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Posts Tagged ‘Revelation of St. John’

“And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

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

 

That Christ will come with glory to judge the quick and the dead is an unalterable dogma.  It is plainly taught in the Holy Scriptures and by Holy Church.

We find this article of faith in the Creeds, the Gospels, and in the New Testament.  Attached to it is Christ’s judgement of sins.  We just said in the Nicene Creed:  “And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead….”  The Apostles’ Creed and the Advent collect say the same in slightly different words.  In order to be faithful Christians, we must believe this article of faith, that Christ will judge all men when He returns from Heaven.

 

Now, Advent is not simply the name of this season of the Church’s kalendar.  It means arrival, emergence, dawn, and occurrence.  It comes to us from the Latin words for to come.   Advent means Christ coming to us:  “O come, o come Emmanuel.”

In this holy season, our focus often rests on the prophecies leading up to Christ being born a babe in Bethlehem.  Today’s Epistle to the Romans (xv.12) reads:  “And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.”  This is the first advent of Christ into the world.  We remember this when the priest reads the Last Gospel after Mass:  “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”

The Second Coming of Christ is His returning in glory to judge the living and the dead.  Our risen and glorified Lord will then confront all mankind.  He will end the world as we know it and usher in a new world of redeemed mankind living fully the life of Heaven.

Today’s Gospel wondrously tells of Christ’s return.  In St. Matthew’s Gospel (xxvi.64b), Christ answers the high priest during His Passion, “nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

After Christ ascends into Heaven, angels tell the astonished apostles (Acts i.11):  “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”

Christ will return.  We do not know when.  Christ says in St. Matthew (xxv.13):  “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”

We know that Christ’s return will be spectacular.  Christ says in St. Matthew (xxiv.27), “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”  The Bible uses strange prophetic imagery regarding His return to convey truth beyond our experience.  Our knowledge of the Lord’s return is of necessity partial.

But we are promised that:

  1. The trumpet will sound and all men will hear it,
  2. Our bodies, whether living and dead, will change in an instant,
  3. The cosmic regeneration of a new heaven and a new earth will occur as the former will have passed away,
  4. Our Lord will appear in glory,
  5. We will all be judged according to our deeds, and
  6. God’s Kingdom will be perfectly established.

 

Divine judgement is the process whereby Christ determines the eternal fate of men.  All men live forever.  Christ’s judgement determines where and how we will live forever.  We mean two things when we speak of Christ’s judgement of our souls in the end:  His particular judgement of each of us upon our deaths and his general judgment of us all at His Second Coming.

Jesus is our judge.  St. Paul says in Colossians, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Christ is God.  He is omniscient.  He judges truly.  He plumbs the secrets of each man’s soul.  He better understands why we do things than we understand them ourselves.  He considers every fact in His judgement; He is unlike a human judge who only has a limited and fallible understanding.  Christ fully shares the love of God as creator and as redeemer.  He values the souls of men more highly than we value ourselves.

God created us good, but we, like a dog returning to its vomit, continually turn to sin, to destruction, to death.  What can God do with us in such a state?  He can either dispose of us or save us.  God has chosen to save us from sin and death.  With infinite love and grace unbounded God sent his only-begotten Son into the world to save us from our sins.  He restores us to life.  The judgement of God is personal, but if we step back, we may consider it as the presence of God which reveals the truth about our state.  In order to live with God in love forever, we must first be judged.  Christ’s presence effects judgement.

 

When we die, we face the particular judgement, one of the two last judgements of God.  Before this judgement, we faced the daily judgement of our conscience.

The particular judgement differs from the general.  It is less a formal judgement than the completion of our life’s work.  We will have lived our life and made our inclinations and habits known to Him.  It is a private affair between Christ and the soul.  It is preliminary.  It is the last of the long line of similar judgements in our life.  The time of decision is over, for we are dead.  If we have not stifled our conscience, we will have been judging our actions during our life.

As we look at ourselves and other men, widespread solid evidence of our salvation is not apparent.  We do not die perfectly loving, perfectly moral, and perfectly faithful.  One must be holy to live in Heaven, and we do not die holy.  Our righteousness is that of Christ, but Christ does not take over our selves, remove our free will, and govern our actions to be only righteous.

Christ judges us upon our deaths as either saved or damned.  If saved, our spiritual progress does not end there.  It continues on after our deaths until our dross is fully burned off, leaving only purity behind.  Isaiah (i.25) says:  “I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:”  One must not hold to the peculiar Roman doctrines of Purgatory, indulgences, and the treasury of merits to acknowledge the universal Church’s teaching on the matter.

God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-wise.  He can search a man’s heart and weigh what he finds, even if the man had few opportunities to make moral actions in the light of God’s revelation.  Out of the least opportunities in the young and the ignorant, Christ can make accurate and unerring judgements.  His judgement is not hampered by our limits.

If a man is damned at his particular judgement, it will be as Abraham said in the parable of Lazarus and Dives (St. Luke xvi.31):  “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”  Which is to say that the pattern of wickedness and resistance to goodness the man had chosen for himself during his life will carry on for eternity.

But for those who are who are saved comes something entirely different.  Hebrews (xii.14) reads:  “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:”  None of us reach perfection in this life of ours, this vale of tears, of labor and pain and death.  But we start a good work that is made perfect in Christ.  Christ makes us perfect.  Christ makes us holy.

All men, no matter what heights of holiness they have achieved in this life, will no doubt have much to learn and much to cast aside before they finally enter into God’s presence in Heaven.  Our personal journey towards perfection will continue on until the day of the Lord’s Second Advent.  The purification of our souls is precious for those who desire God.

