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Posts Tagged ‘Four Last Things’

St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

I read an anonymous quote this week which seemed appropriate to share with you this Sunday, the fourth of the Four Last Things, Hell:  “Everyone will live forever. Not everyone will enjoy it.”

 

Satan hates us so very much.  For all the rebellion and hatred he bears to God, he cannot hurt God directly, for God is all powerful.  Even when he thought he could hurt Christ, he could not tempt Him into sin.  He could not break Christ on the Cross.  Instead, Christ broke the power of Satan and Hell on the Cross.

However, Satan can hurt God’s creatures.  Unlike the angels, we men are made in the image of God.  Satan seeks to destroy us like a ravening lion. So when Old Scratch and his demons get their filthy claws on us in Hell, they torture for all eternity.

Both man and angel are created, are designed, are built to bask in the presence of the great giver of life, the Lord God Almighty.  As much as man and angel may hate God and seek to flee from his presence, so both are horribly distressed by great longing for God.  That impure corrupted longing turned long ago into distorted loathing and hatred and contempt for the erstwhile object of love.

As Fr. Von Cochem says about the Devil:

Of all the fallen spirits, not one is so abominable as the chief of all, the haughty Lucifer, whose cruelty, malice and spite render him an object of dread not merely to the damned, but also to the devils subject to him. This Lucifer is called by various names in Holy Scriptures, all indicating his malignity. On account of his repulsiveness he is called a dragon; on account of his ferocity, a lion; on account of his malice, the old serpent; on account of his deceitfulness, the father of lies; on account of his haughtiness, king over all the children of pride; and on account of his great power and might, the prince of this world.

The other devils and demons are fallen angels who are not as mighty or created as perfectly good as Lucifer, and therefore are not so evil and ugly as him.  Just as men often in Scripture behold angels and attempt to worship them because of their beauty and goodness, so we would hardly be able to abide the presence of demons in their unhidden form because of their ugliness and wickedness.  That we can scarcely contemplate how miserable in appearance devils are is why they are often portrayed in a gruesome and grotesque manner.

Immediately after making my confession on retreat at Holy Spirit monastery in Conyers, I was visited in a nightmare by a creature so horrible in countenance that I could only barely describe it.  I was immensely terrified and would have been frightened away from spiritual matters entirely – thus acquiescing to the damning of my soul – were I not fortified in the Holy Sacraments and prayer.  The Sacraments are the grace of God the Son and prayer is ultimately of God the Father – when mediated by God the Holy Ghost, we are invincible to all demonic spiritual attack.

Hell is the place reserved for Satan, his demons, and cursed men.  It is a place of everlasting fire.  St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”  Hell is real and everlasting, as is Heaven.  The wicked and damned go to Hell forever, and the righteous and saved go to Heaven forever.  St. Matthew xxv.46:  “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

The Roman Christians in antiquity would stand prayerfully together as they would be mauled to death by wild animals in the Coliseum.  They could die heroically at peace in our Lord while vicious beasts, deranged by hunger, would pounce upon them, pull them down, and tear their flesh with fang and claw.  They could die this way because they had victory in Christ and knew that Hell had worse to offer.  Think upon that, dear souls!  How ruthlessly did the lions rip into their flesh!  Would the angry hungry evil angels be more merciful than a brutalized innocent animal?  Our brethren knew that the feasting of demons upon their Resurrection bodies would go on for eternity – and the demons would never eat their fill or satisfy their lust for flesh.

Oftentimes I have heard that the company would be better in Hell than in Heaven, as if Hell would be some great party that would never end.  Perhaps the companionship would not be near as boring as would be the squares in Heaven.  But loving-kindness is entirely missing in Hell.  There is no camaraderie amongst the damned.  Hell is the realm where all are embittered against each other, mocking and cursing with enmity for all.

 

St. Mark ix.43-4

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Christ says this not to injure our bodies.  Sin does not work in our hands and feet and eyes.  Sin works in our hearts.  But indeed we should be counted among the blessed if we were to lose our hands and feet and eyes in this world and flourish in Heaven above for all eternity!  The holy martyrs certainly thought so.  St. Lawrence the Deacon was roasted alive.  Yet knowing that Christ was his redeemer, he famously said to his executioners to turn him over, for this side was done!  How could he be so bold as he died a death of torture?  Because His savior lived!  And St. Lawrence was about to join Him in Heaven.  Truly the slings and insults of this world are nothing compared to the agonies of Hell.

