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The Second Coming of Christ / General Judgment
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
For our closing mediation, following logically on all we have seen so far, it will be on the second coming of Christ.
Much has already been seen in the week that we have been reflecting about Christs return to the world in His glory on the last day. However, there is some value in looking more closely at what is called the Parousia. Jesus repeatedly foretold that he would come back to the earth in visible form. The son of man, he said, is to come with his angels in the glory of his father and then he will render to every one according to his conduct. All three synoptic evangelists at great length, to a total of more than 100 verses, narrate Christs announcement of his return at the end of time. The prophesy was actually two predictions interwoven with each another. Christ foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and he foretold the end of the world. The fall of Jerusalem was prophesied to confirm Christ foretelling his return to judge the living and the dead.
Lets be sure we follow Christs logic carefully. Christ made two predictions. He foretold that Jerusalem would be destroyed. He foretold that the visible world of space and time would end. Evidently, the end of the visible world would be far, far into the future. The value of a prophesy is to live to see it fulfilled. How could Christs listeners or those immediate contemporaries to whom the prediction of the end of the world would be given as an article of faith? Christ never demanded anything to be believed unless he always, and the adverb is always, confirmed it by miracles. Our faith is to be a rational faith, a reasonable faith. So then, in order to render his prophesy of the end of the world and the general judgment credible, he laid on top of that prophesy another prophesy which his contemporaries could verify whether it was or was not fulfilled. And the second prophesy as a confirmation of the first to be fulfilled only at the end of time the confirmatory prophesy was the foretelling of the destruction of Jerusalem. Every detail of the Saviors prediction about Jerusalem was fulfilled to the letter.
A book that I sometimes recommend at this time, the end point of the retreat, to read, is the work of the historian, Josephus. It is Joseph plus a us, life span 37- 98 A.D. He was born and died in the first century of the Christian era. Lived and died a Jew.His history of the Jewish people recounts in one unbelievable page after another of the agony of his people during the siege and final destruction of Jerusalem. He was one of the few survivors of the destruction of Jerusalem. When, in the ravenous hunger, mothers would kill and eat their babies, it was Josephus who tells us - no prejudice historian he - he was a Jew, died a Jew - that the Romans, when they finally broke into Jerusalem, when the Jews could not hold out any longer, they did the astounding thing - the Romans - of cutting down all the forests around Jerusalem and crucified whatever possessed the Romans to crucify - and Josephus gives a figure - over 90,000 Jews. Consequently, as all the fathers of the church in their commenting on the tragic siege and destruction of the Holy City observe, the Jews could never have foreseen how their shouts during Christs passion, His blood be on us and on our children! would have their tragic request fulfilled perfectly.
All of this we need, as Christians over the last 1900 years needed, to really believe when we recite in the Creed He will come to judge the living and the dead. That prophesy is yet to be fulfilled but Christ could not have given a more resounding, shall I say a more credible, confirmation of its truth than having his prophesy about the destruction of Jerusalem fulfilled centuries, perhaps millennia, before the last judgment.
I dont think I will apologize for the length of this meditation. Its too important. It will come into place. Part I will be to look at some of the signs that Christ gave as a prelude to the last Judgment. And then more personally, and mighty practically, to see on what conditions the world will be judged at the end of time.
Part I - The Signs Preceding Christ's Second Coming
First then, the signs preceding Christ second coming. Between the gospels and the letters of St. Paul, we can identify a litany of signs that Christ and the Holy Spirit tell us precede the so called Parousia. First to all Jesus himself declares, I quote, This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all nations, and then, get the adverb, and then shall the consummation come. Matthew 25:14. The church in interpreting these words of the Savior tells us they do not mean that once the gospel has been preach everywhere the last day will immediately follow. But they do affirm that before the general judgment every person in the world will have had the gospel preached to them.
Secondly, St. Paul reveals the mystery as he calls it of the conversion of the Jews. How many times in my now 11 years - no not quite - 10 ½, in New York City, Ive thought of this prediction. Says St. Paul, A partial blindness only, Paul writes, has befallen Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles should enter and thus all Israel be saved. Paul. Romans 11: 25-26. Again this need not mean that numerically all Israel shall finally one day accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. But it does mean, and the church has never budged on this, it does mean, at least immorally, universal conversion, substantial conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity. Thats why on my desk here in haimish, Ive got two phone calls to make. Ill make them this afternoon once the retreat is over, to my prospective Jewish converts in Brooklyn, New York to do my little bit in hastening this conversion of Israel.
