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“Four Last things” death judgment heaven hell

The End Is Near!

As the liturgical year winds down, the Church wants to be sure that we don’t forget a critical fact – this life is temporary and will come to an end. Furthermore, at the end of our life, we will be judged and our eternal destiny will be determined. If that’s not enough, Jesus emphasizes in this Sunday’s gospel that we don’t know the day or the hour when this will occur. You don’t need to be a Scripture scholar or theologian to know that this is a serious message. How does it make you feel?

Some will hear this and brush it off, assuming that it won’t happen anytime soon and there are more pressing matters to contend with, such as lunch, football or any number of worldly issues. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who will hear this and begin to worry or plunge into despair. Both of these positions are extreme and should be avoided.

I believe that the best way to view this message is to treat it as a wake up call. We often lose sight of what really matters in life and focus on what doesn’t matter. We spend a great deal of time of things that may feel good now, but don’t really matter in the long run. By choosing these readings, the Church wants to help us focus on the Lord and eternity. What can we do to help us remember? I think the answer can be found in a verse taken from Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm:

I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. (Psalm 16:8)

Each day, Jesus calls us to follow Him. Doing so will not only ensure that you’ll spend eternity in the right place, but will help you avoid being disturbed by all of the craziness in the world. Spend some time each day in prayer, reading the Bible and being kind to those around you. It will keep you focused and you’ll be in great shape.

Give Up Worrying For Lent!


 

Since A Worrier’s Guide To The Bible was released, I’ve been doing a lot of speaking about anxiety. As I visit various parishes, I encounter many people who are worried about a variety of things. And I have to admit that some of their problems are monumental. I have also met several individuals who have serious problems, but who are at peace. What gives? How can some people be peaceful even though storms are raging around them.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul touches on the key to achieving this kind of peace. It’s something that he knew about first hand and it enabled him to remain calm and peaceful in the midst of many sufferings:

Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18)

Despite all the suffering that Paul endured, he understood that there was a bigger picture. Looking at that big picture, and not focusing on our problems, can allow us to feel peaceful even though the waves are crashing around us.

So we are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord. Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5:6-10)

Mindful of the fact that this life is temporary, St. Paul confidently states that “we walk by faith, not by sight”. Or do we? Whenever we begin to worry about the problems in our lives and lose sight of the fact that our ultimate goal is to reach heaven, we do the opposite of what Paul recommends. So many of us are anxious and miserable precisely because we are not walking by faith. Instead, we are walking by sight. When we do that, we allow the problems we see in our lives to rob us of God’s peace.

So, what’s the answer? As I mention many times in my talks, FAITH is the answer to FEAR! If our faith is strong, our fear will fade away. A strong faith allows us to trust in God and His providence. We know that everything happens for a reason (Romans 8:28) and that everything that happens in our lives can help us to achieve our ultimate destiny – life in heaven! If you’re looking for some Biblical evidence to substantiate my claim, try this on for size:

He got into a boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep. They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. (Matthew 8:23-27)

Why were they afraid? Because they had little faith! Despite the fact that we many not want to admit it, fear and faith are at two opposite ends of the spectrum. Given that this is the Year of Faith (as declared by our Holy Father) and that we are entering into the season of Lent, wouldn’t it be great if we could use this holy season to move from FEAR to FAITH? Well, the good news is that we can and I’m going to be doing something on my daily radio show to help us achieve that goal!

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Feb 13, I’ll be leading a Lenten Retreat which will help us journey from FEAR to FAITH. The theme will be “Purification” (don’t worry…it’s not as bad as it sounds!) and it is designed to help us take our eyes off of earthly attachments and focus on our heavenly destination. In addition to the daily Mass readings, I’ll be using the book My Daily Bread by Fr. Anthony Paone, SJ as the basis for the retreat. Originally written in 1954, this outstanding little book uses Ignatian principles to help free us from our inordinate attachment to “things”. The basic format of the retreat will be as follows:

Week 1 – Conversion (A Thoughtful Look At Human Life)
Week 2 – After Conversion (Facing The Old Routine With A New Spirit)
Week 3 – Temptations (Their Nature and How To Control Them)
Week 4 – Conquering Bad Habits
Week 5 – Self Conquest Through Mortification

As we walk through this Lenten retreat together, we’ll find ourselves concentrating more on the things of heaven and less on the things of earth. As a result, we’ll not only grow closer to the Lord, but we’ll experience a great deal of peace. If you’re interested in participating in the retreat, please
email me
(gary@followingthetruth.com) and put “Lent” in the subject. I’ll send you further directions and let you know how you can listen to my radio show. It will cost you nothing. Why not make a pledge to make this your best Lent ever? Together we can travel the road…

From FEAR To FAITH!

