The Sinner's Guide

Thoughts on the Last Judgment

One of the many things the Sinner’s Guide contains is an excellent treatise on the Four Last Things. Here is a small excerpt from its chapter on the third of the Four Last Things, the Last Judgment:

What shame, then, and what confusion will overwhelm the sinner when all his impurities, all his excesses, all his iniquities, hidden in the secret recesses of his heart, will be exposed, in all their enormity, to the eyes of the world! Whose conscience is so clear that he does not blush, does not tremble, at this thought? If men find it so difficult to make known their sins in the secrecy of confession; if many prefer to groan under the weight of their iniquities rather than declare them to God’s minister, how will they bear to see them revealed before the universe? In their shame and confusion “they shall say to the mountains: Cover us; and to the hills: Fall upon us.” (Osee x. 8.)

Consider also the terror of the sinner when this terrible sentence resounds in his ear: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” (St. Matt. xxv. 41.) How will the reprobate bear these terrible words? “Seeing,” says holy Job, “that we have heard scarcely a little drop of His word, who will be able to behold the thunder of His greatness?” (Job xxvi. 14.)

When this dread sentence will have gone forth, the earth will open and swallow in its fiery depths all those whose lives have been spent in the pursuit of sinful pleasures. St. John, in the Apocalypse, thus describes this awful moment: “I saw another Angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was enlightened with his glory. And he cried out with a strong voice, saying: Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every unclean spirit, and the hold of every unclean and hateful bird.” (Apoc. xviii. 1, 2.) And the holy Evangelist adds: “And a mighty Angel took up a stone, as it were a great mill-stone, and cast it into the sea, saying: With such violence as this shall Babylon that great city be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.” (Apoc. xviii. 21.)

In like manner shall the wicked, represented by Babylon, be cast into the sea of darkness and confusion. What tongue can express the torments of this eternal prison? The body will burn with a raging fire which will never be extinguished; the soul will be tortured by the gnawing, undying worm of conscience. The darkness will resound with despairing cries, blasphemies, perpetual weeping and gnashing of teeth. The sinner, in his impotent rage, will tear his flesh and curse the inexorable justice which condemns him to these torments.

He will curse the day of his birth, crying out in the words of Job: “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said: A man-child is conceived. Let that day be turned into darkness, let not God regard it from above, and let not the light shine upon it. Let darkness and the shadow of death cover it, let a mist overspread it, and let it be wrapped up in bitterness. Let a darksome whirlwind seize upon that night, let it not be counted in the days of the year, nor numbered in the months. Why did I not die in the womb, why did I not perish at once when I came out of the womb? Why was I placed upon the knees? Why was I suckled at the breasts?” (Job iii. 3-6 and 11, 12.)

Unhappy tongues which will henceforth utter only blasphemies! Unhappy ears to be for ever filled with sighs and lamentations! Unhappy eyes which will never gaze upon anything but misery! Unhappy flesh consumed in eternal flames! Who can tell the bitter remorse of the sinner who has spent his life in pursuit of new pleasures and new amusements? Oh! how fleeting were the joys that brought such a series of woes! O senseless, unhappy man! What do your riches now avail you? The seven years of abundance are past, and the years of famine are upon you. Your wealth has been consumed in the twinkling of an eye, and no trace of it remains. Your glory has vanished; your happiness is swallowed up in an abyss of woe!

So extreme is your misery that a drop of water is denied you to allay the parching thirst with which you are consumed. Not only is your former prosperity of no avail, but rather increases the torture of your cruel sufferings. Thus shall the imprecation of Job be verified: “May worms be his sweetness,” (John xxiv. 20.) which St. Gregory thus explains: “The remembrance of their past pleasures will make their present sufferings more keen; and the contrast of their short-lived happiness with this endless misery will fill them with rage and despair.” (“Moral.” xv. 26 and xvi. 31.) They will recognize too late the snares of the evil one, and will exclaim in the words of the Book of Wisdom: “We have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shone unto us, and the sun of understanding hath not risen upon us. We have wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction, and have walked through hard ways, but the way of the Lord we have not known” (Wisdom v. 6, 7.)

The contemplation of this terrible truth cannot but rouse us from our indifference and excite us to practise virtue. St. John Chrysostom frequently uses it as a means to exhort his hearers to virtue. “If you would labor effectually,” he says, “to make your soul the temple and the abode of the Divinity, never lose sight of the solemn and awful day when you are to appear before the tribunal of Christ to render an account of all your works. Represent to yourself the glory and majesty with which Christ will come to judge the living and the dead. Consider the irrevocable sentence which will then be pronounced upon mankind, and the terrible separation which will follow it. The just will enter into the possession of ineffable joy and happiness; the wicked will be precipitated into exterior darkness, where there will be perpetual weeping and gnashing of teeth. They will be gathered like weeds, and cast into the fire, where they will remain for all eternity.”

Ah! then, before it is too late, let us save ourselves from this terrible misfortune by an humble and sincere confession of our sins—a favor that we will not receive on that day, for, as the Psalmist asks: “Who shall confess to Thee, O Lord! in hell?” (Ps. vi. 6.)

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