So Christ says it is better to cut off your own body parts and live maimed than to go to Hell intact.  And three times here in St. Mark’s Gospel Christ tells us why:  “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”  The filthy, rotten, tormenting, grotesque demons of Hell do not die in Hellfire.  They gnaw on your soul for eternity.  And the fire never wanes or dies either.  For age unto age the blast furnace heat far exceeds the fire into which King Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  That pagan king heated up that furnace seven times beyond its regular blaze.  So very hot was it that the men who threw the three Jewish lads into it died from exposure to the heat.  Yet God sent his angel to protect the young men in there.  But Hellfire is profoundly hotter than the furnaces of Babylon, and God keeps his holy angels far from pits of Hell.

The rich man asked Father Abraham to send Lazarus with his finger dipped in water so to cool his burnt parched lips.  But Father Abraham told that wicked soul that he had enjoyed his good things in his life and not done justice.  There was no relief for him who had ignored the righteous soul starving at the gate, stepping over the poor man on his way about town.  There is no relief in Hell, there is no companionship in Hell, there is no clean air to breathe in Hell, there is no rest from torment in Hell, and there is no peace and quiet in Hell.

The unforgiving oven of Hell continuously burns all flesh therein.  And since all the cursed souls in Hell possess their eternal bodies, the stench of burning flesh does not abate over the millennia.  The cries of the cursed, the stench of the damned, the torments of the devils, the separation from God, and the sheer inescapability of it all are too gruesome for us to understand but in the extremes of our language.  For we still possess our frail bodies of our mortality.  We still live our lives of decision.  We may yet turn to God.  We may yet spurn Satan and embrace Christ.  Our judgement is still yet to come, for we mortal men remain alive … today.  But as death and judgement await us, so does either Heaven or Hell.

 

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians ii.9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”  Wonderful bounteous beauties await those who follow Christ unto the end.  There, in Heaven, we will eternally witness and experience the dynamic loving-kindness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  But those in Hell are denied this, the Beatific Vision.  The damned do not behold God, for they lived without God; they lived for themselves, and so they remain tortured by the lack of God for which they were made in the company of all the foul spirits who rejected God for themselves.  Thus, those in perdition suffer the company of the most selfish wicked souls ever created while those in bliss enjoy the great love of those who put you above themselves.

We were made by God to enjoy God.  To be denied God for eternity is the greatest sorrow man can know.  Now we are on the earth in our mortal life, and so we can only barely glimpse what the damned miss.  For we ourselves are yet getting to know God.  We still foolishly believe that something other than God may bring us greater joy than our Creator.  St. Bonaventure said, “The most terrible penalty of the damned is being shut out forever from the blissful and joyous contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.”  St. John Chrysostom said, “I know many persons only fear Hell because of its pains, but I assert that the loss of the celestial glory is a source of more bitter pain than all the torments of Hell.”  Every moment we feel loss or long for something we cannot have, we are touched by the lack of God in our lives.  So we try to fill up our emptiness with the delights of the flesh and the world, with passions, honors, riches, sensual gratifications, and all the vain and fleeting pleasures of this realm.  But all of these things are hollow and empty.  God alone is the one true source of the soul’s happiness.  To be finally denied the only source of happiness is logically to live in eternal despair and agony.

The eternal sorrow of the damned will recall their many occasions to turn from the way of wickedness, all the wrongs committed against God and neighbor, and all the many times their friends and family urged them to amend their ways.  Thus their conscience will pain them beyond measure, along with the stench, the heat, the cries of the lost, and the torments of demons.  They will forever know that they could have avoided such an unbearable fate had they only responded truthfully to the Lord of life instead of making their own way according to their own perverse and peculiar thoughts.  Alas, the presence of their own minds, will, conscience, and memory, cause the damned everlasting torment so unspeakable that our stomachs quiver in disgust.

 

Dear children of God, do not listen to the whispers of this world, which are either the hushed tones of sinful men or fallen angels.  David said (Psalm xiv.1):  “THE fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  You will hear that there is no God, no punishment, and no Hell.  You will be told that you may live your life however selfishly you wish and will never have to answer for your crimes.  But those words tempt you away from Christ and straight into the maw of Satan.

 

To avoid Hell, you must believe in Jesus Christ and give your heart to Him, you must be Baptized into His Death and Resurrection, and you must repent of your sins.

