The Catholic Church teaches that there are 4 last things experienced by all human beings in their transition from this life to eternity: death, judgment, heaven, and hell.
Death occurs at the moment of the separation of our soul from our body. Every human being possess the body and the soul,
which are united from the moment of conception and coexist together. At the moment of death the soul is separated from the body until the end times when the “resurrection of the body” will take place and our glorified body will be reunited with our souls for all of eternity. We are reminded of this truth in the Apostles Creed when we say: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting, Amen”.
Judgement consists in our souls standing before our Lord Jesus after our death. At that moment we will know everything we ever did, all the choices during our life, and all will be summarized in the one reality: “Did we love Jesus, did we choose Him in this world?” The state of our souls at the moment of our death will determine our eternity; If we die as friends of God then we will live forever in that state, if we die as enemies of God we will live in that state forever. God’s judgment is simply an act of acceptance of the choice we made in this life. We can never know the state of a person’s soul at the moment of death, only God can know this, which is why only God can judge. It is very important to pray for the dying and to call a priest to administer prayers and the sacrament of last rites for those who are on their death bed.
Heaven or Hell is the final state of a soul for all of eternity. We don’t like the idea of hell, and we love the idea of heaven. This makes perfect sense, we should not desire for anyone to enter hell, a state of separation from God for all of eternity. The Church has never pronounced anyone to be in hell other than Satan and his fallen angels. And yet it is essential that we believe in revealed truth that hell exists, because it is a necessary consequence of free will. If hell did not exist, then those who chose to reject God in this life would not be respected in their choice in eternity. Even as we preach that both heaven and hell exist, and that we can end up in one or the other reality, our desire should be for everyone to go to heaven and be with God. That is why we pray and continue to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Next week I’ll write something about purgatory, an important part of our teaching on Heaven that is often misunderstood. Fr. Kuzma