The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost: The Particular Judgment
by St. Alphonsus Di Liguori
"Redde rationem villicationis tuae"
"Give an account of thy stewardship,"--Luke, xvi. 2
Beloved Christians, of all the goods of nature, of fortune, and of grace, which we have received from God, we are not the masters, neither can we dispose of them, as we please; we are but the administrators of them; and therefore we should employ them according to the will of God, who is our Lord. Hence, at the hour of death, we must render a strict account of them to Jesus Christ, our Judge. For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body as he hath done, whether it be good or evil (2 Cor. v. 10). This is the precise meaning of that "give an account of thy stewardship," in the Gospel of this day. "You are not," says St. Bonaventure, in his comment on these words, "a master, but a steward over the things committed to you; and therefore you are to render an account of them." I will place before your eyes today the rigor of this judgment, which shall be passed on each of us on the last day of our life. Let us consider the terror of the soul, first, when it shall be presented to the judge; secondly, when, it shall be examined; and thirdly, when it shall be condemned. Terror of the Soul when it shall be presented to the Judge
It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment (Heb. ix. 27.). It is of faith that we shall die, and that after death a judgment shall be passed on all the actions of our life. Now, what shall be the terror of each of us when we shall be at the point of death, and shall have before our eyes the judgment which must take place the very moment the soul departs from the body? Then shall be decided our doom to eternal life, or to eternal death. At the time of the passage of their souls from this life to eternity, the sight of their past sins, the rigor of God's judgment, and the uncertainty of their eternal salvation, have made the saints tremble. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi trembled in her sickness, through the fear of judgment; and to her confessor, when he endeavored to give her courage, she said: "Ah! Father, it is a terrible thing to appear before Christ in judgment." After spending so many years in penance in the desert St. Agatha trembled at the hour of death, and said: "What shall become of me when I shall be judged? The venerable Father Louis da Fonte was seized with such a fit of trembling at the thought of the account which he should render to God, that he shook the room in which he lay. The thought of judgment inspired the venerable Juvenal Ancina, Priest of the Oratory, and afterwards Bishop of Saluzzo, with, the determination to leave the world. Hearing the Dies Irae sung, and considering the terror of the soul when presented before Jesus Christ, the Judge, he took, and afterwards executed, the resolution of giving himself entirely to God. Terror of the Soul when it shall be Examined
It is the common opinion of theologians, that at the very moment and in the very place in which the soul departs from the body, the divine tribunal is erected, the accusation is read, and the sentence is passed by Jesus Christ, the Judge. At this terrible tribunal each of us shall be presented to give an account of all our thoughts, of all our words, and of all our actions. For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil (2 Cor. v. 10). When presented before an earthly judge criminals have been seen to fall into a cold sweat through fear. It is related of Piso, that so great and insufferable was the confusion which he felt at the thought of appearing as a criminal before the senate that he killed himself. How great is the pain of a vassal, or of a son, in appearing before an angry prince or an enraged father, to account for some crime which he has committed! Oh! how much greater shall be the pain and confusion of the soul in standing before Jesus Christ enraged against it for having despised Him during its life! Speaking of judgment, St. Luke says: Then you shall see the Son of man (Luke, xxi 27). They shall see Jesus Christ as man, with the same wounds with which He ascended, into heaven. "Great joy of the beholders!" says Robert the Abbot, "a great terror of those who are in expectation!" These wounds shall console the just, and shall terrify the wicked. In them sinners shall see the Redeemer's love for themselves, and their ingratitude to Him.
Who says the Prophet Nahum, can stand before the face of his indignation (Nah. i. 6)? How great, then, shall be the terror of a soul that finds itself in sin before this judge, the first time it shall see Him, and see him full of wrath! St. Basil says that it shall be tortured more by its shame and confusion than by the very fire of hell."
