In the context of the Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius invites his retreatants to meditate upon the Last things; however these last things should be among the most important things in our spiritual life.
In Spiritual Theology the technical word is “Eschatology” which means the study of the “Last Things.” Some authors write about the “four” last things; but we would like to add a fifth.
What then are these “five” last things? Here they are for your reflection and meditation: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell and, yes, Purgatory. There we have the big four! Let us give a brief reflection in these last things which are indeed very important things!
Death is the most certain of the human condition, but it is also the most uncertain. Why this somewhat paradoxical statement? For this reason alone! No person who enters into the human scene can avoid the reality of death. Whether we are small or tall, fat or skinny, intelligent or quite the opposite, rich or poor—the phantom of death respects nobody, absolutely nobody. The richest person who walks planet earth as well as the poorest indeed will end up in the same place: six-feet beneath the ground!
Saint Ignatius of Loyola in his famous meditation titled Principle and Foundation teaches us how to confront the inevitable reality of death. He reminds us: “We should not prefer a long life over a short life; health over sickness, riches over poverty, honor over humiliations. Rather, we should choose the means that is most conducive to the end for which we were created—the eternal salvation of our soul. (Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, #23) In other words, what is most important is not a long life, but a holy life. St. Catherine of Siena reminds us: “The two most important moments of our lives are now and at the hour of our death.” Sounds like the last part of the Hail Mary! Therefore, we should do all in our power to live honest, dedicated and holy lives so as to die a holy death. Then we will be saved and be with the Lord for all eternity. Let us start right now and strive to always keep our mind, hearts and souls fixed on heaven—our eternal destiny!
At the moment we die, we will pass into our judgement. It is Jesus who will be judging all of us. We pray in the Creed or Profession of faith every Sunday: “He (Jesus) will come to judge the living and the dead.” Our Judgment is the moment of truth! We can lie and deceive others, lie to our relatives and friends and loved ones; we can even lie to ourselves. This is all unfortunately true! However, the best of liars and deceivers cannot lie to Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Indeed Judgment is the moment of truth.
All that we have ever done in our life will be presented before our eyes together with Jesus. Nothing will be hidden. Not only will we see our actions, omissions, words, but we will even see our thoughts as well as the most intimate secrets and intentions of our hearts! Indeed this is the moment of truth. If you like Judgment can be compared to “Movie day”. The huge white screen will be set up; both you and Jesus will be seeing the film. You and just you will be the principal actor in this history and drama of your life. Obviously, the mere thought of our upcoming judgment before Jesus the Lord should shock us into reality and motivate us to renounce all that is dishonest, dirty, underhanded, and deceitful in our lives— knowing full well that this will be shown in graphic detail before the eyes of God Himself.
It is a teaching of the Catholic Church the existence and reality of Hell. Hell is an eternal abode of suffering and torment that never ends—it is forever and ever and ever.
There are various sufferings. (Read the Diary of Mercy in my Soul of St. Faustina # 714) What are some of the sufferings mentioned:
- Perpetual remorse of conscience
- No possibility to change, but forever fossilized in evil
- The presence of Satan perpetually as well as the other devils
- A fire that burns the soul but does not consume it, ignited by the just anger of God
- A putrid and suffocating smell that causes nausea
- Cries of despair and hatred against God of the damned
- The worse suffering indeed is the loss of God for whom we were created for all eternity!
In addition to these tortures, every soul will be tortured in the way that he abused his body and senses in this world. The classical work of Dante in his work The Divine Comedy depicts this in a masterful way. Who goes to hell? The person who has died in the state of mortal sin without repentance has merited due to his own fault this eternal separation from God. Our Lady of Fatima warned the world that many souls are lost because not enough people pray and sacrifice for sinners. Also, Our Lady said that most souls are lost due to sins against the virtue of purity. Look at the world around us and see how true were the words and prophecy of Our Lady of Fatima.
Every year after the Solemnity of All Saints, November 1st the Church commemorates “All Souls day” (November 2nd). This is the day specified to pray for the souls in Purgatory. What is Purgatory? Different from Heaven and Hell, Purgatory is a temporary place. It is designed for those souls who have died in the state of sanctifying grace, yet are not perfect in love. Only those souls who have been perfected in love, without any stain on their souls can have admittance and entrance into Heaven.
These are souls that have at present venial sins still on the wedding garment of their souls; or they have not sufficiently expiated or made up for some of their past sins—venial or mortal! Only the absolutely pure of heart will enter heaven. Jesus said: “Blessed are the pure of heart, they will see God.” (Mt. 5: 8).We can help the souls in Purgatory! How? In many ways! Prayer, fasting for them, sacrifices, acts of charity—all of these are means to help in the purification of our brothers and sister detained in Purgatory. Nonetheless, the most powerful prayer and means to alleviate the sufferings of our brothers in sisters, who are patiently waiting for the Lord’s time is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. On one occasion Pope Saint Gregory the Great offered a month of consecutive Masses for a friend of his who died and only after the whole month of Masses were offered did his friend return to the saintly Pope and tell him that he had reached heaven! We can never mistake by praying for the souls in Purgatory, even more important, to offer Masses for them. They will be eternally grateful for this gesture of charity.
5. Heaven—Our True Home
Before leaving this earth to return to the Heavenly Father Jesus made a most consoling promise. He said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. I am going to prepare a place for you so that where I am you also might be. In my Father’s house there are many mansions; if it were not so I would not have told you.”
What a consoling message: Jesus has already prepared a place for you and for me in heaven. Our hearts should long for heaven. May the Psalmist’s words be the most earnest yearnings of our heart: “As the deer yearns for the running waters so my soul yearns for you my God.” We should have a true fear of the Lord with respect to the reality and possibility of hell. However, we should have an ever greater longing for heaven our true home.
Call to mind the happiest day, or the happiest hour of your life. Now magnify this joy a billion times; then add to this eternity, forever and ever and ever. This is only a mere glimpse of what heaven really is. Saint Paul expressed the ineffable character of heaven with these words: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man the wonderful things that God has prepared for those who love Him.” And also: “The sufferings of the present cannot be compared to the glory that awaits the sons and daughters of God.” Let us lift our eyes, mind, heart and soul to Our Lady who is Queen of Angels, Queen of Virgins, Queen of Martyrs, Queen of Confessors, and Queen of all the angels and saints and beg that through her most powerful intercession that one day we all might be a jewel in her heavenly crown so as to contemplate and worship the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for all eternity.