This May Be Your LAST Lent…

 

…are you fully prepared to meet the Lord?  Or, like me, are there some imperfections you’d like to address?  Now is the time to start thinking about doing SOMETHING for Lent…something that will allow you to become a better person and grow closer to Christ.  According to Saint Cyprian of Carthage, “To the one who remains in the world, no repentance is too late”.  If you are reading this IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO REPENT!  Tomorrow or the next day…who knows?

On Monday, February 20 at 8:30 PM, I’ll be making a special announcement about a way that you can grow closer to Christ this Lenten season.  Please check back then for information. In the meantime, begin thinking about all of the times that you’ve turned away from the Lord.  Lent is coming…

make sure you’re ready!

“Have you run so many circles of the years bustling vainly about the world, and yet you don’t have forty days to be free for prayer for your own soul’s sake?” (Saint Cyril of Jerusalem)

Layoffs, Death and Preparation

 

A man must always be ready,
for death comes when and where God wills it.
(St. John Neumann)

Several weeks ago, an email was sent from the president of our company.  He spoke of the need for a reduction in staff and informed us that a layoff would take place on or before a certain date.  Immediately upon receiving this email, people began to do one or more of the following:

  • Worry that they would be one of those laid off.
  • Prepare for a possible layoff by updating their resumes and exchanging email addresses.
  • Clean out their offices, taking home personal belongings.
  • Pray.

As the time grew closer, I began to prepare.  Eventually, we reached the final day.  We were informed that those affected would be summoned beginning at 9 AM.  Like everyone else in the company, I sat at my desk and waited for my manager to appear.  Although I prayed for acceptance of God’s will, I would lapse in and out of worrying as I watched several of my coworkers being escorted to the door.  Despite the tension, I was comforted with the thought that I was prepared.  My desk was cleaned out, I exchanged business cards with several friends and final emails were sent.  Approximately 90 minutes into the process, my manager appeared at my desk and asked me to come to his office.  Fifteen minutes later I was being escorted out the door and my 15 year career at the company had come to an end.

In many ways, the layoff process is similar to death.  We all know that it’s coming, but we don’t know when.  Any day could be our last.  Although we know that death is inevitable and most know that they will be judged, people prepare in different ways.  Some worry, others ignore it, and some prepare by trying to lead a good life and/or repenting from sinful behavior.  One thing is for certain, once death comes, the time for amending our lives is over.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC):

Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.  The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith.  The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul–a destiny which can be different for some and for others.  Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification or immediately, — or immediate and everlasting damnation. (CCC 1021-1022)

In his book the Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis offers some profound advice:

How dull we are and hard of heart, for we think only of the present and make little provision for the life hereafter!  If you were wise, you would so order your life as though you were to die before the day is over…In the morning think that you may not live till night; and when night comes, do not be sure that you will live till tomorrow.  Therefore always be ready, and so live that you will not have an unprovided death. (Chapter 23, Meditation on Death)

At my former company, people questioned the president’s logic of sending the email announcing the layoff in advance.  For some, their Christmas was ruined because they spent the time worrying.  For the vast majority, however, they used the notice to prepare for the reality of the event.  Each of us will die one day and be judged for how we lived our lives.  The results of that judgment will determine whether we spend eternity in heaven or hell.  Changing our lives now can definitely help us to achieve the former.  Why not take advantage of the warning and prepare?

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.  For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.  Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)

Contemplating Death

“Tempus Fugit, Memento Mori” (“Time Flies, Remember Death”)
–  a motto of the Knights of Columbus

I know it’s not a popular activity, but meditating upon the realities of death is extremely important to our spiritual well being.  If we desire to lead a good, holy life and live forever in Heaven, thinking about our death is imperative.  Why?  Because doing so reminds us that the temporal things of this life will pass and that we will be judged on how we lived our life.  That judgment, occurring immediately after we die, will determine whether we spend eternity in Heaven or hell!  Doesn’t it make sense to be prepared?