To grow in Christ as a living branch of his Body, you must obey the Six Precepts or Duties of Churchmen.  That is, worship every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  Receive the Body and Blood of Christ frequently.  Give our Lord the first tenth of your income in the tithe.  Seek after righteousness by keeping your conscience clean of all sin and confess your sins if you fall.  Fast like our Lord did when directed to by His Body.  And keep the marriage laws of the Church, witnessing to the holiness of Christ.

If you are doing all these things, then seriously attend to prayer, good works, and studying the Holy Scripture.  It is possible and not all that difficult to live such a life.  Besides avoiding Hell, the soul who carefully lives a Christian life will grow closer and closer to our Lord while you still draw breath on this earth, after which He will not forget you in the world to come.

 

St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

 

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In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Preparing for Judgement”

The end things, or Eschaton in Greek, can be categorized in two parts, the individual and the general.

The individual part of the End of Days is the story of our own soul:  Death, our individual judgement, and then either Heaven or Hell.  These are the Four Last Things.  It is the story of our souls at our individual end according to Scripture, especially in the Gospels.

The general part of the End of Days is the story of the entire cosmos, or Creation:  The approach of the End, the resurrection of the body, the general judgment, and the final consummation of all things, new Heaven and new Earth.  This story is told throughout Scripture but especially in the Revelation of St. John.

So, when we speak of Christ’s judgement of our souls in the end, we mean two things, His judgement of each of us upon our deaths and His judgment of all of us at His Second Coming.

Today, let us consider the individual judgement, Christ’s judgement of our soul upon our death.

 

Think of that for a moment.  As if death is not scary and awful enough, we will undergo judgement before the throne of Christ immediately following our death.  We will draw our last breath, our soul will be ripped apart from our body, and then Christ will judge our earthly life.  Christ will justly judge each immediately separated soul and determine its eternal home.

This is eminently logical, but nevertheless quite dreadful.  For no matter how loving and holy a person we are, and so very few of us can say that, not a single one of us is as loving and holy so to not have horrible sins for which Christ will damn us.

We do not like to admit it, and perhaps some of us never admit it, but we do not live our lives as if we are in the presence of Christ.  Maybe we think that God has more important things to do than concern himself with our little lives.  Maybe we act like functional atheists, living our daily lives like God did not exist, not praying to him, not thanking him for our blessings, and doing what we will as if we were not going to be judged.  Maybe we don’t really understand what we mean by “God” – not thinking of him personally so that we could love him, maybe thinking of God as some kind of divine principle or force.

Did you notice what I left out?  I left out living in our sin because we don’t care what will happen to us in the future so long as we get our pleasure now; living like we are junkies only concerned about getting our next fix, not giving a thought for the consequences of doing so.

Sin is enticing.  If sin were not so tasty, hardly anybody would sin.  Adam and Eve were set not only for life but for eternity in the Garden, but sin was so tasty to them that they risked it all and suffered death and misery just for a taste.

Sin makes us stupid.  We love our sin.  We love our greediness.  We love our booze and pills.  We love our prideful disdain of others.  We love talking behind each other’s backs.  We love sin.  So we focus on our beloved sin instead of Christ and His judgement.

 

Some object to being judged upon our deaths on theological grounds.  Some Protestants hold that the dead fall asleep and wake up at the Second Coming of Christ to be judged in the general judgement then.  But when we read the Holy Scriptures, we see that this is not the case.

In St. Luke xxiii.43, Christ says to the penitent thief, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  The penitent thief was about to die, to suffer the separation of his soul from his body which is the curse of our sinful ancestors and his own vile sin.  And after that death, according to our Lord’s own words, that that soul was to be with God in paradise.

Also in 2 Corinthians v.8, we see St. Paul speak of the faithful Christian, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”  The godly Christian, when he is then absent from his body, is present with Christ.  In other words, the faithful and just Christian is present with the people of God here on earth and with God himself in Heaven.  You go from the one state to the other.

We also see in the parable of Lazarus and Dives that each has undergone judgement upon their deaths.  While this is a parable, its setting keeps with Christ’s words to the penitent thief and St. Paul’s words of encouragement to the faithful.  We die, and then we are judged by God.

