Part 16 On the the Length of Time that the Final Judgment Will Last The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
How long will the duration of the Last Judgment be? No definite answer can be given to this question, for it is a matter which no one knows; yet it may be conjectured that it will occupy a considerable period. Some indeed say that it will be over quickly, because God could judge all mankind in a single instant. Yet this opinion does not seem to be held by the Fathers of the Church, nor is it supported by Holy Scripture, in which we find a day of judgment invariably spoken of.
St. Paul, for instance, says: “God hath appointed a day wherein He will judge the world in equity” (Acts 17:31). And we read in the prophecies of Isaias: “Behold the day of the Lord shall come, a cruel day and full of indignation and of wrath and fury” (Isaias 13:9). In these and many other passages of Holy Writ the Last Day is spoken of as a day, not an instantaneous judgment. The prophet Joel indicates that the day will be a long one, when he says: “The day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can stand it?” (Joel 2:1 1.) And of this same day St. John, the prophet of the New Dispensation, also says: “The great day of their wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand it?” (Apocalypse 6:17.)
In many other passages of Holy Scripture we find similar expressions; the Day of Judgment being called a great day, which probably means a long day. St. Jerome held this opinion, for he says: “The day of the Lord will be a great day because of the eternity following upon it.” St. Augustine, when speaking of the duration of the final judgment, expresses himself thus: “Over how many days the judgment will extend we have no means of ascertaining; yet we know that a considerable period is often designated in Holy Scripture as a day.” St. Thomas Aquinas agrees with St. Augustine on this point; he brings forward several arguments to prove that the final judgment will be of long duration.
And wherefore should God shorten that day? There is abundant reason why He should rather prolong it. For it is the day of Christ’s greatest triumph; the day whereon the Saints attain their greatest glory and the damned are put to the greatest shame.
It is the day of Christ s greatest triumph, because He will not only be adored by all the Angels and Saints, but also by the wicked spirits and lost souls, and acknowledged by all to be their Judge. On that day all His enemies will be beneath His feet; on that day all His foes will be forced to confess their offences against Him, the Divine Arbiter. They will then and there be compelled to own His divinity, His infinite charity, the countless benefits He has bestowed on them, in return for which they persecuted Him, blasphemed Him, put Him to a cruel death. Secondly, the blessed Saints will on that day attain their greatest glory, because they will be held in honor and esteem by all mankind, as well as by God and by the Angels. For Christ will then make manifest to all present how faithfully they served Him, with what self-sacrificing zeal they labored for the conversion of sinners. He will then make manifest the secret penances they performed, the fierce temptations they resisted. He will then make manifest the pitiless persecutions they endured from the children of this world, and how all manner of evil was spoken against them unjustly. Thus Christ will crown them with the honor that is their due, and all their adversaries will be confounded.
Thirdly, on that day the reprobate will be put to the greatest ignominy and anguish. For the Judge will reveal all the shameful, the abominable character of their misdeeds: He will reveal in the sight of Angels and Saints, of the devils and the damned, the infamous deeds they performed under cover of darkness. Yes, He will pour out the full chalice of His indignation upon those wretched beings, who under the mask of their hypocrisy dared to desecrate His very sanctuary. He will cause those who have been corrupters of innocence to be seized and placed among the evil spirits, whose diabolical, thrice accursed work they carried on earth.
On that day the Divine Judge will give all the impenitent sinners to drink deeply of the cup of shame and ignominy, as St. Basil tells us, when he says: “The confusion that will overtake the godless sinner in the Day of Judgment will be more cruel torture to him than if he were cast into a flaming fire.” This is in fact the reason why God has appointed the final judgment, that sinners may not only be punished by the pain which will be their portion, but that they may also be put to public shame. St. Thomas Aquinas says: “The sinner does not only deserve pain, he deserves disgrace and ignominy, for this is a punishment to which human beings only can be subjected. The lower animals can be chastised and put to death, but they cannot know what it is to suffer shame and contempt.” This accounts for the fact that anyone who has a single spark of self-respect would rather suffer the heaviest punishment in secret, than be exposed to public disgrace.
On all these grounds it will be surmised that the final judgment will stretch over a considerable period of time, and hence we have all the more reason to tremble at the prospect of it, and earnestly pray God that on that great day He will not overwhelm us with shame and confusion, but will grant us a share in His joy and glory.
