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On the Particular Judgment

ON THE PARTICULAR JUDGMENT

“We must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ.”
2 Corinthians 5:10

ChristTheJudgeAndPrayingAngelsPinacotecaDiBreraConsider the appearance, the accusation, the examination, and the sentence. With regard to the appearance of the soul before her Judge, it is the common opinion of theologians, that the particular judgment takes place at the very moment of death; and that on the very spot where the soul is separated from the body, she is judged by Jesus Christ who shall not send, but will come himself, to judge her according to her works. “At what hour you think not, the Son of Man will come” (Luke 12:40). “He will,” says St. Augustine, “come in love to the good, in terror to the wicked. “O how great shall be the terror of the soul the first time she shall see the Redeemer, and she shall see his countenance full of wrath! “Who,” says the prophet Nahum, “shall stand before the face of his indignation?” (Nahum 1:6). This thought made Father Lewis da Ponte tremble so as to shake the cell in which he lay. Hearing the Dies Irae sung, and reflecting on the terror of the soul when she shall be presented before the tribunal of Jesus Christ, the venerable P. Juvenal Ancina took, and afterwards executed, the resolution of forsaking the world. The sight of the wrath of the Judge shall announce the sentence. “The wrath of the king as messengers of death” (Proverbs 16:14). St. Bernard says that the soul shall suffer more in seeing the indignation of Jesus Christ, than in hell itself. “Mallet esse in inferno.” When presented before an earthly judge, criminals have been known to fall into a cold sweat. Such was the confusion which Piso felt at the thought of appearing as a criminal before the senate, that he killed himself. How great is the pain of a child, or of a vassal, in appearing before an angry parent, or an enraged sovereign! O, how much greater shall be the pain and confusion of the soul when she shall behold Jesus Christ enraged against her for the insults which she offered to him during life. “They shall look upon me, whom they have pierced” (Zecheriah 12:10). The soul shall see in wrath the lamb that bore with her so patiently during life, and that there is no hope of appeasing his anger. This shall make her call upon the mountains to fall upon her, and to hide her from the fury of the wrathful Lamb (Revelation 6:16). Speaking of judgment, St. Luke says, “Then they shall see the Son of Man” (Luke 21:27). O what pain shall the sight of the Judge in the form of a man excite in the soul of the sinner! The sight of a man-God, who had died for his salvation, shall upbraid him with his ingratitude. When the Savior ascended into heave, the angels said to the disciples, “This Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come as you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

With the same wounds with which he ascended into heaven, Jesus Christ shall come to judge the soul. “Great joy of the beholders,” says the Abbot Rupert, “Great terror of those who are in expectation.” The wounds of the Redeemer shall console the just and terrify the wicked. When Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph, whom you sold,” the Scripture tells us, that, through fear, they were silent and unable to utter a word. “His brethren could not answer him, being struck with exceeding great fear” (cf Genesis 45:3). Now, what answer shall the sinner make to Jesus Christ? Will he dare to ask mercy when he must first tender an account of his abuse of the mercy which he has received? “With what face,” says Eusebius Emissenus, “will you, who are to be first judged for contempt of mercy, ask for mercy?” What then shall become of him? “Where,” says St. Augustine, “shall he fly? He shall behold an angry Judge above; hell open below; on one side, his own sin accusing him; on the other, the devils ready to inflict chastisement; and within, the remorses of his own conscience. ‘Above, shall be an enraged Judge; below, a frightful chaos; on the right, sins accusing him; on the left, the devils dragging him to punishment; within, a burning conscience; whither shall the sinner beset in this manner fly?'”

Affections and Prayers

O my Jesus, I will always call thee Jesus. Thy name consoles and encourages me, because it reminds me that thou art my Savior, who hast died for my salvation. Behold me at thy feet. I acknowledge that I have deserved hell as often as I have offended thee by mortal sin. I am unworthy of pardon, but thou hast died to merit pardon for me. Pardon me, then, immediately, O my Jesus, before thou comest to judge me. I shall not then be able to ask pardon; I can now ask it from thee, and I hope for it. Thy wounds shall then fill me with terror, but now they give me confidence. My dear Redeemer, I am sorry above all things for having offended thy infinite goodness. I purpose to submit to every pain, every loss, rather than forfeit thy grace. I love thee with my whole heart. Have pity on me. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy.” O Mary, mother of mercy, obtain for me a great sorrow for my sins, pardon, and perseverance in the divine love. I love thee, O my queen, and trust in thee.