 

How will we be judged?  We will be judged by faith and by our actions.  Indeed, perhaps the particular judgement may not be Christ sitting on His throne waiting for our death and then sitting as the judge of our souls.  Instead, the moment of our death may be the end of our chance to alter our eternal destination.  For we will have then had the chance to call upon Christ as our Savior, the chance to respond to God’s election of us in Holy Baptism, and the chance to live holy, loving, and morally upright lives here on earth.  Thus, judgement is also a reckoning.  It is the working out of God’s eternal self and law upon us, his creation.

 

Our closing hymn today sums up our end with Christ’s end; that is, it matches our holy response to Christ’s work among us with Christ’s Second Coming.  Instead of death, sin, and Hell, instead we sing:

Yea, Amen!  Let all adore thee,

High on thine eternal throne;

Saviour, take the power and glory;

Claim the kingdom for thine own;

Judgement is that mechanism, that decision-making process that aligns our end with the end of the Cosmos.  Our glory in Christ, which is our salvation from sin and entrance into everlasting life with God Almighty, our glory in Christ is but a part of Christ’s glory in epic cosmic victory, banishing forever the powers of wickedness and sin and triumphing eternally in loving-kindness, mercy, and peace with the Triune God, the glorious angels of Heaven, and all the faithful saints.

But Judgment recognizes that all this glory is not a given; it is worked for.  God the Son worked for this glory by suffering the indignity of becoming a mere man as a babe in a manger in Bethlehem, by living the life of a mortal man, of suffering His Passion, of experiencing excruciating death, rising again, defeating death forever, and Ascending into Heaven.  You and I work for it by believing in Christ, joining with Him in His Body the Church so that He can save us, and conforming our sinful lives to His holy life.

Both experience and Scripture show us that we have a choice.  Many exterior forces work upon us, such as where we are born, the caliber of our family, the opportunities to hear the Gospel and so on.  Many interior forces work upon us, such as our mental health, the pain which afflicts us, our past sins, and so on.  Even with these exterior and interior forces working upon us, we still have the choice – even if it is a small one – to follow Christ and obey Him or not to follow Christ and disobey Him.  And what matters is not what we claim to do, but what we actually do, and Christ is the judge of that.

Judgement is Christ stopping the clock at our death and seeing what we have done with our lives.  He is with us every minute of every hour of every day of our life.  He is not ignorant of us when He judges us; He knows us intimately and loves us dearly.  But upon our death, when our soul rips away from our body, our time on Earth is done.  The moment of truth has arrived.  It is the same thing when Christ returns in power and great glory – our moment of truth has arrived.

What have we done with what He has given us?  That is the ultimate point of judgement.

And in the end, the discerner of hearts and lover of souls will decide if we would rather live without Him and thus go to Hell with the wicked angels and men, where God’s presence is withdrawn, or if we would rather live with Him and thus go to Heaven with the holy angels and men, to live in the presence of God for all eternity.

Sometimes we hear of meeting somebody half-way.  Christ has met us all the way.  He left His Heavenly home and come all the way down to earth to become one of us as a little baby that Christmas morning in Bethlehem.  Christ is the only way to God, for He is both man, like us, and God.  Our salvation absolutely and completely relies upon Him.  All our efforts are to become like Him, to help and not hinder Christ’s transformation of us into His divine image.  For Heaven is the home of the divine, and we must be perfectly holy to life with Him there.

At the Resurrection of the Dead, we will receive our new heavenly bodies.  But what about our souls?  We can do nothing about our future bodies now, but each one of us can make the most life-altering decisions about our souls today.

To be awarded Heaven when Christ judges our souls, we must be like Christ:  Pure of heart and innocent in deeds.  We must work with the Holy Ghost in transforming ourselves to Christ’s image by doing works of righteousness and confessing our sins when we fall.

 

In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Preparing for Death”

I remember watching my father breathe his last breath and literally expire.  One minute my father lay sick, and the next minute his body lay dead.  Right before was the last minute of my life with him, and right after was the first minute of my life without him.

Anguish washed over my soul.  I did not know how to breathe without him in my life; I did not know how to eat, sleep, or go to school without his presence.  But I learned.  And learning how to live my life without him was horrible beyond description.

 

We fear death.  We fear death because in dying we leave this way of existence and head into another way of existence, a way which we know nothing about by personal experience.

We fear death because we have seen others die.  We continue on, and they apparently do not.  We wish to continue on, even if our current life is miserable.  We instinctively cherish our own lives and do not want to give them up.