Philip II. rebuked one of his domestics for having told him a lie. "Is it thus," said the king to him, you deceive me?" The domestic, after having returned home, died of grief. The Scripture tells us, that when Joseph reproved his brethren, saying "I am Joseph, whom you sold, they were unable to answer through fear, and remained silent. His brethren could net answer him, being struck with exceeding great fear (Gen. xlv. 3). Now what answer shall sinners make to Jesus Christ when He shall say to them: I am your Redeemer and your judge, whom you have so much despised. Where shall the miserable beings fly, says St. Augustine, when they shall see an angry Judge above, hell open below, on one side their own sins accusing them, and on the other the devils dragging them to punishment, and their conscience burning them within? "Above shall be an enraged Judge--below, a horrid chaos--on the right, sins accusing him--on the left, demons dragging him to punishment--within, a burning conscience! Whither shall a sinner, beset in this manner, fly?" Perhaps he will cry for mercy? But how, asks Eusebius Emissenus, can he dare to implore mercy, when he must first render an account of his contempt for the mercy which Jesus Christ has shown to him? "With what face will you, who are to be first judged for contempt of mercy, ask for mercy?" But let us come to the rendering of the accounts.
As soon as the soul shall he presented before the tribunal of Jesus Christ, he will say to it: Give an account of thy stewardship, render instantly an account of thy entire life. The Apostle tells us, that to be worthy of eternal glory our lives must be found conformable to the life of Jesus Christ. For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son; . . . them He also glorified (Rom. viii. 20). Hence St. Peter has said, that in the judgment of Jesus Christ, the just man who has observed the divine law, has pardoned enemies, has respected the saints, has practiced chastity, meekness, and other virtues, shall scarcely be saved. The just man shall scarcely be saved (1 Pet. iv. 18). The Apostle adds: "Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? What shall become of the vindictive and the unchaste, of blasphemers and slanderers? What shall become of those whose entire life is opposed to the life of Jesus Christ? Terror of the Soul when it shall be Condemned
In the first place, the Judge shall demand of sinners an account of all the blessings and graces which He bestowed on them in order to bring them to salvation, and which they have rendered fruitless. He will demand an account of the years granted to them that they might serve God, and which they have spent in offending Him. He hath called against me the time, He will then demand an account of their sins. Sinners commit sins, and afterwards forget them; but Jesus Christ does not forget them: he keeps, as Job says, all our iniquities numbered, as it were in a bag. Thou hast scaled up my iniquities, as it were in a bag (Job, xiv. 17). And he tells us that, on the day of accounts, he will take a lamp to scrutinize all the actions of our life. And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with lamps? The lamp, says Mendoza on this passage, penetrates all the corners of the house that is, God will discover all the defects of our conscience, great and small. According to St. Anselm, an account shall be demanded of every glance of the eyes. And, according to St. Matthew, of every idle word. Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it on the day of judgment (Matt. xii. 36).
The Prophet Malachy says that as gold is refined by taking away the dross, so on the day of judgment all our actions shall be examined, and every defect which may be discovered shall be punished. He shall purify the sons of Levi, and shall refine them as gold (Malach. iii. 3.). Even our justices--that is, our good works, confessions, communions, and prayers shall be examined. When I shall take a time, I will judge justices. But if every glance, every idle word, and even good works, shall be judged, with what rigor shall immodest expressions, blasphemies, grievous detractions, thefts, and sacrileges be judged? Alas! on that day every soul shall, as St. Jerome says, see, to its own confusion, all the evils which it has done.
Weight and balance are judgments of the Lord? In the balance of the Lord a holy life and good works make the scale descend; but nobility, wealth, and science have no weight. Hence, if found innocent, the peasant, the poor, and the ignorant shall be rewarded. But the man of rank, of wealth, or of learning, if found guilty, shall be condemned. Thou art weighed in the balance, said Daniel to Belthassar, and art found wanting (Dan. v. 27). "Neither his gold nor his wealth," says Father Alvarez, "but the king alone was weighed."
At the divine tribunal the poor sinner shall see himself accused by the devil, who, according to St. Augustine, will recite the words of our profession, and will charge us before our face with all that we have done, will state the day and hour in which we sinned." "He will recite the words of our profession" that is, he will enumerate the promises which we have made to God, and which we afterwards violated. "He will charge us before our face;" he will upbraid us with all our wicked deeds, pointing to the day and hour in which they were committed. And he will, according to St. Cyprian, conclude his accusation by saying: I have suffered neither stripes nor scourges for this man." Lord, I have suffered nothing for this ungrateful sinner, and to make himself my slave he has turned his back on Thee who has endured so much for his salvation, he, therefore, justly belongs to me. Even his angel-guardian will, according to Origen, come forward to accuse him, and will say: "I have labored so many years for his salvation; but he has despised all my admonitions." Thus even friends shall treat with contempt the guilty soul. All her friends have despised her. Her very sins shall, says St. Bernard, accuse her. And they shall say: You have made us; we are your work; we shall not desert you. We are your offspring: we shall not leave you: we shall be your companions in hell for all eternity.