Editor’s Note: This meditation is from St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Preparation for Death” (1758).

Art: Christ the Judge and Praying Angels, Giovanni da Milano, 1365-69, PD-US copyright expired, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Laura Rowell O’Neill

    Thank you. This was good to read. When I’m scared of the contemplation of past sins I always think about the ‘sea of forgetfulness’ so I am not sure how to rectify that with this reflection. But again, thanks, this was a good read today.

    • Good to have you joining the conversation Laura!

    • BlueMit11

      This reflection concerns the many abuses of mercy that we commit in our lifetime – the sins of presumption and despair, not availing ourselves of the sacrament of penance, not making a good confession, not availing ourselves of the graces that come from the sacraments in order to avoid sin, giving in too easily to sin through a desire to avoid pain or seek pleasure, not making an examination of conscience and act of contrition at least once a day, and many more. We have an immense wealth of opportunities for mercy in this life. But the moment our soul is separated from our body in death, those opportunities end. So if we have made use of them then yes, our sins will be drowned in that ocean of forgetfulness, and Christ will not just be our judge, but our savior. If we haven’t made use of them, then he will justly hold them against us at the moment of our particular judgment (“with the same wounds” that he offered to the Father for our redemption during this life), and we’ll be worse off then if they had never been offered. So St. Alphonsus, I think, is telling us to never pass up those opportunities for grace!

  • LizEst

    You say she seems to be a devout Christian. So, I’m guessing she is well-versed in Scripture. I would go through this “Preparation for Death” series and pull out the pertinent quotes from Scripture and use those to help her…but always present them with tact, gentleness and mercy. She is correct in saying that Jesus died for our sins…but it doesn’t give us license to commit more sins. We remember that Jesus told the woman caught in adultery that her sins were forgiven…and he also told her to go and sin no more. Have you ever asked her to consider “What if I am right?” “What then?”

    • mtq33n

      Thank you for your comments Liz. I have not asked her that specific question and yes, she is very versed in what “her bible says”. She has asked me for my opinion about some things and I always do considerable Scripture research before I answer, so I can back up what I say with a Scripture cite, but “her bible” does not always say the same thing as the Catholic Bible. I never argue with her and try to find ways to build upon our faith similarities and not the areas where we may differ. I do not want to discourage her from asking me questions. Speaking with her about faith has been a wonderful exercise for me because it has made me look up things that I believe, but never stopped to question why (one of the characteristics of being a “cradle Catholic”). I have found that much of my faith comes from family tradition and the Catechism and I am so glad that our new Catechism has so many cross references.

      I think the subject of sin has become very confusing today for so many reasons and would welcome any thoughts, suggestions, comments on the subject.

  • Camila

    Oh that our salvation worked out with fear and trembling be the precise means by which compunction is born and nourished by an immense desire for reparation, atonement and obedience. That it may be the very springs from which Love for such great a God swell our fragile hearts and may it be poured forth in words of praise, for none have done anything to deserve such Great a God!

    • Patricia

      Be not afraid….help is on the way from Jesus Himself on Divine Mercy Sunday:

      I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Feast of My mercy (1109).

      Whoever approaches the Fount of Life on this day will be granted complete forgiveness of sins and punishment (300).

      The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion will obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment (699).

  • Camila

    Dear mtq33n,

    When you truly love someone you don’t sit there and say “oh thanks for doing all the work for me” do you?! No, you say, “how can I help you?”or “is there anything I can do for you.”(and you eagerly share his/her burden). I don’t understand how can Protestants sit in front of a crucifix (ok, they usually don’t because they have removed Christ from the crucifix) and say “oh thank you, thank you”?! The grace for our redemption was won, thanks be to God, on the cross. However, we are not spectators of the cross. As baptized we ARE the mystical body of Christ – we become a member of Him. The cross is not a beautiful tale of a good God who did something very nice for us. The cross is the very path for yours, mine, our salvation.

