In speaking about the four last things--death, judgment, heaven and hell—we recognize how important it is that we understand the notion of the Particular Judgment of each person at his or her death. While the New Testament often refers to the Final Judgment, when Jesus Christ will return in glory to judge the nations, each person is judged individually at the moment of death. When one’s earthly life ends, the time for accepting or rejecting the divine grace found in Christ is over. (CCC 1021) At the very moment of death each person receives his or her eternal retribution or “payment” based upon his or her life, either the eternal blessedness of Heaven or immediate and everlasting damnation.
We can call to mind quite readily just a few teachings of the Lord in the gospels that emphasize the fundamental truth that we have a choice with regard to our eternal life and destiny. Let us recall, first of all, the words of Jesus in Matt 7:21 where He says, “Not everyone who calls me (cries out to me) ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven.” In the same gospel, 5:20, Jesus says, "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." Again, in Matthew, chapter 19, when Jesus He asked by the rich young man what good he must do to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus tells him to keep the commandments, indicating that this He but the beginning of the living of a life of righteousness.
I would hope that one would see, then, that we make our choices for or against eternal life with God in the way that we put in to practice the words and teachings of Jesus. As St. James says, 1:22, “Be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deceiving yourselves.” In the Gospel parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30) Jesus illustrates perfectly that each of us has been given a particular set of abilities and a certain time to “do the will of the master.” We shall be held to an accounting of how we use those talents and time. “So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. … And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'"
The words of St. Paul in 1 Thes 5:1-6 take account of the uncertainty of the day of our judgment. We do not know when we shall be called to judgment but that day is coming. Paul says we really do not need to be reminded of this, but then, of course, he goes on to remind us. “Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night. …But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. …Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.”
These words of our Lord and Blessed Apostle Paul may seem harsh to our ears. I am just like you. I want to think that God is merciful and full of compassion, and He, in fact, is. I want to think that He wants me and you and everyone else to be with Him for all eternity, which He does. I want to believe that He will judge me with patience and understanding of my weaknesses, the weakness of the human condition, the weaknesses that come from my personal history, the weaknesses that are so easily pulled in by the allure of the world—and He will have such understanding and patience. All of us have the God-given right to hold in our hearts the truth of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
At the same time, God’s word is not something that we just listen to. If we really love God’s teaching, as we love God Himself, we will not only believe the word, we will act on that word. Indeed, our souls will be on fire with the love of God and His holy word. The love of Christ will require our action. A soul that truly loves God cannot help but be moved into His service and the service of neighbor. When Holy Scripture describes the beauty of the soul wholly dedicated to God, it is almost always described in feminine terms. This soul is a soul in love with Christ, her spouse, the Bridegroom of the Church. (Now guys, I am not trying to threaten your manhood, here. The women have something to teach us in this.) The Lord uses this image (as in the book of Proverbs or the Song of Songs) because it was easy throughout most of history, maybe today, as well, for people to see and understand the feminine genius, the natural genius of the young maid who loves and serves her spouse, who genuinely adores her, with the deepest fidelity. To be in the presence of the beloved in chaste love is to be in such a state that one can easily go beyond oneself and extend oneself with complete trust and surrender. It seems to be part of the authentic feminine nature to surrender easily to authentic love. Each human soul was created with this capacity for receiving God’s love. Each soul, therefore, has the capacity to do God’s word with great zeal.
Our souls, on fire with love for God, are like this. By contrast, our Lord is, then, like the husband and guardian of our souls, who protects our souls like a fierce warrior. He cares for the soul. Protects it. Provides for it. Surrenders Himself for the soul. These are the souls that He has gathered into His Bride, the Church, and He surrenders Himself for her sanctification. He entrusts His heart to each of our hearts and souls. As we see in the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, His heart burns with love for souls. He consummates His Love in the Holy Mass. He nourishes our souls with His own life in the Holy Eucharist.