Part 15 On the Manner in which the Final Judgment will be Commenced The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
Whilst the Angels and Saints, besides all the company of the devils and the damned, are prostrate before their Judge in lowly adoration, He will open His lips, and with a loud voice utter these or similar words: “Listen, ye Heavens, to My voice; listen, O earth, to the words that I shall speak; listen, ye Angels, listen, ye demons, listen, also, all ye sinners, for I announce to each and all of you that I, Jesus Christ, the true Son of God and of the Virgin Mary, your Creator, your Redeemer, your sovereign Lord, am about to exercise my office of Judge.
“With infinite patience I have borne with your innumerable iniquities: the time of grace is now past, the time of justice has come. Every one shall be rewarded according to his works. Those who have done good shall presently go with Me into eternal life, and those who have done evil shall be cast into the abyss of everlasting torment and anguish. All creation shall see and acknowledge that I am a just God, that I judge not according to appearances, but according to the measure of that which each man has deserved.”
Some such words as these will proceed out of the mouth of the Judge, and they will be pronounced with such majesty that all men will quake and tremble. All miserable sinners will begin to weep and wail afresh, so that the very earth might be moved with compassion. “Alas for us poor wretches,” they will exclaim with one voice, “how can we stand before the face of our Judge! Mountains, fall on us, and rocks, cover us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?”
And since at every tribunal an accuser must be present, to bring charges against the individual who is to be judged, so at this general judgment the Angels and the devils will be the accusers of mankind. St. Michael will first stand forth and say: “Most just Judge, I bring an accusation against these millions of sinners, who defiled the earth to such an extent by their misdeeds, that Thou in Thy holy indignation didst see fit to purify it by fire; I call upon Thee now to punish these transgressors according to Thy justice.”
Then Lucifer, speaking in the name of all the evil spirits, will raise his voice with a roar like that of a lion, and accuse all mankind in a body: “Most just Judge of the living and the dead, I bring a charge against all the human beings assembled here. Since it seemed right to Thy stern justice to banish me and all the Angels who joined with me from Heaven on account of one single sin, and to condemn us to everlasting damnation, it is only fair that Thou shouldst include all mankind in the same condemnation with myself, and cast all men here present into the abyss of Hell. For there is not one single individual here who has not committed sin, and transgressed Thy law.”
Then Christ will answer the accusation in this wise: “It shall be done as you request, O ye Angels and ye demons; all men must appear before My judgment-seat, and each one shall receive that which is his due: chastisement to the wicked, recompense to the good.”
When all those whom Christ has chosen to share with Him His office of Judge shall have taken their seats, His apostles having the precedence of all others, the judgment will commence. It appears from what the Apostle St. Paul says that no person, not even the Saints, will be exempted from this ordeal. “We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10).
This standing before the judgment-seat of Christ will fill every one with fear. No one will be free from it; even the just will feel it to a certain degree, as well as the unhappy sinner. Even though the just may not be conscious of any sin, they will yet not be without apprehension. St. Paul says this, speaking of himself: “I am not conscious to myself of anything, yet am I not hereby justified, but He that judgeth me is the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:4). By this the Apostle apparently intends to say: “My conscience does not indeed reproach me, but this does not prove me to be one of the just; I must wait and see what sentence the eternal Judge will pass on me.” In fact every man will be so terrified at the first sight of the irate Judge, that, like St. John, he will fall at His feet as dead.
It appears to me that judgment will be passed upon the good somewhat after this manner: The guardian Angels will lead those who have been committed to their charge to the judgment-seat of God, and then the just will fall before Him in lowly adoration. The evil enemy will then begin to accuse them, and bring forward everything that he can against them. But the guardian Angel will defend his client, he will produce all his good works, his penances, his virtues, and lay them in the scales of Divine justice. And if they are not too light, Christ will array him in the new robe, the garment of splendor, and crown him with the diadem of the eternal kingdom. Who can tell what the glory of that moment will be! How all the just will rejoice that their lot is among the blessed! How kindly the choir of Angels will congratulate them, and exult with them in blissful jubilation. And how all who are yet waiting for their sentence will marvel at the glory that is theirs, and long to share it with them.
Most bountiful Jesus, in the name of all the Saints and elect, whom Thou dost destine to the enjoyment of eternal felicity, I beseech Thee of Thine infinite loving kindness, that I may stand amongst Thy Saints in the Day of Judgment. I am indeed unworthy of this favor, but for the greater honor and praise that will be ascribed to Thee, I pray Thee let Thy boundless mercy be manifested towards me; cast me not away, poor sinner that I am.