    To your friend you say “my dear friend, don’t you want to join Christ in his suffering, don’t you want to help alleviate his sorrow and agony, our Lord and redeemer, the Lover of our souls? isn’t is just the minimum we can do?” — she won’t have an answer…and you will get her thinking about how to love God more!

    • mtq33n

      Thank you Camila.

  • CLudwick

    Thank you for these reflections. When I become afraid of my past sins (serious) I do tremble with fear. These writings have frightened me and at that same time have awakened me. But, as BlueMit11 reminds us, we must avail ourselves of all the beauty and help the Catholic church provides.
    I do pray that Our Father does look upon our efforts (no matter how small and insignificant they may be) as love for Him and we can pray for the mercy of Jesus Christ to be our Savior.

    • LizEst

      That’s the beauty of the sacrament of confession. If you have confessed those serious sins, they are gone! And, you know they are gone. God has forgiven you. When the devil tempts you to tremble with fear because of sins you have committed, say to yourself, “I confessed those sins. Thanks be to God’s love and mercy, they are gone!” So, not only does the Lord forgive our sins, we have the memory of confessing them…as an antidote to fear and despair.

      • CLudwick

        Thank you. I find I suffer from scrupulosity at times. My spiritual advisor often reminds me of the gifts of confession. It is a trick of the devil that I pray against. I am tempted to confess over. I have had a priest allow a general confession to “cover” what I seem to believe I have missed. It is truly a work in progress and that’s why I say I pray for mercy. God bless you all for also teaching and helping me.

        • Joan

          What you describe is exactly how I feel myself. These writings have frightened me also and I was in tears through fear that I had perhaps not confessed certain ‘old’ sins properly. It is a great temptation to try to confess them again so I will also pray for a greater trust in God’s love and mercy. Thank you for sharing and God bless you.

          • LizEst

            Joan – If you have confessed your sins and received absolution, they are gone! God has forgiven you. We have some great posts on scrupulosity, which you can find here: http://spiritualdirection.com/2009/12/26/scrupulosity-series I recommend you go through these.
            If you have a great temptation to try to confess certain old sins again, go to confession. After you finish the confession of your current sins, tell the priest about this desire to confess your old sins again. Tell him you have confessed them but there is still something bothering you about them which is that you are concerned that perhaps you may not have properly confessed them. Once you have brought this temptation to the light of grace in the confessional, by God’s grace, the power of evil against you will be greatly diminished. The devil is the great deceiver…and he hates to be unmasked. By telling the priest about this in the confessional you will be unmasking him and getting grace on this issue as well.

            God bless you, Joan…and hang in there. it is worth the good fight!

          • Joan

            LizEst, thank you for this. I will do as you suggest. I always appreciate your comments and advice, thank you.

          • Camila

            Joan –

            LizEst gave some great advice; I just would add one thing. A good priest once brought this issue up why we don’t feel we can let go of confessed sins sometimes. He suggested that proper penance might not have been done that would satisfy (yourself emotionally). So when you do talk with a priest about this, mention that you would like to do a little more penance for the confessed sins, and let him tell you what to do (I would not recommend you decide your penance on your own). Then perform the penance; and you can now rest more assured, intellectually that you have confessed, emotionally that you have done the penance for those sins.

            Cheers!

          • Joan

            Camila, Thank you for your advice, I will mention this next time in confession as that could be one of the reasons I feel uneasy. Thank you.

          • CLudwick

            You’re welcome. I even fight despair sometimes! God’s greatest gift to me right now is my spiritual director. He helps keep me always striving for trust and balance. I’m SO blessed that this priest is someone I’ve known for years – as a pastor, parish priest and even as a co-worker. He knows my family, too. It keeps me very humble!

          • CLudwick

            You’re welcome, Joan. I have periods of doubt, despair, etc., too. God’s gifts to me are two. First, my spiritual director/confessor. He knows me very well as I have known him for years – a pastor and a co-worker. Second, this website and these messengers from God who are here for us!

            LizEst: “The devil is the great deceiver…and he hates to be unmasked. By telling the priest about this in the confessional you will be unmasking him and getting grace on this issue as well.” Yes! thank you.

  • LizEst

    You’re quite welcome, Joan. It’s good to mention it to the priest because not only will you get his wise advice, you will get God’s grace on that situation. God bless you, Joan. Have a blessed Holy Week and a blessed and Happy Easter.

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