Over the past few weeks, we’ve covered Purgatory and how our soul leaves the body as soon as we die to be immediately judged by God. Based on this judgement, our soul will go directly to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. This is called the “Particular Judgement.” Our soul is reunited with our body during the “General Judgement” when Christ returns at the end of time. This week let’s cover Hell and the “General Judgement”.
Jesus tells us there is a Hell and it is eternal. He says it’s a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, where condemned souls are tormented, and the fire is not quenched (Matthew 13:50, Mark 9:48). Hell is a state of everlasting suffering and separation from God. God does not condemn anyone to Hell. Instead, He invites everyone to choose the path of love and holiness over the path of greed, selfishness, and sin. God gave us a free will and respects the choices we make. People end up in Hell because they deliberately cut themselves off from God during their life on earth. So, people choose to go to Hell and God lets them go. We must recognize that Hell is a very real possibility. To deny Hell exists is to deny a truth of our Faith.
The Church has declared some men and women to be saints in Heaven. But, she has never stated that any particular person is in Hell. No notorious sinner, murderous tyrant, or scandalous heretic has never been declared by the Church to be among the damned. That’s because the Church simply does not want to presume anyone is in Hell. That’s for God to decide. But, that doesn’t mean Hell is empty. It only means we cannot be certain who is there. It would be dangerous to presume that Hell is empty, non-existent, or temporary and everyone is eventually saved in the end.
We pray in the Creed, “Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” This is the General Judgement (or Last Judgement, Final Judgement, or Universal Judgement) – the Second Coming of Christ where God’s eternal plan of salvation is fully revealed. At this time, God’s majesty, wisdom, justice, and mercy will be seen as everything that happened throughout human history will be unveiled. General Judgement is not a “retrial”. It’s a time when Particular Judgements are revealed for all to see. Purgatory will cease to exist. There is no opportunity for the souls in Hell to repent as they have already made their eternal choice. After the General Judgement, the righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body and soul (Catechism 1042-43, 1 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1).
Talking about death and judgement raise the ultimate questions of our existence. We may fear the unknowns of death and eternity. But we can console ourselves by trusting what God has promised to the faithful who die in a state of grace is something far more wonderful than any of us can possibly imagine.
Adapted from “Introduction to Catholicism for Adults” by Rev. James Socias