And I entreat you, Saints of God, to help me to attain to your blessed company. I know that your intercession is powerful enough with God to induce Him to look upon me with compassion, and be infinitely merciful to me in His judgment of my life. Amen.
Part 14 On the Reason why Christs Appearance on the Day of Final Judgment will be Terrible, and on the Heinousness of Mortal Sin The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
The reader may, perchance, be inclined to ask the reason why Christ, the same Christ who lived amongst us on earth in all gentleness and meekness, should wear so terrible an aspect when He comes to be our Judge? There are a great many reasons why Christ in this capacity should judge mankind with such awful severity. The principal one is because He has been most grievously outraged by the sins of men.
Theologians assert that every mortal sin is in itself an infinite evil, and is an infinite affront to the Divine majesty. It is an offence of such magnitude that neither the tongue of Angels nor of men is capable of describing it. It will be understood, therefore, that as in every mortal sin there is malice of so deep a dye, it must deeply wound the Divine Heart of Jesus, and provoke Him to just anger against the individual who has been guilty of that sin. And in order that it may be more apparent how just the ire of God is, when roused by mortal sin, it will be well to explain more clearly how great is the insult offered to God by willful sin. Imagine the three Divine persons of the Most Holy Trinity to be on one side, with their infinite treasures of grace and glory, and on the other side the spirit of evil with all the punishments and torments of Hell; and a man standing in the midst betwixt the two, debating within himself whether he should show honor to God by doing His will, or whether he should act in violation of His will, and thereby cause the devil to rejoice. If the man commits the sin, he acts towards God, and God regards his action, exactly as if he uttered these blasphemous words, or others of the same nature:
“I do indeed believe, O God, that I was created by Thine almighty power, redeemed by Thy mercy, made a child of predilection by Thy bounty, I know that Thou hast promised me eternal life, all the sweetest bliss of Heaven. I am also well aware that this accursed Satan, Thy great enemy and mine, is prepared to strip me of all that is good, and hurl me down into everlasting perdition. And yet because Satan tempts me now, because he suggests to me a thought of unchastity, a desire for revenge, a movement of envy, I choose rather to yield to this impulse and thereby render myself deserving of everlasting punishment, than resist and repel the evil suggestion and thus merit Heaven hereafter and spiritual graces now. Therefore, I deliberately and of my own free will, turn from Thee, O God; I follow by choice this hateful demon, whom I obey in preference to Thee. Although Thou art my God and my Lord, although Thou hast forbidden us to transgress Thy law, although sin is an infinite offence against Thee, yet I do not care, I will commit sin all the same, I will not desist because it is an outrage to Thee.
Nay, more, if I could do all that in the malice of my heart I would do, I should rob Thee of Thy God head, I should cast Thee down from Thy throne, and in Thy place I should set up sin, and worship that as my god. I love sin, I desire to revel in it, and find in it my sole happiness.”
Such blasphemies as these words express are terrible, and cannot be read without a shudder. Yet every man who willfully and in defiance of God’s law commits a mortal sin is guilty of blaspheming God in the like manner. What wonder, then, that God is so deeply offended by mortal sin. But we have not yet shown the full extent of the malice of sin it goes still farther; it is doubly offensive to God because the sinner not only manifests contempt for God the Father, he also sets at naught His beloved Son, the Second Person of the Divine Trinity. By every willful sin he seems to say: “It is true Thou didst become man for me, Thou didst seek for me for three and thirty years, as a sheep that was lost; Thou didst endure hunger and thirst, heat and cold, and all manner of hardships for my sake, whilst Satan has done nothing of the sort for me; on the contrary, he pursues me day and night and strives to ensnare me. In spite of this I prefer to belong to him rather than to Thee. I prefer to please him, and grieve Thee.
“Is it true, O my Redeemer, that for my sake Thou wast torn with scourges, crowned with thorns, fastened with nails to the Cross and put to death amid bitter tortures; yet for all this I offer Thee no thanks. Nay more, although I know that by my sins I scourge Thee, I crucify Thee, I put Thee to death anew, yet I will not forsake my sins; I will trample upon Thy precious blood, I will adore Satan instead of Thee; I will make him my dearest friend and do my utmost to give him pleasure.”