Third sign.Jesus foretells and St. Paul repeats the prelude of a widespread loss of faith. When the disciples came to Jesus asking him, What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the world? He replied with a warning, Take care that no one leads you astray. And the you in speaking to the disciples was the you of the historical future. You, my follows, he was telling us, Take care that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name saying I am the Christ and they will lead many astray. Unquote Jesus. Matthew 24:3-5. When I read some of our modern, nominally Catholic theologians redefining Christianity I say to myself, Where have I head that before? One after another is proclaiming a Christ without the cross. St. Paul warned the Thessalonians who were mistakenly expecting an early second coming. Quote Paul Let no one deceive you in any way for the day of the Lord will not come unless, meaning until, the apostasy comes first. Unquote Paul. 2 Thessalonians 2: 2-3. Massive apostasy among Christians mysteriously correlated with a massive conversion of all people, the Jews.
Forth prelude. Along with an extensive apostasy and indeed provoking it will be the appearance of the anti-Christ. Again St. Paul says that the day of the Lord will not come until the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and is exalted above all that is called God or that is worshiped so that he sits in the temple of God and gives himself out as if, he were God. Again, 2 Thessalonians 2: 3-4.
The name anti-Christ is given to this son of perdition by St. John. He will appear in the power of Satan, will work astounding wonders that will look like miracles in order to seduce the followers of Christ into falling from the truth and into crime. But the Lord Jesus, we are told, will slay the anti-Christ and destroy the brightness of his (Satans) coming. Same 2 Thessalonians, same chapter, verses 8-11. St. John as we mentioned was the first to give this son of predition the name anti-Christ. By an extension of the term, anti-Christ, John also calls those who teach false doctrine anti-Christs because they are animated by the same evil spirits. Over the centuries, numerous writers have identified different evil leaders with the anti-Christ, for example, Nero and Caligula, vicious persecutors of the church in the early century, and in our day with Marx, Hitler and Stalin.
Fifth and last prelude. Jesus predicts severe tribulations that will precede his second coming. There will be he says wars, famines, earthquakes and bitter persecutions for his followers. The enemies of the gospel, quote Christ, will deliver you up to tribulation and will put you to death and you will be hated by all nations for my names sake, the Savior. Matthew 24:9. In the light of these dire predictions it is not surprising, that in our own day, a whole literature - its almost a whole library - of articles, monographs and books in all languages has developed which is called apocalyptic. Seeing two world wars since 1900 with more killed than in all the wars of history from the beginning of time, seeing the phenomenal growth of diabolical communism enslaving whole nations, and as has been proved beyond question, plotting, hasnt happened, so far unsuccessfully, to assassinate the vicar of Christ, seeing more than 50 million murders of unborn children every year throughout the world, it would be strange if many Christian believers did not see here the pre-dawning of the second coming of Christ.
One final comment before we go on. Only God knows when the second coming will occur. But if anyone in any age of the churchs history should watch and pray, it is we.
Part II - The General Judgment
Now the general judgments.
In spite of the length of time we have so far given to introducing our subject and then discoursing, pardon the verb, about the prelude to Christs second coming, the main focus of this meditation is actually on the aftermath to those preludes, namely, the judgment itself.
The principal lesson that Christ wants to teach us, and the main one I wish to share with you, I want to say in my 37 years in the priesthood, Ive never counted the number of retreats I have given, I have never given this kind of retreat before. Ive never closed a retreat the way were closing this one and I think I can say I have never put my heart into a retreat more completely than this one.
Consequently, what I wish to share with you is to take with all the seriousness of which we are capable with the grace of God the norms by which the whole world and that means we, we too, will be judged on the last day. Those norms are all synthesized in one commandment - the practice of charity. As you re-read, what Christ will tell the just - why they are saved, and what he will tell the wicked - why they are lost, we are not surprisingly amazed. If we consider the number and variety of commandments that God expects us to obey it seems, I say seems, strange, that in the final analysis, in the final judgment, on the last day, we should be judged on the practice of fraternal charity. Lord, we are tempted to say, Havent you given us the ten commandments, the sermon on the mount, the eight beatitudes? Yet, on the Day of Judgment, Christ will invite some people to heaven and send others to hell depending on their practice or failure to practice, charity. My dearest friends in Christ, I hope what Im saying does not leave you cold. All I know is that it terrifies me. Understandably, we ask, Why? There are several reasons. I will just share two why it is not surprising, but totally consistent with the New Testament, that on the last day the human race should be judged on its practice of charity.