There may be pain in this growth, as perfection in Christ might require a necessary suffering on our part to refine our imperfect souls.  St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians (iii.15), “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”  Rest assured, Christ will weigh our life upon our death, and we do not want to be found wanting.

 

The general judgement follows the Resurrection of the Dead at Christ’s Second Coming.  Having been raised from the dead, all men will stand before Christ our Judge.  Our Lord describes this 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.”

The Revelation has a longer description of it (xx.11-15):

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.  And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.  And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

 

Sin is enticing.  If sin were not so tasty, nobody would sin.  In the Garden, Adam and Eve were not only set for life, but for all eternity; yet sin was so tasty to them that they risked it all and suffered death and misery just for a bite.  We love our sin.  We love our greediness.  We love our booze and pills.  We love our prideful contempt of others.  We love talking behind each other’s backs.  We do love our sin.  So we focus on our beloved sin instead of Christ and His judgement.

We do not like to admit it, and perhaps some of us never will, but we tend not to live our lives as if we were in the presence of Christ.  Maybe we think that God has greater things to do than concern himself with our lives.  Maybe we act like atheists, living our daily lives as if God did not exist, not praying to him, not thanking him, and doing what we like instead of what he requires.

Reverend Fathers, brothers and sisters, it is better to judge ourselves now so that we may amend our broken and sinful ways while there is time.  When we die, we will no longer have time to repent and amend our wrong ways.  So must we comport ourselves and live our lives that we can joyfully and hopefully anticipate Christ’s Second Coming.

 

“And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

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

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“O sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving : sing praises upon the harp unto our God:”

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

 

The prayerful roots and intention of this national holiday are nicely summarized in today’s collect:

O MOST merciful Father, who hast blessed the labours of the husbandman in the returns of the fruits of the earth; We give thee humble and hearty thanks for this thy bounty; beseeching thee to continue thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to thy glory and our comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Unlike the earlier service of thanksgiving by Virginia colonists, which was focused on prayer for deliverance, our Thanksgiving Day is based more upon the harvest.  Hence, the collect’s mention of “the husbandman”, “the fruits of the earth”, and “thy bounty”, as well as praying God that “our land may still yield her increase”.  These are important things.  We still must eat, even as one-fiftieth instead of nine-tenths of our population produces our food.

 

So it is that we ought return to our more ancient roots.  Thanksgiving is more than thanking God for our physical sustenance.  Thanksgiving is primordially a response to God’s gift of our lives and his gift of himself to us.  Our giving of thanks to him is, in the words of The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, a “sign of self-transcendence”.  It is the active response of our thankfulness towards God.

God’s graciousness to us and our response of thanks to him cause us to realize our inherent contingency upon him.  We would not be here without him.  Without him, there is no us.  God did not have to create us.  However, we had to have God create us.  This is more than a case of we needing him more than he needs us.  He does not need us at all.  We need him as a matter of our very existence.

Thus, in thanking God, we transcend our limited state and acknowledge our dependency upon our creator.  In thanksgiving, our hearts, our souls, and our minds open to the giver of good gifts and especially the ultimate giver of all gifts.  Thanksgiving is a response necessary to our Christian journey which will take us far beyond our understanding and expectations.

 

Contrary to what is true and evident from the beginning of Genesis until the end of the Revelation and in all services of Holy Church, we exhibit a tendency to limit our thankfulness to a list of good gifts.  This is seen by the child’s bedtime prayers in which he thanks God for mama and daddy and sissy and brother and Rover.  And, indeed, he should show God his gratitude for them.

We read in St. James that “every good gift is from above”.  God created creation.  God gives us good gifts.  We tend to reserve our thanksgiving for blessings received and prayers answered, but we may and ought thank God for much more than these.

In Psalm cvii.21-22, we read:  “O that men would therefore praise the LORD for his goodness; and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men!”  We ought to thank God for more than our usual lists.  Especially, we ought to thank him for being him.  We ought not take God, his Persons, and his works for granted.

A fine example of this more God-centered thanksgiving is found in the General Thanksgiving in Mattins and Evensong, especially where we pray:

We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

But where it continues on takes thanksgiving into even deeper profundity:  “And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful;”  Instead of informing God of our thankfulness for yet another thing we give thanks for, here we pray God to increase the thankfulness of our hearts.  You and I can only gin up so much thankfulness on our own, even when God has given us a gift which meets with our approval.  Better yet is the earnest supplication for a more thoroughly converted heart with which to thank him and to love him.

 

Thanking God for his goodness and his good gifts is as necessary for us as breathing.  An unthankful heart might as well be holding its breath for all the good it is doing.  It is difficult to pray when not thankful.  It is difficult to love when not thankful.  So we ought to exercise our thankfulness by giving thanks.

In the way of prayer taught by St. Peter of Alcantara, we learn that thanksgiving is less a set form of prayer and more of an “act of worship and joy”.  This is seated in our love for God and our response to God’s love developed in worship and prayer, study and good works.

The minute or two following our reception of Holy Communion is a most precious and delicate moment.  We are then very close to our Lord.  This is not a time to quickly mumble prayers or escape to the parish hall.  This is an extraordinary moment to commune with Christ in our hearts.

I commend to you all to relish this moment before heading out to turkey and pumpkin pie.  This is a time to let our souls thank our good God with our affect and not to effect.  Let us revel in our disposition towards Christ for this moment.  Let us truly thank God with our hearts.

 

“O sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving : sing praises upon the harp unto our God:”

+ 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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