Again I ask, are not these utterances blasphemous in the extreme? Do they not show the blackest ingratitude on the part of the sinner towards his Savior? One can scarcely imagine that a Christian would grieve his Redeemer in so shameful a manner. And yet there are many thousands who, if not in words, yet in deeds, address such language to their Savior.
In the third place, the audacious sinner outrages and defies the Holy Spirit of God, for his actions are equivalent to expressions such as these: “Thou, O Holy Ghost, hast certainly sanctified my soul, cleansed it in the blood of Christ and beautified it by Thy grace. I know that Thy sanctifying grace is so precious that every soul which is adorned by it thereby becomes a daughter of the heavenly Father, a sister of the Divine Son, a spouse of the Holy Ghost, the dwelling-place of the Most Holy Trinity, a temple of the sovereign Godhead, an heir of eternal felicity, a friend of Angels and Saints, yet what do I trouble myself about these exalted prerogatives, what do I care for this priceless pearl, this costly jewel? Away with them; I will cast this pearl, this jewel to the dogs and swine, to wit, my evil passions. I will sacrifice all to them, I will serve sin and live in sin.”
Seest thou not now, O reader, how hateful sin is, how shocking the nature of the sinner, how infinite the offence against God, the contempt of God which is inseparable from sin? Art thou not convinced that God has just cause to feel holy indignation against sin and the slaves of sin, and to condemn the sinner to everlasting damnation?
And if the wrath of God, who is infinite in sanctity and justice, is aroused to such an extent by one single mortal sin, how greatly must He, the just and holy One, be angered and offended by the millions upon millions of shameless and shameful sins daily committed not only by Jews and heathens, but also by Christians! All this anger, all this sense of outraged dignity at insult offered, which the sinner arouses within the Heart of God, is treasured up until the Day of Judgment. The holy sacrifice of the Mass and the powerful intercession of the Saints as yet restrains the Divine arm from executing vengeance.
But when mankind have filled up the measure of their iniquities, the day of wrath shall come. No one can form a conception of how awful the outpouring of the wrath of God upon sinners will be. In the Psalms we read: “Who knoweth the power of Thy anger, and for Thy fear can number Thy wrath?” (Psalm 89:2).
Woe, then, to us poor sinners! Then for the first time we shall appreciate aright what we have done and how deeply we have offended God by our grievous sins. The wrath of God is so boundless that neither the Mother of God, nor all the Angels and Saints have any power to diminish or restrain it; it will turn with holy zeal and mete out to every man his deserts with rigorous justice. Hear what the Judge Himself says of this, His wrath, by the mouth of the prophet Ezechiel: “Now, thou son of man, is an end come upon thee, and I will send My wrath upon thee, and I will judge thee according to thy ways, and I will set all thy abominations against thee, and My eye shall not spare thee, and I will show thee no pity” (Ezechiel 7:3-4).
These are truly terrible words, and the threat they contain is most appalling. Oh, how unsparing will be the judgment to which God, who has been offended by transgressions so innumerable, will summon all mankind.
Alas for me and for thee, if we find ourselves amid the countless multitude of sinners, and God cannot in justice spare us! What shall we do, that we may not fall into the hands of the angry Judge?
We must abandon the way of iniquity, and now, while there is yet time, make our peace with the Judge whom we have offended. Let us awaken from time to time sincere contrition for our sins, employing these or similar expressions of sorrow:
Most just Judge of the living and the dead, I acknowledge before Thee that I have sinned often and grievously. I have forsaken my Father in Heaven; I have crucified Thee, my Redeemer; I have grieved the Holy Spirit and trifled away His grace. I have done this by the countless sins I have committed in thought, word and deed. Through my transgressions I have incurred the penalty of everlasting death. But since Thou willest not the death of the sinner, but rather that he should do penance and live, let me experience here the effect of Thy justice, which is ever wedded to mercy. All the trials that Thou sendest me in this life I will thankfully receive from Thy hand, and kiss the rod whereby Thou dost chastise me with paternal severity in order that at the Day of Judgment I may find mercy, and Thou mayest grant me a place in the ranks of Thine elect. Amen.
Part 13 On the Manner in Which Christ Will Take His Place on the Judgment Seat The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
Pay heed, O reader, to what is now coming, and do not imagine that it concerns thee not. Thou wilt most assuredly witness it all one day with thy bodily eyes, and all will be a thousand times more terrible than my pen can depict it.
