(Letter to Frieda Begue continued to the point of tedium)
Why be the follower of Jesus Christ by living the Catholic life? Because Death is inevitable and hell is possible. In the face of death, Christ offers the possibility of eternal life and in the face of hell, Christ offers true freedom, not just the addictions we mistake for freedom.
There is still another reason to live the Catholic life. The Bible calls it judgment, I suspect that judgment is the same thing that we Catholics call purgatory. In the Bible we read that judgment isn’t just a sort of up or down thing, not just “guilty” or “not guilty.” In addition to the “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict, the judges of ancient Israel dispensed wisdom and settled disputes. According to the Book of Deuteronomy, in his final instruction, Moses says to the judges he has appointed “Listen to the complaints of your kinsmen administer true justice to both parties.” Justice is as much bringing into right relationship as rendering what is due.
Remember when I mentioned the first man I met who had died and lived to talk about it? He said the only thing that bothered him about the whole experience was that there was a kind of judgment in which he knew the answers before he was asked the questions. There was a kind of judgment......
Other people whom I have met who have had this experience of judgment say that they experience all the pain they caused others during their lives. Ouch! I’ve caused a lot of pain willingly and unwillingly, to friends, parents, co-workers. I’ve gossiped, I’ve lied, I’ve taken advantage of others. St. Paul says that
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1Cor.13:1) I will see myself as I really am, not as I tell myself I am. I am not the kind, devout, generous person I pretend to be. I will see the self-absorbed, dishonest, gossipy, couch potato for whom God gave his only begotten Son. It’s the real me that God loves, not the me I pretend to be.
Have you ever taken a good hard look at yourself in a mirror? I mean a mirror that doesn’t see make up and jewelry and clothing and hair dye? And for men a mirror that doesn’t reflect the 17-year-old flexing his scrawny muscles, but the mirror that sees the 60-year-old sucking in his paunch. It is a matter of great humor and some sadness to see some aging beauty wearing the same size that was a little tight when she was in her twenties or to see some middle aged Casanova on the beach wearing some little swimsuit that makes one want to call the proper authorities. (By this I mean animal control. Some of theses post- adolescent Adonises are so hirsute that one suspects the stories about Bigfoot are true.) Looking at our outer selves in a mirror by the unkind glow of an early morning florescent light can be shocking for most of us, but God Almighty is the perfect mirror of our souls. If you think you’ve let yourself go in this world, just wait till you see yourself in the Perfect Mirror of the Eternal. Just wait until you “know as you are known.” Your secrets will be made public as you stand on a stage before all 106 billion people who have ever lived, worse than that, you will see yourself as your Creator sees you and you experience the pain that you have caused Him who loved you to the last drop of His blood. Make sure you eat breakfast that day and have a second cup of coffee. You’re going to need it.
I can hear you saying “But I’m saved! I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at bible camp when I was twelve! I’m a church member. My sins were washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb!!!” Where do you get that nonsense? Not from Good and Gentle Jesus who said “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Just read Matthew 25:31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
I quote this at length for two reasons, first for the “faith alone” crowd. To accept someone as Lord is to obey that person. He says, “Feed the poor,” and I say, “I don’t have to, I’m saved.” If you take that attitude I suspect you are in for a surprise. That’s why I say one must live the Catholic life. It used to be just the Christian life, but then that German priest, Luther came along and invented couch potato Christianity where all you had to do was show up. I wish he were right, but I suspect he was very wrong, dangerously wrong if you listen to what Jesus had to say. I quote the whole thing for a second reason. Not only do people I met who have died and lived to tell about it say this sort of thing happen, but good and gentle Jesus said it, If you think He never had a cross word to say and accepts everyone with unconditional “Luv,” you too are in for a shock.
Now for some good news. We have reason to hope that God makes the offer of His Love and eternal life to all people. “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) and St. Paul writes “(God) wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”(1Timothy 2:4) We Catholics believe that judgment, though painful, can be a good thing for those who have not rejected God’s offer of love. Read what the catechism says about purgatory:
Paragraph # 1030 “All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification.
(1031) Purgatory (is) this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.”
In this school of life here on Planet Earth, very few of us finish all of our homework. God completes the process as we enter into eternal life. The Christians have always called this “purgatory,” that is until the “new and improved” brand of Christianity Lite invented by Calvin, Luther, and that crowd 500 years ago. Real Christianity believes that we are not simply in or out, but that we are adopted by God as His children, and thus that we must be transformed into his image before we enjoy the fullness of life. Most of us barely begin this process here on Earth, but, thank God, if we die in the Lord, we continue to grow until we reach the full stature of Christ.(Eph. 4:13)
St John says, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1John 3:2) That means we will stand before the God who is Light from Light and the brightness of that Light will burn away all that is darkness. Remember a few paragraphs ago when I quoted the Catechism as saying Purgatory.... “ is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” Perhaps that means Purgatory’s cleansing fire is simply the fire of love.