“Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven” (Matt. 24:30)
The pagan theory, held by more than one Government in our days, that the State as such knows no master, either in the heaven above or on the earth below, that it is a law unto itself, and is wholly independent of the moral order which binds individuals, is as untrue as it is blasphemous.
…as untrue as it is blasphemous
And its further contention that there is no sanction in this world or in another for what men may be pleased to call its misdeeds is equally false and contrary to facts.
…contrary to facts
That there is a punishment even on this earth for the collective crime of a nation or people is made apparent for all time by the tragic events of years past. But over and above the downfall of a guilty country and its ruin at the hands of an outraged world, there is awaiting it a further and more terrible, though less immediate, retribution of which we are reminded in the words quoted at the head of this conference, and that is the sentence that will be passed at the General Judgement. Let us betake ourselves in thought to that day of awful consummation, when right will be vindicated for ever, and wrong finally dethroned and cast into the burning.
The General Judgement
In imagination, helped out by the words of the Gospel, let us envisage the scene. The world then has grown old: its course is wellnigh run. The Gospel has been preached to all nations, and the abomination of desolation is standing in the Holy Place.
The day of consummation when right will be vindicated for ever…
False prophets have gone abroad and seduced many, and unless these days had been shortened even the elect would have been perverted. Nations have arisen one against another and murderous wars have laid waste the land; pestilences and famines and earthquakes have exercised their sway over the face of the earth. A mighty persecution against all that is holy and good, against Christ and His Church has broken out.
…and wrong will be finally dethroned and cast into the burning
There have been signs in the heavens: the sun refused to give its light, and the moon has turned to blood, for a conflagration of unexampled proportions has sprung up and spread far and wide and threatens to consume the world.
The Gospel has been preached to all nations, and the abomination of desolation is standing in the Holy Place
And suddenly there is a sound, the like of which never was heard before: it is the trumpet of Judgement summoning the quick and the dead before the tribunal of God.
At that piercing blast the countless generations of the dead start from their graves as if they had been but sleeping, and the sea gives up those that were buried in its depths. All are there, those that inhabited the earth before the Deluge, the five empires of Daniel, Jews and Greeks and Romans, Christian and heathen, rulers of States and their subjects, the rich, the poor, the learned, the ignorant.
And suddenly there is a sound which has never been heard before: a piercing trumpet blast
And then “the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the heavens,” a wail will arise from all the tribes of the earth, and they shall see the Son of Man coming “in the clouds of heaven with great power and majesty”, with Blessed Mary at His side, and the apostles around Him, and an innumerable multitude of angels forming His retinue.
The trumpet of Judgement, summoning the living and the dead
The most solemn and awe-inspiring moment in the history of the world has arrived. It is a generally accepted theological opinion that each one of that immense assemblage will have been already judged after death in private fashion and that his state will have been sealed for evermore. None the less is the General Judgement of the last day a final and fitting complement to the dispositions of divine governance; in no sense a superfluous pageant or scenic display but the necessary epilogue of the bloodstained annals of mankind.
The Son of Man is coming in the clouds of heaven with great power and majesty
Man is not merely an individual who can sin against his Maker in his private capacity: he is associated with others, he is the member of a state, or community, or family; he has friends who have come under his influence or by whom he has himself been influenced, and it is only right and proper that the sins of these aggregate bodies, and the guilt of each individual in relation to his neighbour should be exposed before the world and meet with the overwhelming reprobation of men and angels, of Christ and of God.
The most solemn and awe-inspiring moment in the history of the world has arrived
Then at length shall the ways of Providence, so often mysterious and hidden, be revealed and justified in the eyes of all creatures. Then shall nations, the proudest and mightiest, rulers first and subjects after, stand arraigned for judgement in the fierce light of day, humbled to the dust and held up to universal condemnation not only for the unjust wars they have waged, the rivers of blood they have shed to satisfy an insensate ambition, and the atrocities they have perpetrated in defiance of every law, divine and human; but also in many instances for their national apostasy, their loudly advertised irreligion, their persecution of the Church, their oppression of the poor, the countenance they gave to vice and corruption.
Man is not merely an individual who can sin in his private capacity, he sins in his public role
These are crimes calling to heaven for vengeance; and yet God often delays, they are not always visited by Him in the lifetime of the evildoers. Sometimes even iniquity seems to prosper in the high places, and an unrighteous cause may succeed and prevail.
At the Last Day, however, “the people will be seen to have devised vain things” and “He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them, and the Lord shall deride them and speak to them in his anger and trouble them in his rage” (Psalm 2). Shame unutterable shall be their portion. There shall be “gnashing of teeth and the call for mountains to cover them,” but all in vain final humiliation and utter discomfiture will be public and irretrievable.
Man’s public and hidden misdeeds will be brought to account in public and in full view of whom they have wronged without anybody having apologised to them, without having even tried to put it right and without having done penance before God and His Church
The General Judgement, moreover, besides bringing fit retribution to States and Peoples for their manifold crimes will also expose and avenge those innumerable sins which are not merely private and personal to men, but in which others are involved, scandals which have led them into evil, false teachings which have sapped and endangered their faith, wicked examples which they have been induced to imitate, malicious slanders that have assassinated their character, cruel deeds that have embittered their life.
Transgressions in regard to neighbour
It is only just that the workers of evil should answer to God in private for their more hidden misdeeds, those against themselves and against Him, but that they should be brought to account in public and in presence of those they have wronged for their other transgressions in regard to their neighbour.
And hence it is not a little remarkable that the sentence of the Judge on that day will make no mention of secret sins, but only of such as may have hurtfully affected others.
Depart from me, for I was hungry and you gave me not to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me not to drink; I was a stranger and you took me not in; naked and you covered me not, sick and in prison and you did not visit me – and: As long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you it to me (Matt 25:41 et seq.)
We do not take consolation or joy in the thought of the punishment that the wicked will suffer at that great Day of Judgement; we do not find pleasure in another’s pain, however much he may have deserved it. But we may well be consoled to think that at the Last Day God’s ways will be justified and all His claims upon the worship and service of His creatures will be vindicated, that all wrongs will be righted.
At the Last Day all wrongs will be righted
We may secure that the General Judgement will be to each of us individually a day of consolation, for according to Our Lord’s own words the final sentence passed upon us will depend upon the manner in which we have acquitted ourselves in the observance of God’s first and great commandment of charity.
God’s first and great commandment of charity
If in spite of many other sins and imperfections of which we had repented during life, we have always steadily striven to exercise charity, then to us will be said before that mighty host of all our fellow beings those consoling words:
Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me to eat: I was thirsty and you gave me to drink: I was a stranger and you took me in: naked and you covered me: sick and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee a stranger and took thee in or naked and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison and came to thee? And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me (Matt 25:34 et seq.)
At the final day of reckoning God’s ways will be justified
What an incentive this is to all of us to practise charity in the many and sundry ways that are offered to us every day, so that at the final day of reckoning we may stand up unafraid and consoled at that Great Judgement of Our Lord.
– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949