When Christ, in His chariot of fire, has reached Mount Olivet, He will pause in the air, at such a height that He can be clearly seen by all men, until the Angels have prepared the throne of judgment.
The prophet Daniel thus portrays the scene: “I beheld till thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days sat; His garment was white as snow and the hair of His head like clean wool; His throne like flames of fire, the wheels of it like a burning fire. A swift stream of fire issued forth from before Him; thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and ten times a hundred thousand stood before Him: the judgment sat and the books were opened” (Daniel vii. 7:9-10).
But Christ will not sit in judgment alone; the twelve Apostles will be with Him, according to the promise He gave them: “Amen I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of His majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).
Who can give any idea of the magnificence of Christ s throne? It beggars all description.
We read that King Solomon caused a wonderfully beautiful throne to be constructed out of ivory, richly adorned with gold and precious stones. This throne was so magnificent that the inspired writer says of it that in no kingdom of the world had any such work been made. If the judgment-seat of King Solomon was composed of such costly material and fashioned so skillfully, what will be the splendor of the judgment-seat of the King of kings, on which He will sit in His majesty to judge the whole world!
Our Lord speaks of this judgment-seat as a throne of great splendor, when He says: “When the Son of man shall come in His majesty, and all the Angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the seat of His majesty” (Matthew 25:31).
Some idea of what the appearance of this throne will be may be gathered from the words which have just been quoted from the prophet Daniel, and also this description given by St. John: “There was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. . . . And from the throne proceeded lightnings, and voices, and thunders; and there were seven lamps burning before the throne” (Apocalypse 4:3-5).
Such are the images whereby Holy Scripture portrays the judgment-seat of Christ. Who of all mankind can venture to raise his eyes to this fiery throne? Will it not be more dazzlingly bright than the lightnings and fiery flashes of a tempest?
The Divine Judge will seat Himself upon this throne and His grave countenance will be visible to men and Angels. All created beings will tremble with awestruck reverence. St. John declares this in the Apocalypse: “I saw a great white throne, and One sitting upon it, from whose face the earth and Heaven fled away, and there was no place found for them” (Apocalypse 29:11). In these words the prophet of the New Testament appears to indicate that the Heavens and the earth will not be able to bear to meet the eye of their Judge; that all rational beings, both Angels and men, will quake at the sight of His stern countenance.
That the Angels also will fear and tremble, is asserted by St. Augustine, in the following passage from his writings: “When Our Lord says that the powers of Heaven shall be moved, He alludes to the Angels; for so terrible will the judgment be, that the Angels will not be exempt from fear; they too will tremble and be afraid. For just as when a judge sits in judgment his grave countenance not only strikes terror into the culprits before him, but over-awes the officials standing around, so when all mankind are brought to judgment the celestial ministers will share the universal horror and alarm.”
St. John Chrysostom corroborates this statement, when he says: “Everyone will then be filled with astonishment, with apprehension, with terror, for even the Angels will be sore afraid.”
Many other Fathers of the Church and commentators upon Holy Scripture express a similar opinion.
Now if, according to the opinion of learned and holy men even the Angels will not be without fear in the Day of Judgment, how much greater cause will the Saints have to fear, since they must stand before Christ's tribunal, and give a strict account of all their actions. Yes, it is unmistakably evident, from what St. John says in the Apocalypse, that the blessed Saints are struck with awe and trembling. He describes how Christ appeared to him, and the effect it had upon him. “When I had seen Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, Fear not. I am the First and the Last.”
If the beloved Apostle was so awestruck at the sight of his dear Master and Lord, who had come to console and not to judge him, that he fell at His feet as if dead, and could not summon up courage to rise to his feet until Christ spoke to him in the kindest and most comforting manner, can it be supposed that the Saints will not be terrified on the Day of Judgment, when they behold Christ in His awful majesty and are called upon to give to Him an account of their whole life? And, O poor sinner, how will it then fare with thee, and with all the reprobate, if even the Angels and Saints tremble at the coming of the Judge? Words cannot express the terror and dismay of evil spirits and unrepentant sinners, when they shall behold their Divine Judge on the throne of His majesty, and know that He will rigorously judge and condemn them to Hell for all eternity.