We fear death because death comes when the body sustains irreparable damage by accident, disease, or age.  All three are deeply ugly in our sight.  We shudder when we imagine ourselves receiving damage from a horrible accident, or succumbing to a deadly disease, or wasting away in our elder infirmity.  We would rather live in our youthful bodies, or failing that, our bodies as we currently have them.

We fear death because we naturally perceive that death is contrary to the created order of things.  Why would God create us if we were to die?  God Incarnate, Christ Himself cried when He beheld the dead body of His friend Lazarus.  If God who overcomes death cries at death, we who cannot overcome death certainly quail in its presence.

 

Death is one of the essential facts of Creation’s brokenness.  The other is sin, intimately related to death.

In Genesis, we read that “God created the heaven and the earth.”  And after each day of Creation, “God saw that it was good.”  Except on the last day, when “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  On that sixth day, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

So the human race is the capstone upon Creation, that finishing part that made it “very good” in God’s sight.  We were to live with God for all eternity in the Garden.  Possessing both body and soul, we were to walk with God and enjoy his immediate and direct presence.

But our ancestors broke our communion with God when they defied him and sought to live in power and glory without him, partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And lest they stretched forth their hands and partake of the Tree of Life, God expelled them from the Garden.

Before he expelled them, God cursed us, saying, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

So it is that death is an unnatural state brought upon by Man’s Fall into sin.  It is necessarily related to sin.  Sin brought death into the world of men.  The only way to remedy death is by remedying sin.

 

Death is a miserable predicament.  Death breaks asunder that which God created to be one.  We are meant to be whole, body and soul.  Death is like unto divorce, which rips apart that which God has joined together.  Once God has put these things together into one essential and holy thing, it is against nature and God to destroy it.  Thus, death is an abomination by its nature and by its disobedience to God’s will.

We brought upon ourselves this death, this destruction.  By following their will instead of God’s will, Adam and Eve chose to destroy themselves.  They didn’t know what they were getting into, but out of their stupid lust they went and wrecked what God had created.

And we are no better than they were.  You and I are guilty of this sin.  We have caused our own deaths.  Even the best of us “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  By thinking that our ways are better than God’s ways, we stray from him.  God is the creator, nurturer, and sustainer of life; yet we think that we can create, nurture, and sustain ourselves away from him.  Each one of us has earned his own death.

 

So from the time of Adam and Eve until the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, death reigned in the lives of men without any sure remedy.  But God did not leave men alone.  The Patriarchs spoke with God personally, and he guided them.  God gave the Law through Moses to Israel.  God sent the Prophets to preach to Israel.

Then, as St. Paul wrote in Galatians iv.4:  “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman ….”  Christ became Man, uniting the fulness of divinity and the fulness of humanity in one holy Person.  St. Paul also wrote in Romans xiv.9, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”

We need not die like those without hope.  Christ took on our mortal human nature and died.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  And He conquered death.  But He conquered death in a most interesting way:  Christ conquered death by dying Himself.  He apparently yielded to sin and death.

But no!  Christ rose from the grave, defeating death and sin.  In Christ, we are victorious over the grave.  The grave has claimed the life of almost every man who ever lived, save only Enos and Elijah in the Old Testament.  Christ has destroyed the hold of the grave over us.  Yet we must enter the grave just like our Lord Christ did.  Each of us will die, but for those who are counted among the redeemed of the Lord, we will live with God for all eternity.

 

So, given that each of us must die unless the Lord returns first, it obviously follows that we must prepare for our deaths.  I say obviously, but sometimes it doesn’t seem obvious at all.  I want to forget that I will die, my body will rot, and my soul will flee.  I want to live my life blissfully ignoring this obvious fact of my life.  I want to ignore it because I want to do whatever I want whenever I want.  I want to dictate the terms of my life to God, just like Adam and Eve did, just you do, just like we all do.

This is wrong.  But we still do it.  So, the first thing we must do to prepare for our inevitable end is to think upon our death each and every day.  This is called memento mori.  Some will object that this is morbid and sad.  To this the Church answers that the only way to life everlasting is through faith in Christ, and that means that we must think on our death and on our Savior.  So first, remember that you will die.

Secondly, we must not only remember that we will die but have faith in Christ and repent of our sins.  The minimum duty of Churchmen, the Six Duties of Churchmen, are not only our least duty but also our saving path.