First reason. In order to practice genuine charity toward others, such as Christ requires of his followers, we must have practiced, and I know Im not exaggerating; we must have practiced all the other virtues of the old and new testament. If you are going to love others the way Christ wants us to, you must have a deep, strong faith. We dont love anyone unless they are loveable. But dear Lord, whats loveable about her or him? I cant see anything that I can love in that person. And Christ tells us, Im not expecting you too. Thats what faith is all about. I love him, I love her. Believe me that he or she is loveable.
We dont practice Christian charity without faith that can move mountains because there are times when to love others, you may have to move mountains. I know. In order to love as we must, we need hope. Weve got to see something, well, in plain English, that were getting out of this, like good old Peter. Lord, what are we getting out of this?
Well, we know human nature too well to have any illusions about getting in return in this life what we have to pay to love others as we should. We either have a deep hope looking forward to a return beyond time and eternity, or we shall not love the way we should.
And finally, we have to love God. No wonder we are told with all our hearts, with all our strength, with all our mind. If were going to love others, as God tells us, we must. How many times we may have to tell God, Lord, except for the love of you, I would not take it but, - no period then - a coma, but out of love for you I take it. Then finally, period. Those are the first grounds why, why it is not strange that on the last day we shall be judged on our practice or failure to practice that so casual virtue of charity. But there is another reason.
No doubt the Savior in foretelling the last day, tells us that we shall be judged on our having given food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, had clothed the naked, had received strangers, had visited the sick and those in prison. But, over the last 2 millennia, the church has been telling us, Christ was really speaking of the practice of every kind of charity, and not only - how dare we cheapen Christs words - and not only what we call the corporal works of mercy. Those six forms of charity identified in the 25th chapter of Matthewss gospel are only, as it were, the six points of a star which covers every form of our love of others that even in a short lifetime we are given the opportunity - change the word - the obligation, to practice. Christ is telling us on the last day, we shall be judged by our practice of kindness toward others, our sincerity with others. Oh how hard it is for some people to be truly sincere, to practice respect for others, to show concern for others. How well I know. You will show as much concern notice - show, manifest concern, as we think concerning thoughts. If our minds are mainly preoccupied with ourselves, dear God! Oh we show concern all right you know for whom. For ourselves. We must become masters of our minds, controlling the least thoughts or indifferent to the needs of others. Christ is telling us we shall be judged on the last day by our sympathy with others. You cant be a priest for 37 days, in my case, as I said 37 years, without knowing, and this is a true statement, everyone, I repeat, everyone is suffering in some way or another in some measure or other. Everyone carries the cross. And if the son of God in human form in Gethsemane, this is God, asking for sympathy from his so human disciples - oh how we crave just the glance of an understanding eye that sees and sympathizers in what we are undergoing. On the last day we shall be judged on the encouragement weve given others. God knows and by now we know, were weak. Did you know that one of the principal ways in which God confers his grace of fortitude, is to the encouragement which other people give us? Did you hear it? We shall be judged on our generosity. God has given us, and Im speaking to the right audience, many gifts of nature, graces beyond counting. God never gives anything, either in the order of nature or grace, to be used by ourselves alone. God wants us to share. From the thoughts in our mind to the time or strength, or whatever the Lord has given us that others so obviously needed. His apologies. My list goes on.
But I think by now, at least I hope, you have a clearer idea of what is locked up in those deceptively simple reasons why Christ predicts some people should go to heaven and others will not. The love of others is not a virtue. It is not even just a cluster of virtues. It is, and we have Christs own words to prove it, it is in this way, that we show or fail to show that we are and not merely claim to be his followers.
Lord Jesus, during your short, visible stay on earth you taught us many things, but there is nothing in all your teachings, that you tell us is more important than what you called your commandment, namely, that we love one another as you have loved us. You have loved us though patience and sufferings, through agony, through blood. Dear Jesus, enlighten our dull minds and open our closed hearts to love those whom you put into our lives in order that by loving them we prove we love you so that on our last day, it will be, dear Jesus, our first day, the first day of a heavenly eternity. Amen. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Conference Transcription from a retreat that Fr. Hardon
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