Last night, on my Following The Truth radio show, I devoted the program to this important topic and discussed the fact that none of us know when we will die.  Michael R., a good friend and listener, sent me the following email this morning.  His words are so powerful that I asked if I could share them.

I enjoyed your show last night.  It is strange that songs telling us that “everybody wants to go heaven, but nobody wants to go now”, commercials telling us what we have to have now in order to be happy, better people, the struggle to make a better life for ourselves and our children and our desires to have all the toys we can get, all are in direct opposition to the Glory that God offers us.  How can they compare?
 
Oh, we of such little faith that spend every minute trying to be happy now and completely blowing off the future.  How easy it is for me to tell my children that they should wait for something and yet I run out to grab that cheeseburger or some other thing that is forgotten in 5 minutes.
 
We should eagerly anticipate a good death but we know we aren’t ready to have that face to face with God.  I don’t think that it is really the fear of the unknown that bothers us as much as the fear of what is known of ourselves that haunts us and is suppressed because of our selfish desires.  We are really good at denial.  At least I am! 
 
It is a good thing to contemplate death or rather that instant of it.  Truly we are contemplating life, or our lives, leading up to it.  It aids us putting our true desire to enter into the Kingdom paramount to all else- to love the Lord with our whole being always!
 
Oh, most blessed Mother, pray for us now and at the hour of our death because my faith is so weak I sorely neglect living well so that I may die.  Let me remember always that all I want to hear then is “well done, my good and faithful servant “.
 
Gary, may you live well so that your death is a springboard into Heaven!
 
Enjoy this day the Lord has made!  It might be the last one you have to endure.

What If Today Is Your Last Day?

“Since, when the hour of reckoning comes, you’ll be sorry for not having used this time in the service of God, why don’t you arrange and use it now as you would wish you’d done if you were dying?” (St. John of the Cross)

Six years ago, I started experiencing some scary medical symptoms.  My doctor was concerned and ordered a series of tests.  I suddenly became aware of my mortality and was forced to come to grips with the fact that I could be meeting the Lord soon.  Unfortunately, the thought of that meeting (and the accompanying judgment) was very frightening to me.  Although I was a “practicing” Catholic, I knew that I was just doing the bare minimum.  I decided that I’d use the rest of my life to learn and teach the Catholic Faith.  As it turned out, the doctors never did figure out what was wrong with me and the symptoms gradually disappeared.  If my time was really up, I would have been in serious trouble.

That experience taught me the meaning of Jesus command to “always be ready” (Mt 24:44).  Every morning when I wake up, I kiss the crucifix and say, “Thank you, Lord for another day.  Please help me to serve You”.  I try my best to make good use of the time that he has given me, knowing that he doesn’t want me to waste it.  I don’t ever want to take the chance that death will catch me by surprise.   

How is your relationship with God?  Do you go to Church, receive the sacraments and try to lead a good life?  Is there a grudge that you’re holding?  Are you living in the state of mortal sin?  If you’re reading this, it’s not too late for you.  An hour from now, a day, a week…who knows?  Don’t take the chance that you’ll have tomorrow.  Make the decision NOW while you still have time!

The Four Last Things – Death

Today we’ll begin reviewing “The 4 Last Things” (Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell) as taught by the Church. For most people, death is not something they like to discuss. It is, however, something we will all experience. Looking realistically at death helps us to put our life in perspective. What is really important in this life? Does it matter that we accumulate large sums of money? Once we die, will it help us to have many possessions? How about the number of TV shows we watched? The number of overtime hours we worked? The amount of fame we achieved? Will any of those things mean anything once we’re dead?

Of course it is important to allow ourselves to experience pleasure in this life, but it is necessary to establish priorities. The First Commandment states, “I am the Lord Your God; you shall not have false gods before me.” If we don’t have time to pray, but have time to watch TV for 3 hours each day, is God really first in our life? In today’s society we have many false gods – comfort, wealth, TV, sports, food, electronic gadgets. Are we focusing more on them than on the things that will help us to gain eternal life? When we pray, do charitable acts, receive the Sacraments, read about our Catholic faith … we are planting seeds that will bear fruit in the next life.

The Bible reminds us that we don’t know when death will come and cautions us to always be on guard (Mt 24:44, Mt 25:30). For the next 24 hours, let’s take a look at the activities that occupy our time. If we die tomorrow and stand before The Lord, could we point to these activities and say to Him, “Lord, you always came first in my life.”…

Or could we do a little more?