Let us now examine the excuses which the sinner will be able to advance. He will say that the evil inclinations of nature had drawn him into sin. But he shall be told that, if concupiscence impelled him to sins, it did not oblige him to commit them; and that, if he had recourse to God, he should have received from Him grace to resist every temptation. For this purpose Jesus Christ has left us the sacraments: but when we do not make use of them, we can complain only of ourselves. But, says the Redeemer, now they have no excuse for their sin. To excuse himself, the sinner shall also say that the devil tempted him to sin. But, as St. Augustine says, "The enemy is bound like a dog in chains, and can bite only him who has united himself to him with a deadly security." The devil can bark, but cannot bite unless you adhere and listen to him. Hence the saint adds: "See how foolish is the man whom a dog, loaded with chains, bites." Perhaps he will advance his bad habits as an excuse; but this shall not stand; for the same St. Augustine says that though it is difficult to resist the force of an evil habit, "if any one does not desert himself, he will conquer it with the divine assistance." If a man does not abandon himself to sin, and invokes God's aid, he will overcome evil habits. The Apostle tells us that the Lord does not permit us to be tempted above our strength. God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able (I Cor. x. 13).
For what shall I do, said Job, when God shall rise to judge me? and when He shall examine, what shall I answer Him (Job. xxxi. 14)? What answer shall the sinner give to Jesus Christ? How can he, who sees himself so clearly convicted, give an answer? He shall be covered with confusion, and shall remain silent like the man found without the nuptial garment. But he was silent (Matth. xxii. 12). His very sins shall shut the sinner's mouth. And all in iniquity shall stop her mouth (Ps. cvi. 42). There, says St. Thomas of Villanova, there shall be no intercessor to whom the sinner can have recourse. "There, there is no opportunity of sinning; there, no intercessor, no friend, no father shall assist." Who shall then save you? Is it God? But how, asks St. Basil, can you expect salvation from Him whom you have despised? "Who shall deliver you? Is it God whom you have insulted?" Alas! the guilty soul that leaves this world in sin is condemned by itself before the Judge pronounces sentence. Let us come to the sentence of the Judge.
How great shall be the joy of the just man when, at death, he hears from Jesus Christ these sweet words: Well done, good and faithful servant; because, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord (Matth. xxv. 21). Equally great shall be the anguish and despair of a guilty soul that shall see itself driven away by the Judge with the following words: Depart from Me, thou cursed, into everlasting fire (Ibid. 41). Oh, what a terrible thunderclap shall that sentence be to it! "On, how frightfully," says the Carthusian, "shall that thunder resound!" Eusebius writes that the terror of sinners at hearing their condemnation shall be so great that, if they could, they would die again. "The wicked shall be seized with such terror at the sight of the judge pronouncing sentence that, if they were not immortal, they should die a second time."
But, brethren, let us, before the termination of this sermon, make some reflections which will be profitable to us. St. Thomas of Villanova says that some listen to discourses on the judgment and condemnation of the wicked with as little concern as if they themselves were secure against these things, or as if the day of judgment were never to arrive for them. The saint then asks: Is it not great folly to entertain security in so perilous an affair? There are some, says St. Augustine, who, though they live in sin, cannot imagine that God will send them to hell. "Will God," they say, "really condemn us?" Brethren, adds the saint, do not speak thus. So, many of the damned did not believe that they should he sent to hell; but the end came, and, according to the threat of Ezechiel, they have been cast into that place of darkness. The end is come, the end is come, . . . and I will send My wrath upon thee, and I will judge thee.
Sinners, perhaps vengeance is at hand for you, and still you laugh and sleep in sin. Who will not tremble at the words of the Baptist: For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree, therefore, that doth not yield good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire (Matth. iii. 10). He says that every tree that does not bring forth good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire; and he promises that, with regard to the trees, which represent sinners, the axe is already laid to the roots that is, chastisement is at hand. Dearly beloved brethren, let us follow the counsel of the Holy Ghost--Before judgment, prepare thee justice (Exxlus. xvii. 19). Let us adjust our accounts before the day of accounts. Let us seek God now that we can find Him; for the time shall come when we will wish but shall not be able to find Him. You shall seek Me, and shall not find Me (John. vii. 31). "Before judgment," says St. Augustine, "the Judge can be appeased, but not in judgment." By a change of life we can now appease the anger of Jesus Christ, and recover His grace; but when He shall judge, and find us in sin, He must execute justice, and we shall be lost.