We must attend Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  We must receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least three times a year, one of those times being during Christmastide.  We must tithe, fast, and keep the Church’s rules for sexual relations.  And we must keep our consciences clean.  These tidily fall into three sections for preparing ourselves for Heaven.

First, we must focus upon the objective worship of Christ in the Mass.  We each subjectively worship Christ in many parts of our lives, such as holy thoughts, devout feelings, and inspired sharing.  But Christ gave us His Body and Blood to partake of it, not to ignore it.  When we join ourselves with Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, we mystically join together with Christ.  A woman who has done this reverently for seventy years is better prepared to meet Christ’s Judgement than a man who mostly forgets to show up to worship.

Second, tithing, fasting, and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage help us live our lives in the moral way Christ would have us live them.  We ought to be generous, loving, patient, self-sacrificing, and treat our selves and other people’s selves in holiness and godliness.  If we were to tithe, fast, and keep ourselves sexually as we are supposed to while worshipping God and keeping our consciences pure, then we would find ourselves moving in the right direction to God, thus preparing for our judgement.

Third, we must keep our consciences pure.  On the one hand, we must avoid sin and eagerly seek after righteousness.  On the other hand, we must confess our sins.  Thus we repent, or turn away from, our sins.  We should privately tell God each day what we have done wrong, our firm resolution to avoid doing that again, and asking him for forgiveness.  We also can assist our devotion at Mass by remembering our sins and earnestly saying the confession with these sins on our hearts.  We can also come to me or another priest and confess our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

When our last hour comes, our soul will be brutally torn away from our body.  Satan and the wicked demons will assail us at that hour to tempt us away from Christ with thoughts that He cannot save us, that our sins are more than He can forgive, and that we have no need of Christ at all.  Although our guardian angel and patron saints will powerfully intercede for us at that moment, the singularly best way for us to prepare for the torment and temptation of our death is to be strong in prayer and pure in soul.  And that requires preparation.

 

Advent is upon us.  Holy Church has for many centuries preached on death this very Sunday, which is most proper for helping us prepare for Christ’s return or our death, whichever comes first.

This Advent, I urge you to prepare for the inevitable fate you face.  I love you as my dear children.  I want each and every one of you to prosper in the loving-kindness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  I want each and every one of you to live with each other forever in God’s Kingdom.  I want to enjoy your presence forever before God our Father in the Holy Ghost.

With these wishes of love and peace and enjoying you as you were made by our Lord God, I ask you this week to try at least one of two things.  First, thoughtfully make a list of your sins and then reverently confess them to Christ either with the prayer of confession in the Prayer Book or in the Sacrament of Confession.  Second, pick your most intractable or hardest to control sin and try very hard to confess and turn from it every day this week.

The best way to prepare is to exercise.  The best way to prepare for a spiritual struggle is spiritual exercise.  Try at least one of these confessions of sin this week and prepare to meet your maker.  If you earnestly try, you will find yourself in better shape to be judged by Christ.

 

“that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded;”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Preparing for Our Lord’s Return”

This beautiful collect is famous for its call for God to “stir up … the wills of thy faithful people.”  Archbishop Cranmer used this old Latin prayer in our Book of Common Prayer.  In this collect, we ask God to stir up our wills, the “wills of thy faithful people”, so that in “bringing forth the fruit of good works”, we may be rewarded plenteously by God himself.

I have heard today called “stir up” Sunday.  These words are inspiring.  We hereby ask God to move us into action by quickening our wills.  The will is the part of ourselves that moves other parts of ourselves into action.  Think of this as cranking a lawn mower.  Before it is started, the lawn mower has an engine, blade, fuel, and physical structure holding it all together.  But one thing is lacking – getting the thing to start doing what it is made to do.

So it is for us.  We have reason, memory, and intellect; we have body, spirit, and all things necessary to love and to serve and to obey Almighty God.  But until we are spurred into action, until our wills are stirred up, we are all potential and no actuality.  In this prayer, we ask God to move us, to start us, to get us going so, in the words of the thanksgiving after Mass, “we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.”

As Christians, we need to do more than sit pretty and receive God’s grace.  We are called to respond to God’s love; we are to do that which God would have us to do.  We are to “bring forth the fruit of good works.”

