1. Immediately after death follows the particular judgment.
“As soon as the soul leaves the body,” says St. Augustine, “it is judged.” We learn from the parable of Dives and Lazarus that both were judged immediately after death. St. Paul tells us: “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgment” (Heb. ix. 27). In the hour of death God will say to us: “Give an account of thy stewardship” (Luke xvi. 2). After judgment comes the sentence. If God has ordained that the workman should not be kept waiting for his wage, it is not likely that He will delay to reward him who has labored faithfully. “Death is the reward of merit, the crown of the harvest” (St. Ambrose).
Christ will sit as Judge in the particular judgment. He will examine our whole lives, and will deal with us as we have dealt with our fellow-men.
Christ will be our Judge: “For neither doth the Father judge any man, but hath given all judgment to the Son” (John v. 22). He promised His apostles at the Last Supper to return after His ascension and take them to Himself (John xiv. 3). Evidently this meant at their death; of St. John too He said: “So I will have him remain till I come” (John xxi. 22). The apostles rejoiced at the thought of seeing Christ again (1 John iii. 2); so long as they were in the flesh they were in some sense far from Christ (2 Cor. v. 6). We are not to imagine that the soul is led before Christ in heaven. He enlightens the departed soul in such a manner that it is quite convinced that its Saviour has passed a true judgment upon it.“ As lightning cometh out of the east and appeareth even into the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be “(Matt. xxiv. 27); that is, as Blessed Clement Hofbauer puts it, at our death, when Christ comes to us, our whole life will be revealed to us with the rapidity and clearness of lightning. A man’s works shall be revealed at his death (Ecclus. xi. 29). All those who have been near to death say that in that moment all sorts of things long forgotten and occurring in childhood are presented to the mind. At death, too, our most secret deeds are brought to light:”For there is not anything secret that shall not be made manifest, nor hidden that shall not be known and come abroad”(Luke viii. 17). We must give an account even of every idle word that we have spoken (Matt. xii. 36). St. Basil compares the soul to an artist who has produced a number of pictures; at the hour of death the veil is removed from these, and they cover him with glory, or if they prove to be wretched work, condemn him to disgrace. As the sun reveals to us the floating particles in the air, so when the Sun of justice shines into our souls we shall see there even our slightest faults.” On the Day of Judgment,”says Louis of Granada,” God will wear the same aspect to us as we have shown in our lifetime to our neighbor.”God is, as it were, a mirror, reflecting most perfectly the image of him who looks into it.” With what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matt. vii. 2).
2. After the particular judgment the souls of men go into hell, or heaven, or purgatory.
We see from the parable of Dives and Lazarus that the sentence of the judge is carried out at once (Luke xvi.). The Church has de fined that those who have not sinned after Baptism, and those who having sinned after Baptism, have expiated those sins on earth or in purgatory, are received at once into heaven; while those who die in mortal sin descend at once to hell (Council of Lyons, ii., 1274). St. Gregory the Great and St. Justin taught the same in their time. Those are in error who believe, as in the Greek schismatic Church, that the souls of the just have merely a foretaste of their blessedness after death, and have complete happiness only when they are joined to their bodies, and that the wicked experience full damnation only after the resurrection. They are very few who enter heaven at once, for: “Nothing defiled can enter heaven” (Apoc. xxi. 27). According to Bellarmine it is seldom even that a just man escapes purgatory. All have it in their power to be saved, but not all use their graces. After the particular judgment there is to be a general judgment; in the former the soul receives its punishment or reward for the evil or good it has done; in the latter the body shares in the dispensation as the instrument of the soul.
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