The following prayers are taken from "Visits to Jesus in the Tabernacle" by Fr. Francis Xavier Lasance, 1898A Prayer for Final Perseverance
Eternal Father, relying on the promise made by Thy divine Son, "Whatever ye ask of the Father in My name, He will give it to you;" I ask of Thee, in the name of Jesus, the graces of holy perseverance and of loving Thee with my whole heart. For the future, grant me the grace of always perfectly accomplishing Thy holy will.Prayer to be Preserved from Sudden and Unforeseen Death
My soul, cease from sinning; think on thy sudden passage from life to eternity. While there is still time, be converted; cry out to the Lord, saying: My God, have pity on me--O most merciful Lord Jesus, by Thine agony and bloody sweat, and by Thy death, deliver me, I pray Thee, from sudden and unprepared death.
O most gentle Lord Jesus, by Thy cruel and ignominious scourging and crowning with thorns, by Thy cross and bitter passion, and by Thine own great goodness, I humbly pray Thee let me not die unprepared and pass from this life without the holy sacraments. Jesus, my best beloved, my Lord! by all Thy travails and all Thy sorrows, by Thy precious blood, and by Thy most holy wounds, and by those last words spoken by Thee upon the cross: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" and again, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit," most ardently I pray Thee free me from a sudden death.
O God, in Whose sight every heart trembles and every conscience is awed! show forth Thy mercy upon us Thy suppliants, that we, who trust not in the excellence of our own merit, may never experience Thy judgments by an unprovided death, but may receive Thy pardon through Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Particular Judment
This takes place at the moment of death--"It is appointed unto man once to die, and after death, the judgment" (Heb. ix. 27). There is a similarity between the end of the world and the death of the individual: (a) both are certain--"my words shall not pass" (Luke xxi. 33) (b) the time of both is uncertain--"the day and the hour no man knoweth" (Matt. xxiv. 36); (c) both are accompanied by temptations and tribulations--"there shall arise false Christs," etc., "the sun shall be darkened," etc. (Matt. xxiv. 24, 29). The similarity between the particular and the general judgments: (a) it is the same person with his whole life who is judged in both cases; (b) the sentence is irrevocable in both cases. Sermon by Rev. P. Hehel, SJ.
Taking into contemplation today the particular judgment, let us ask:
I. When shall this particular judgment take place?
II Where shall it be held?
I. We must know before all that there will be a twofold judgment,-- a particular and a general judgment. God will hold for every man a particular or secret judgment. This is the teaching of the Apostle, as well as the teaching of the holy Fathers. St. Thomas says clearly, "Besides the particular judgment, which takes place directly after the death of every man, there will also be a general judgment." And again: "As soon as the soul leaves the human body, it is irrevocably assigned to an abiding place. It receives its judgment-- either for life or for death, according to its works." All its thoughts, words, and actions during life will be judged in accordance with the way they presented themselves to God at the moment when they happened.http://catholicharboroffaithandmorals.com/
Consequently, this particular judgment takes place at the time when we depart from this life, at the very moment when the soul is separated from the body. "It is a most reasonable and wholesome belief," writes St. Augustine, "that the souls are judged at the time when they are separated from their bodies, before they come to that judgment by which they will be judged again, after they have been reunited with their former bodies." To prove this, the same holy father relates the parable from the Gospel, in which Christ tells of the rich Dives and the poor Lazarus. The Scripture says of these two, that the rich man, as soon as he died, was thrown into hell, while the pious Lazarus was, after his death, borne by the angels into the bosom of Abraham. From this St. Augustine draws the conclusion, that undoubtedly it cannot depend upon the mere will of man after death whether he shall go to heaven--if this were so they would all want to go there--and it is just as reasonable that nobody would, of his own free will, go into hell and subject himself to the thraldom of the devil. If, then, the rich Dives was thrown into hell immediately after death and the pious Lazarus was taken to heaven, it follows, necessarily, that immediately after death the soul of every man will be judged in particular, and after this judgment be assigned either to heaven or to hell. If this judgment was postponed until the last day or the day of the general judgment, then on the one hand the just souls would be left in unceasing anxiety, not knowing whether they would pass the judgment, and on the other hand the godless would still be left in the hope of being saved. Therefore, for a long time there would be no difference between the two; both would linger between fear and hope, as neither of them would be sure whether they were to be saved or lost. And this is contrary to the justice of God, who cannot allow those who have offended Him to be treated the same as those who have served Him.