 

We pray this prayer on this Sunday, the Sunday next before Advent, for a reason.  During Advent, we are to do works of holiness and righteousness; we are to prepare to receive the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

In the season of Advent in the Christian Year, the faithful look back and remember the first advent of Christ as a baby in Bethlehem and look forward to the second advent (or second coming) of Christ in power and great glory as He returns to put an end to suffering, misery, and death and gloriously fulfill His mission of saving His people and creation.

Advent is a time of compassionately looking back and expectantly looking forward.  Traditional practices of preparing for the coming of our King include lighting the candles of the Advent wreath, omitting our joyful Gloria in Excelsis at Mass, changing the liturgical color to purple and rose, singing Advent hymns, giving for missions in mite boxes, and preaching on the Four Last Things.

What are the “Four Last Things”?  They are death, judgement, Heaven, and Hell.  According to medieval and modern tradition, these are preached on the four Sundays of Advent.  This is part of preparing ourselves for Christ’s arrival, both in the past in His Incarnation and in the future when He returns again.

The ancient tradition of preaching on “The Four Last Things” on the Sundays in Advent (Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell), goes back to the early medieval period, more than a thousand years ago.  The Four Last Things were explicitly mentioned in a Confession of Faith at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274.  More than a hundred years later, Saint Vincent Ferrer particularly emphasized the Four Last Things in his preaching.  He died in 1419.  Since that time, it became embedded in the traditions of Holy Church.

First Sunday of Advent – November 30th – the subject is death,

Second Sunday of Advent – December 7th – judgment,

Third Sunday of Advent – December 14th – Heaven, and

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 21st – the subject is Hell.

They are called the four last things because these are the four last things until Christ returns for the Last Judgement, when He will finally and permanently separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff, and the elect from the damned.  We are not gloomy when we consider these serious subjects, preparing for one of the most glorious times of the year, Christmas.  Instead, we take our joy and our preparation to meet that joy seriously.

As we acknowledge that we will die, be judged, and go to either Heaven or hell, so we encourage ourselves to build up what is weak in our lives, repent of our sins, and strive to more fully love our God and our neighbors.  We are reminded that whether we like it or not, whether it is a polite topic or not, each one of us will die unless God returns again first.

And whether we like it or not, once we die, Christ will judge us.  This is inevitable as we come face to face with our maker.  Simply being confronted by the ultimate being who is love himself, our faults and lack of love will become more evident than ever before.  And after the judgement, we will end up in either Heaven or Hell.  There is no third place where we will spend eternity.  We will live with God forever or not.  It is that simple.

These sermons are supposed to examine these last things before Christ returns and inspire us to bring “forth the fruit of good works” so that we of God may “be plenteously rewarded.”  We are to change our behavior and conform to the model of Christ our Lord.  We are to live our lives now as if we truly believed Christ was coming soon, because the fact is that Christ will return, and with His return, this broken mortal life as we know it will disappear into the glory of immortality.

In the words of St. Peter in his second epistle,

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

We do not know when Christ will return, only that He will return.  And when Christ returns, if you are anything like me, you will sorely regret that you did not spend your time now preparing for His return.  For Christ has told us that He will return again and that we will answer for how we have lived our lives.  He says in St. Matthew xvi.27, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”

 

Here at St. Luke’s this Advent, we will follow the custom of Holy Church and prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas and in the future.  Our main goal now is to think ahead to next month on how we are going to join in the Church’s preparation for Christ’s return.  What concrete steps will we take this Advent to prepare for Christ’s return?

Will you take advantage of our weekday Masses to attend an extra Mass per week of Advent?

Will you take advantage of our Sunday Morning Prayer to add to your prayer life on the Sundays of Advent?

Will you forgo listening to Christmas music to concentrate instead upon the Church’s season of Advent, of preparing to make the most of Christmas?

Will you take on the responsibility of reading a chapter of Scripture each day of Advent?

Will you respond to the sermons on death and judgement, Heaven and Hell by confessing your sins to your priest this Advent?

Will you respond to the glory of Christ’s Incarnation, or taking on of our frail human nature, to give sacrificially over and above your tithe for missions with the mite box?

Will you reflect upon your calling from God and the need of your parish to discern a new area of ministry for you to enter into?

You do not have to decide today.  But Advent begins next week.  How will you prepare for the coming of Christ this Advent?

 

“STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded;”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Heaven

 

What do we know of Heaven?

