The Work of God - Catholic Apologetics | Contents
"No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor. 2, 9).
After this life there is one of two eternities that awaits each individual: an eternity of happiness in heaven as reward for remaining faithful to God, or an eternity of misery in hell for having rejected him.
The joy of heaven, once obtained, can never be lost. It consists of the Beatific Vision, that is, in seeing, possessing and loving God as He is for all eternity: "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face" (1 Cor. 13, 12). All the sufferings and ills of this life shall pass away, replaced by eternal happiness in the company of the angelic hosts and Saints: "for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7, 17).
Not all, however, will be equally happy. The happiness and glory of each will be dependent on their merits: "each will receive wages according to the labor of each" (1 Cor. 3, 8); "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory" (1 Cor. 15, 41). Nevertheless, despite this inequality all will be fully content and happy, rejoicing in each others glory, and blessing God's generosity and justice.
Three particular categories of Saints shall receive a distinct glory:
(i) The Martyrs: those who laid down their lives for Christ will ever retain the traces of their sufferings in their glorified bodies: "But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Pet. 4, 13);
(ii) The Virgins: Those who "made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (St. Matt. 19, 12) will be clothed in white garments and will "sing a new song before the throne and ...follow the Lamb wherever he goes" (Rev. 14, 3-4);
(iii) The Doctors of the Church: The great teachers, apologists, Fathers, Scholastics, etc. who taught and defended the Catholic faith will shine with a special brightness: "Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever" (Dan. 12, 3).
For those who refused to serve God and rejected His graces the following sentence shall be theirs: "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (St. Matt. 25, 41). Those condemned to hell shall endure two particular torments:
(i) The pain of loss: arises from the regret at having irrevocably lost God forever through their own fault: "where their worm never dies" (St. Mark 9, 48) - the gnawing of conscience forever rebuking them for their folly;
(ii) The pain of sense: caused by the fires of hell, forever burning yet never consuming: "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames" (St. Luke 16, 24).
The damned will suffer in proportion to their sins and to the rejection of the graces offered them: "he will repay every man for what he has done" (St. Matt. 16, 27). The sufferings of hell are unimaginable, though the following graphic account given by Sister Lucia (one of the three child seers of Fatima) afford some idea of their extent:
"As she (Our Lady) said these last words she once again opened her hands as she had done in the two previous months. The radiant light seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a great sea of fire; submerged in that fire were demons and souls in human shapes who resembled red-hot, black and bronze-colored embers that floated about in the blaze, borne by the flames that issued from them with clouds of smoke, falling everywhere like the showering sparks of great blazes - with neither weight or equilibrium - amidst shrieks and groans of sorrow and despair that horrified us and made us shudder with fear."1
The thought of hell should always be a matter for meditation and serve as a deterrence to sin. Yet, Sacred Scripture sadly indicates that only a minority will avail themselves of this opportunity: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (St. Matt. 7, 13-14).
Amen: The Hebrew word for "So be it," by which we express our belief in all the Articles of the Creed, and our resolution to remain faithful in them until the end.
Tertullian, Apology 18, 3 (197 AD):
"After the present age is ended He will judge His worshippers for a reward of eternal life, and the godless for a fire equally perpetual and unending. All who have died since the beginning of time will be raised up again and shaped again and remanded to whichever destiny they deserve."
St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter to the People of Thibar 58, 10 (253 AD):
"Oh, what a day that will be, and how great when it comes, dearest brethren! when the Lord begins to survey His people and to recognize by examining with divine knowledge the merits of each individual! to cast into hell evildoers, and to condemn our persecutors to the eternal fire and punishing flame! and indeed, to present to us the reward of faith and devotion! What will be that glory, and how great the joy of being admitted to the sight of God! to be so honored as to receive the joy of eternal light and salvation in the presence of Christ the Lord, your God!"
Aphraates the Persian Sage, Treatises 20, 12 (Inter 336-345 AD):
"And Abraham said to the rich man, There is a great abyss separating us from you; they cannot come from you to us, nor from us to you. This shows that after death and resurrection there will be no repentance. Neither can the wicked repent and enter the kingdom, nor can the righteous any longer sin and go to perdition. This is the great abyss."
St. Augustine of Hippo, Enchiridion of Faith, Hope & Love 29, 111(421 AD):
"After the resurrection, however, when the universal and final judgment has been made, two cities will have their boundaries: one, of course, of Christ, and the other of the Devil; one of the good, the other of the wicked; yet both made up of angels and of men. For the one group there will be no will to sin, and for the other, no power to do so; nor will there be any possibility of dying. The former will be living truly and happily in eternal life; the latter will be enduring unhappily in eternal death without the power to die; for both shall be without end. Among the former one man will be pre-eminent in happiness than another, and among the latter the abiding misery of one man will be more tolerable than that of another."
Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566):
Solid happiness, which we may designate by the common appellation, essential, consists in the vision of God, and the enjoyment of His beauty who is the source and principle of all goodness and perfection. This, says Christ our Lord, is eternal life; that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. These words St. John seems to interpret when he says: Dearly beloved, we are now the sons of God; and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that when he shall appear, we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is. He shows, then, that beatitude consists of two things: that we shall behold God such as He is in His own nature and substance; and that we ourselves shall become, as it were, gods.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):
No. 1024: This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this consummation of life with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called "heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.
No. 1035: The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
No. 1042: At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed:
The Church...will receive her perfection only in the glory of heaven, when will come the time of the renewal of all things. At that time, together with the human race, the universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ.
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