All the saints recommend lifelong meditation on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.
Regarding the first, its chief characteristic is inevitability. No vaccine, swanky job, celebrity status, or social safety net will postpone our day of reckoning forever. And when that day comes, in comparison to eternity, our life will appear laughably short.
We have no choice but to die, nor can anything we do render Heaven repugnant or Hell pleasant. Of the Four Things aforementioned, Judgment is the only one even partly under our control.
Paradoxically, Our Lord’s injunction to “judge not” teaches us precisely how we ought to cultivate judgment in this life, so that our own day of Judgment will be a passage to bliss rather than a sentence to misery.
“For with what judgment you judge,” he explains, “you shall be judged.” So long as we go about blinking beams, our judgment will be skewed, and so will our eternal fate. Only when we learn to cast the cussed things out, and see, will our own judgment be sure, and with it our happiness (Mt. 7:1-5).
In her Dialogue with God the Father, St. Catherine of Sienna gives the following account of the soul’s passage to Heaven or Hell:
Having received the gift of free will, every soul chooses to place this power under the providence of God, by whose direction it flowers into charity and its subordinate virtues; or to hand it over to the devil, in whose hands it becomes a knife turned against ourselves.
At the moment of death, souls who have freely steeped themselves in hatred “grasp at hell,” the home of hatred, and “take hell as their prize along with their lords the demons.” Needless to say, their story ends unhappily ever after.
Those, on the other hand, who “have lived in charity and die in love,” if “they have lived perfectly in virtue,” “see the good [God] has prepared for them,” and “embrace it with the arms of love.” Others, whose charity is real but imperfect, cannot as yet see this good in its fullness, but are able to see and embrace God’s mercy. After a period of purification, they too are ready for eternal bliss.
In one sense, then, we are judged with our own judgment; in another, “no one waits to be judged,” but rather each of us perceives our “appointed place” and freely takes possession of it through an exercise of that judgment we have been accustomed to employ throughout our earthly lives.
Let us take care to learn to see, and judge, with eyes of love and mercy, lest we become hardened in the habit of seeing only what will betray us to eternal damnation.
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