All Christians are assured a place in Heaven, a place unattainable except through Christ.  Christ has ascended into Heaven, and Christ will descend on the Last Day in order to judge the quick and the dead.  Even those Christians who are completely purified of their sins and have gone on into Heaven are not reunited with their bodies, for that will happen at the General Resurrection, when the body and soul together enjoy God’s presence forever.

Heaven is a place, but we have no information on the dimensions of it “or its relation to the physical universe” (ODCC).  Heaven is the place of the fulfilment of the original destination of Man, to live with God in communion with him forever.  There we shall “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” (Westminster Catechism)

Father Francis J. Hall writes that Heaven: “…frequently denotes the place above which is at once the sphere of God’s open self-manifestation, the region from which Christ came and to which He has ascended, and the abode of the holy angels.”

Importantly, Heaven is the place “wherein the Kingdom which Christ came to proclaim and establish among men in this world is triumphantly brought to its complete and permanent consummation.”

St. John Baptist prepared the way of the Lord and has shown us the future, which Christ fulfills.  Christ addresses this in today’s Gospel, saying to St. John’s disciples:  “…the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”  All these point to the final disposition of all who faithfully follow Christ.

We ask what Heaven will be like, and we should look to Christ’s very words.  God’s truth is whole, is entire.

As St. John says in the fourth verse of the twenty-first chapter of his Revelation:  “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

When we read the Revelation of St. John, it is not hard at all to see that this is where “the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

But before St. John recorded his Revelation and before Christ said these words, the prophet Isaiah prophesied in chapter 35:  “Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing….”  And then he continues:  “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

These are all completions.  The lack of sight, with its challenges and social stigma, is completed by the restoration of vision.  The lack of hearing, with its challenges and social stigma, is completed by the restoration of hearing.  The lack of mobility, with its challenges and social stigma, is completed by the restoration of the ability to walk.  Those suffering the disease of leprosy, with its physical horror and social alienation, are cured of their debilitating disease.  Those who are poor, that is, the meek of this earth, have the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven preached to them.  Where there is disability, Christ brings physical completeness.  Where there are outcasts from society, Christ brings community.  Where there is poverty and the struggle to live, Christ brings life everlasting.

Christ’s ministry is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  Christ’s ministry culminates in the blessed vision of St. John.  That which is lacking will be made full; that which is broken will be mended.  Christ came to heal our broken and sin-sick world.  At the Last Day, as Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

These words of Christ point out to us the trajectory that He and His ministry are on.  The sick, the tired, and the lonely of this world will be restored.  We lost the garden through our sin and self-centeredness.  Christ has come to restore our relationship to God and to each other.  This is Heaven:  The presence of God and our presence with him and all his faithful.

Thus, truly is today Gaudete Sunday.  “Rejoice!” is the first word of today’s Introit.  Rejoice, my children, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!  As it was announced by St. John Baptist, so it is fulfilled by Christ our God and our King.

We recall and hearken unto St. John Baptist’s words as we prepare the way for Christ’s Second Advent.  Indeed, if we only think of Christ coming to us as a baby in the manger and do not think of Him coming to us with power and great glory bearing the wounds of the Cross, then we are missing the essential mission of Christ:  To set us free from sin and suffering and death, reconciling us to God.

For we shall not enter Heaven, into the presence of God forever, the way we are.  We are not yet ready; we are living in sin; we need saving; we must repent; we are not ready for God until we live entirely for God and get purified by God from all that keeps us away from him.

This is why in this life we must devote ourselves to learning all we can about God and loving him as much as we can, and Christ becoming a baby in Bethlehem and dying for us on the Cross lets us know Him.  This is why in this life we must search out our sins and repent of them, confessing them to God and turning from our evil ways, so that we might be purified of those things which shall keep us away from God forever in Hell.  This is why in this life we must work diligently and hard to love our neighbors as ourselves, so that we may start participating in that taste of Heaven on earth which we call Holy Church, brotherly love, self-sacrificial loving-kindness.

If we love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds, if we repent of our sins, and if we love our neighbors as ourselves, then we shall truly be ready for Heaven when Christ returns in power and great glory to judge both the living and the dead, and the dead shall rise first and we shall meet Him in the air.

Then we shall live in the brilliant heavenly realms with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost with all the blessed saints in Christ, our brothers and sisters, as well as the heavenly host.  And what a grand time we shall have then!

 

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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