal company of the wicked and the damned, where all is misery and vile, the permanent company of the devil and all his demons, where hatred and evil is the only rule. We should truly pity those who do evil here on earth.

Heaven

The existence of heaven is explained in the same way that the existence of hell is explained. It is proper and fitting that those who die in the state of grace, without sin, and in union with God, having kept and obeyed his laws in this life be rewarded. That reward is the immediate and eternal possession of God who is love.

The metaphor of heaven as the dwelling place of God in the sky can be misleading, but through faith, we know that heaven is not a place but a living relationship with the Holy Trinity in Christ. Happiness of heaven is the enjoyment of all good, all love and beauty and bliss in God in a permanent eternal way without any fear of loss, forever. This eternal vision of God cannot be unless God grants the soul a light of glory that illuminates and unites with God. This light of glory called lumen Gloriae enables the creature to see and know God. Since love comes from knowledge, this act of seeing and knowing God is immediately followed by an intense love of God that produces immense joy, happiness bliss that nothing in this world can describe.

Thus, the soul participates in all joy and happiness of the blessed. Moreover it is in the blessed company of the saints, Mary and all the blessed. It is also know all creatures through the mind of God. It is able to communicate with his loved ones on earth and rejoices as they progress towards heaven. 

The final judgment

Unlike the particular judgment that comes immediately after death, the final judgment comes at the end of the world. It is the public ratification of the irrevocable sentence of the particular judgment. Moreover, is in keeping with the justice of God that just as many people do good without reward because no one sees them and many people do evil and are never caught, the final judgment will be the universal acclamation of hidden good doers and universal condemnation of hidden evildoers.

It is also the time for the resurrection of the body. The same body that participated or even aided in the good or assisted in the evil done while on earth, will resurrect and re-unit with the soul for the universal judgment of body and soul. The final judgment will show that God’s justice prevails over all the injustices perpetrated by his creatures, and that God’s love is stronger than death. Our hope does not look forward to the eternal life of the soul alone, but to the eternal life of the whole human person, body and soul. There is an eternal life of salvation, as a participation of the entire man in the glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In addition, there is an eternal life of damnation, in which the separation from God becomes eternal.

by Chinwuba Iyizoba


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