The Four Last Things or Five
The month of November ushers in many changes in nature and in the church. The leaves have changed to bright reds, oranges, browns and yellow. Soon all those leaves will drop and as Shakespeare said the trees will become like “Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang”. All nature seems to die or at least fall asleep.
In the church November begins with the celebration of All Saints and All Souls, reminding us of our destiny and of what has traditionally been called ‘ The Four Last Things ‘, death, judgment, heaven, and hell. And for good measure the fifth is Purgatory. The scripture readings the church gives us in this season for our liturgy have a constant reminder about these important things. There is a sense of urgency about remembering them. The 32nd and 33rd Sundays of the year especially emphasize death and resurrection. The prophet Malachi gets our attention when he writes, “Lo the day is coming blazing like an oven, when all the proud and evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the Lord of Hosts. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays. ”Malachi 3:19. Death is certain for every person. We are reminded to live with this awareness.
The teaching of the church about the Last Things is spelled out clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. On the subject of judgment, we read “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven -through a purification or immediately, or immediate and everlasting damnation. ”(CCC 1022)
Regarding heaven we read, “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. They are like God forever, for they ‘see him as he is’, face to face” (CCC 1023)
Today there are some who question whether the church still teaches about Purgatory and perhaps even some who question the existence of Hell. Here is what the Catechism teaches “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (CCC 1031)
The fourth Last Thing is Hell and again the Catechism does not mince words: “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves ……to die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘Hell’. (CCC 1033)
Death, judgment, heaven and hell and purgatory are all real. The church reminds us in the liturgy during November not to become complacent. As we watch the ‘death ‘of nature all around us and end the liturgical year November 20th with the celebration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we hear the call to be awake and vigilant at all times so that we are always ready for the coming of the Day of the Lord and the Four Last Things.