Die only once, after which comes judgement
Piotr Chmielinski talks to Prof. Jacek Salij, O.P, a theologian.
Piotr Chmielinski: - Are you afraid of death?
Jacek Salij, O.P.: - I think that when death is near I will feel some kind of fear.
- Fear of death is perhaps a common human experience...
- Fear of death and desire for eternal life need not exclude each other. A young man has dreamt of parachuting for a long time but when he is to jump for the first time he must be pushed out of the plane.
- Can you do anything to fear death less?
- You must build an attitude 'Jesus, I trust you'. Moreover, when I die I will want to have people who really believe in God and eternal life.
- Are you sure you will be saved?
- Certainty will be some impudence. But I have 'cordial' hope of salvation. It is impossible that Jesus wants to reject me in his judgement since he died on the cross for me.
- So it is not certainty but rather hope, confidence...
- Exactly. Actually, love does not need guaranty. If I really love I will cherish the blessed fear so that I will not hurt those whom I love.
- The Church teaches that after death we are to face two judgements: particular and last. What are these judgements? What is the difference between them?
- We will be judged immediately after death. The word of God said, 'die only once, after which comes judgement'. We stand in truth before God. We will see all our good deeds and all sins as well as the ambiguity of our intentions, all our sacrifice and all our egocentrism, all God's mercy, which he showed to us, and all graces, which we wasted. How do we know that? I will again refer to the Hebrews, 'everything is uncovered and stretched fully open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves'. Fortunately, this Judge will want to show his mercy towards us. But at the same time, God protects me from doing that! I may not be able to accept this mercy.
- This is the particular judgement but what is the last judgement?
- It will occur at the end of time. It will be the summit of the whole history of salvation. Lord Jesus spoke about it clearly, 'When the Son of man comes in glory all nations will be assembled before him'. Then all of us will see his powerful and enduring love for us, manifested through generations. And on the Day of Judgement we will see the sense of our lives. Since something more will happen with the good and evil that we leave, passing away. The good can yield fruit or can be wasted. The evil I leave can be destroyed by my neighbours or can be continued, and my evil can bring about a lot of devastation after my death.
- Which judgement determines our salvation or condemnation?
- Salvation or condemnation is decided during our earthly lives. In general, one should speak about salvation and condemnation in such a way as not to lose the basic truth that we all are called to salvation and should do our best not to be found among the condemned. But the Church answers this question: it is during the particular judgement that it is shown whether we are able to live in eternal friendship with God or whether we are his enemies for ever.
- Does death in mortal sin mean that man goes to hell?
- Apostle Paul says clearly, 'Make no mistake - the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, the self-indulgent, sodomites, thieves, misers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers, none of these will inherit the kingdom of God'. This belief was also clearly expressed in the Catechism, 'To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice.' On the other hand, God wants to save man more than any of his closest relatives. So let us treat God's commandments very seriously, and let us follow them. But we should not be afraid to ask for God's mercy for our dead ones when we fear that they die in sin. Let us pray even more for the deceased that died in such a state.
- Is hell eternal? Is there a possibility of conversion after death?
- The time to gain graces is our earthly lives. The first Christians compared their lives to clay. Until clay is in the potter's workshop it can be moulded and changed. When it is put into the oven it receives a final shape. The same applies to us: our relationship with God remains for ever in such a condition that will be at the hour of our death. The mystery of eternal condemnation was accurately expressed by Adam Mickiewicz who explained why Satan could not be converted, 'So far God has been looking at Satan with mercy. But he turns so that he will not see the Lord.' This is not because God's mercy is not infinite. Eternal condemnation is some kind of mysterious disagreement to receive God's mercy. This is some incomprehensible rebellion, which involves the entire person, against the truth that God is love.
- But there is a purgatory. And there man undergoes some change although his life is over.
- Yes, but souls are not converted in purgatory, they are only purified. They have already been saved. But God, in his incomprehensible mercy, agrees to the souls' dying to sin if that process was not completed in their earthly lives. The process is completed after death, exactly in purgatory.
- Do souls suffer in purgatory?
- Saint Catherine of Genoa, the mystic who lived at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries wrote that apart from heaven people were not happier in any other place than in purgatory. At the same time, the biggest suffering is in purgatory, of course apart from hell. The happiness of the souls in purgatory is that they love Lord God more and more purely and are confident that they will never lose God. Since they cannot stand before him face to face they suffer much. The sufferings of the souls in purgatory are sufferings of love.
- Can we here on earth, shorten their sufferings?
- That's exactly the reason we pray for the departed. We pray that they can participate in eternal happiness as soon as possible. But we should help the dead not only by praying for them. What is especially important is to deliver the dead from the evil a person left. If a person hurt someone in his earthly life, let us try to undo the damage. If he caused some disagreement or incurred hatred let us seek reconciliation on behalf of him. Generally speaking, we should develop the good that the departed left and do away with the evil they sowed, of course as far as we can.
- Do the dead, regardless of where they are, know what happens to us on earth? Do they care at all?
- After death only true love remains and the whole truth about self-interested, egocentric love will be uncovered. And that's why we can have confidence that mother or father, if they are saved, are interested in their children and pray for them. There would be some misunderstanding to think that we will be so delighted with God's magnificence that we stop being interested in our closest people who are on earth. God's love is the source of confirmation of all true love between people.
- So I can understand that my grandmother who died a year ago can ask God for graces for me...
- If she is saved her prayers will help her grandson much more than her prayers for him when she was alive. Since prayer is more effective when the one who prays is closer to God. Let us add at once that the one whom the prayers concern can, unfortunately, resist the grace that he has received through prayer.
- Will we meet our closest people in heaven?
- God is Someone Personal and he created us as persons and enabled us to love not only during our earthly lives but also for eternity.
- What will our relationships look like there?
- We cannot imagine that because we will not need anything in heaven. So love for our closest ones will not demand or receive their help. Therefore, mutual love lies in completely unselfish closeness. Certainly, it will be more beautiful love than we can ever imagine here on earth.