Therefore, it is certain that at the moment of our death our soul will be judged in accordance with our merits, judged for all eternity. Eternal life or eternal death will be the unalterable decision. Oh, what a terrible moment, upon which the whole of eternity depends! Who would not quake and tremble at this and keep it unceasingly before his mind, as no one can tell the day or hour of his death, and therefore does not know how soon he may be called before this judgment. Therefore our future judge admonishes us kind-heartedly and cordially, when He says, "Watch ye therefore, for you know not when the Lord of the house cometh: at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning" (Mark xiii. 35). So much of the time when this particular judgment will take place.
II. As regards the place where this judgment shall be passed, we must not think that the souls are carried up to heaven and there placed before the throne of God. No, a stained soul will never, in all eternity, have the happiness of feeling even for one moment the delights of heavenly joys; each soul will receive its judgment at the same place where the body happened to be at the time of death, be it on water or on land, in bed or in the street, on the mountain or in the valley, in the fields or in the house. For God is everywhere. For this reason can He, without calling the soul into heaven or having to descend Himself from heaven, pronounce His judgment over each one for eternal life or death at the place where it became separated from the body and make the soul cognizant of such judgment.
At this judgment Jesus Christ shall appear as Judge, the soul as the accused, the angel who was its guardian as advocate, and the devil as accuser. The latter will bring forward everything that the soul had committed during its life on earth in thought, word, or deed against God, against itself and against its neighbors, either in intent or in reality. He will--and this should be borne well in mind--bring forward not only the evil which has been committed, but also the good deeds which the soul might have done and which it left undone or did badly. When St. Charles Borromeo was on his death-bed, he said to the priest who attended him, "Reverend brother, I am afraid to appear before the judgment more on account of the good which I have left undone than the evil I have done." And yet, what a pious and holy life had Borromeo led! How many good deeds this man had done during his whole life! Remember, often, that you will be accused by the devil and condemned by Christ not only for sins committed, but also for good deeds omitted. Against this accuser there is given to each soul an advocate, that angel, namely, who was its true companion and guardian during its pilgrimage through life. He on his side will also bring forward everything good the soul has done. Every good thought, every sigh, breath, or step, which was done with a pure intention for the love of God or our neighbor will be recorded. He will try to cover the imperfections of these works with the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, and will, to frustrate the efforts of the accuser and move the judge to mercy, remind the latter of the most precious blood which He has shed for each accused soul.
The witnesses at this judgment will be the clear and unerring perception which each soul will have in the most perfect degree. As clear as the sun will appear before its eyes the actions of a lifetime. All covering will be withdrawn and the soul will see all its words, its works and thoughts, its good and evil deed in their true light as they appeared in the eyes of God. It will see, whether it is rich in merits or poor, whether it is worthy of heaven or deserving of hell. In this clear self-recognition one's own conscience will give testimony either for or against, and convicted by its own conscience, the soul will not be able to offer excuses but will make a most complete confession. Thereupon, the Judge, who is none else than He who was our Redeemer, will by virtue of His Divine power, His omniscience and justice, render without delay the irrevocable sentence, which will be life or death for all eternity. If we are declared as blessed, we shall also be deemed worthy of heaven on the second and general judgment day; but if the verdict decrees our eternal perdition, we shall receive the same sentence at the last judgment.
"Oh, how dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God." And with each minute this terrible moment comes nearer and nearer. Every minute may bring us the verdict, "Eternal life " or "Eternal death." For we do not know whether we shall not be in the next moment a prey of death. With great earnestness St. James reminds us, therefore, "Behold the judge standeth before the door" (James v. 9).
Yes, my dear friends, He stands before our door, before your door, and before my door! As soon as he enters, the time of activity is passed and He demands an accounting of our lives. What will be our fate?
In conclusion, I will mention to you three thoughts of the holy abbot Elias to ponder over. He used to say: "There are three things I am afraid of. The first is when my soul will separate from my body; the second, when I shall have to appear before God my Judge; and the third, when judgment will be passed on me." Remember well these three points. He who will think over them several times a day will lose all desire to do evil.