Just when people are saying, “Peace and security, ” then sudden disaster comes upon them, 1 Thes. 5:3
As the Church.s liturgical year draws to a close, the liturgy annually di-rects out attention to the world to come, to the so-called last things, death, judgment, the reward of Heaven or the punishment of Hell. Today many people living in this post-Christian world don.t pay much attention to these last things, either because they no longer believe there is another world – so these last things are meaningless to them – or because even if some do believe in a world to come, they no longer worry about a divine judgment, since it has become com-mon opinion today that most all go to heaven and almost no one goes to Hell.
This religious idea that there is no divine judgment or that most everyone goes to heaven certainly makes life more comfortable – it.s comforting to think we will never have to render a true account of our lives; so no matter what we do here in this world, God will not demand a strict accounting of justice from us, and simply give us a pass into heaven. And that’s exactly the way even many Christians do think today. So we have unbelievers who live however they want because they don’t believe in the world to come, and we have many Christians who live however they want because in the end they really don.t believe that God will demand a strict account in justice.
All of this, of course, is wishful thinking of the worst sort. It certainly leaves our world subject to the awful moral environment and cruelty we see in-creasing in our society. Do we really think that the horrible things we hear about daily in the news are unrelated to the loss of faith in God who is a just judge, and who will render to every man according to his deeds? Overthrowing God and religion may seem enlightened to growing numbers of people today, but with what sanction do they propose to replace a belief in divine justice so as to prevent moral chaos from engulfing us? Will more police and more prisons do the job that belief in God.s judgment once did? We are already spending fantas-tic amounts of tax money to secure our cities, and more prisons, more police are demanded, and with what result? There will always be crime even where belief in God.s justice is widespread, that.s true, but once that belief is gone, a belief that held most people in check from engaging in criminal behavior, should we be surprised that such criminal behavior becomes a temptation to more and more people?
Whether one believes in God or doesn.t believe in God cannot settle the question of God’s existence; and whether or not one believes that following death he or she will have to render a strict account of his or her life does not re-ally affect the truth of the final judgment. However it does affect the way we approach this life. If we see people escape justice in this world for terrible crimes, and we believe in divine justice, then we are less likely to turn to a de-sire for vengeance; we can leave the person in God.s hands. But if we don.t be-lieve in the justice of the next world, we are perhaps more likely to desire ven-geance for injustices, especially if the injustice was done to ourselves. People who don’t believe in a justice beyond this world understandably feel extreme anger that Adolf Hitler escaped true justice in this world, and his victims may well feel cheated that he somehow escaped the punishment he truly deserved.
And if we see that injustice is frequently unpunished in this world and that the unjust often grow rich while we perhaps remain struggling, there is the add-ed temptation to get involved in evil ourselves, especially if we have lost our faith in divine justice. Why try to be good if evil is often rewarded in this world, and good is unrewarded, and neither good deeds or evil deeds are subject to any justice or reward beyond this world?
But people who truly believe in the final judgment, and in divine justice, know that every single act of evil and injustice in this world, large or small, will ultimately be paid for, if not in this world, then in the world to come. God.s truth is that nobody gets away with anything when it comes to temporal justice. Even those who repent of their sins in this life, and are spared the eternal pu-nishment due to their sins by the merits of Jesus Christ, must still make satisfac-tion for their sins to satisfy the demands of temporal justice. This is God.s re-vealed truth that we believe as Catholics, that every sin we commit must be temporally satisfied for, either in this life through our suffering, voluntarily ac-cepted, or through doing penance voluntarily undertaken; or we believe that this satisfaction of temporal justice will take place in the world to come by suffering the temporal punishment due to our sins. This is substance of the Catholic belief in Purgatory, that upholds the truth of divine justice – that while Christ satisfied for the eternal punishment due to our sins by divine justice, nonetheless, there is a temporal punishment also due to our sins that we must satisfy, either in this life, or in Purgatory in the life to come. So, no evil act escapes the judgment of God and the demands of justice. No one gets away with anything forever.
It’s truly amazing how Christians can ignore the clear teaching of Jesus and of the whole New Testament regarding the truth of divine judgment and jus-tice, and the reality of heaven and hell. Belief in these realities gives men a rea-listic vision of divine justice against which to set the course of their lives. If we believe that justice is truly required for all of our evil acts, just as a positive re-ward will be granted for all our good acts, we come to understand that our life is short and the challenge is great to find the narrow way that leads to heaven and avoid the broad way that leads to Hell. We learn to leave vengeance for crimes to the state, and to leave unpunished crimes and the punishment due to them to the Lord in the next world. Our focus will then be on our sins and not our neigh-bor.s sins. Our whole value system will be different than that of the world.
The Church does a great service by each year by recalling to our attention this realistic vision of life, the big picture, and its termination in judgment. As Paul says “Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and so-ber.” You bet. Because at the end of time we are assured that just “When people are saying, „Peace and security,. then sudden disaster comes upon them, so to those who leave this world with a sense a peace and security based upon nothing but wishful thinking, will find sudden disaster has come upon them.” They will meet the Judge who will demand an accounting of every single act in their lives, and if they have not repented, they will hear those awful words of Jesus: I never knew you, depart from me you evildoers.
Rather what we surely hope to hear at that final judgment are the glorious words of Jesus that we heard in today.s Gospel, “Well done, my good and faith-ful servant … come, share your master’s joy.” That positive judgment is the joy-ful side of belief in divine judgment and in eternal life for the just. We truly be-lieve that even if our good deeds go unrewarded in this life, all our good deeds will surely be rewarded in the life to come, and much more richly than they could ever be rewarded in this world. This belief strengthens our determination not to cave in and adopt the sinful and unjust ways that often tempt us precisely because evil so often goes unpunished and is so often a source of material well being in this world, while good seems to go so often unrewarded. That.s a very powerful temptation and it becomes almost irresistible if we lose our faith that evil and good are ultimately rewarded or punished only in the world to come.
For true followers of Christ, all that is finally desired here in this life is the strength to remain committed to doing the good and being faithful right to then end, and the grace to repent when we fail to do so. Then surely we believe that we will hear those glorious words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant, …Come, share your master’s joy!” What a joy that will be for us, and how infinitely compensating for all the evil we suffered and good we did in this life. That is our true hope, and hopefully that is the faith that guides our life in this world and leads us to eternal happiness in the next.