In order to give some idea of the terrible dread and alarm of the fallen Angels and of unhappy sinners, let us hear what Holy Scripture says concerning the appalling exterior of the Judge and the greatness of His anger, in the first chapter of the Apocalypse, where St. John tells us: “I saw the Son of man clothed in a garment down to the feet and girt about the breast with a golden girdle. His head and His hairs were white as white wool and as snow, and His eyes were as a flame of fire, and His feet like unto fine brass, as in a burning furnace. And His voice as the sound of many waters. And from His mouth came out a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was as the sun shineth in His power. Upon His head were many diadems, and He was clothed with a garment sprinkled with blood. He treadeth the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of God the almighty, and He hath on His garment and His thigh written: King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Meditate upon these wondrous words, O Christian, and picture to thyself thy future Judge in vivid colors. How could His majestic appearance be described more forcibly than in the words we have just quoted?
What must be the splendor of that countenance which is said to shine as the sun at its meridian! what must be the brilliance of those eyes which glow with holy fervor like flames of fire! what the force of that voice which has the sound of a volume of waters! what must be the keenness of that tongue which cuts like a two-edged sword! what a glorious head that must be which is adorned with many costly diadems! How terrible that garment must be to look upon which is sprinkled with blood! And what the dignity of that regal name: The King of kings and Lord of lords! How frightened we all shall be, what fear and woe will overtake us when our Judge looks upon us! And imagine what the feelings of the damned will be, when they behold the Judge of all their wicked deeds; how they will quail and quake beneath His gaze in the hour of His just wrath!
We shall perhaps form a better conception of what the wrath of God is, if we listen to what the prophet Isaias says concerning it: “Behold the name of the Lord cometh from afar, His wrath burneth, and is heavy to bear; His lips are filled with indignation, and His tongue as a devouring fire; His breath as a torrent overflowing even to the midst of the neck, to destroy the nations into nothing” (Isaias 30:27-28).
These are of a truth terrible words. Do they not clearly indicate with what great wrath Christ will manifest Himself to the world ? Well may all unhappy sinners be overwhelmed with terror and dismay and anguish; well may they cry to the mountains to fall on them and the hills to cover them.
Now when the Judge is seated upon the throne of His majesty, all who are assembled in the valley of Josaphat, Angels and devils, the redeemed and the lost, will all have to adore Christ, as St. Paul says: “We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. For it is written: As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:10-11).
How solemn and how sublime a scene will then be enacted, O my God, when all the millions and thousands of millions of Angels, together with the blessed, in visible form will prostrate themselves upon the ground, and the evil spirits with their unhappy victims, and all the damned, will be forced against their will to adore Christ and acknowledge Him as their God and Judge! These wretched creatures will fall on their knees, and bend their heads down to the earth, not daring to raise their eyes, lest they should encounter the angry glance of their Judge. They will lament and bewail, filled with unutterable consternation and dismay. Gladly would they have the earth open and swallow them up, nay, they would, if it were possible, cast themselves down into a bottomless abyss rather than suffer such humiliation.
Pause and consider, O sinner, what thy feelings would be if thou wert amid the number of these lost souls; thou wouldst be overwhelmed with sorrow and distress.
St. Vincent relates that a young man of dissolute life once dreamed that he was arraigned before the judgment-seat of God, and required to give an account of his ill-spent life. His terror was so great that it turned his hair perfectly white. If the terrors of the Last Judgment experienced only in a dream were sufficient to turn the color of that young man s hair, what, thinkest thou, will be the effect they will produce on thee and on me, when we are present, not in a dream, but in reality, at the Last Judgment, and with our bodily eyes we behold our Judge in all His holy indignation?
O most just Judge, look down, I beseech Thee, from Thy throne in Heaven upon me, a poor sinner, and for the sake of Thine infinite compassion be merciful to me in the day of final judgment. I know that I shall not be able to stand in that dread day, but by Thy just sentence I shall be condemned to eternal damnation. Yet I know also that if a sinner implores mercy of Thee in the time of grace, it will not be denied him. Therefore I entreat Thee with deep humility and contrition, through Thy bitter Passion, that Thou wouldst pardon my sins and pass a lenient sentence upon me in the Day of Judgment. Amen.
Part 12 On the Coming of the Judge The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
What we have hitherto heard, O Christian reader, is indeed most fearful and terrible, but it is nothing in comparison with what we are now about to consider. For the coming of the Judge will be so awful, so dreadful, that all that is in Heaven or upon earth will tremble and quake. The power and majesty wherewith He will come is beyond the power of words to describe. In order that we may know something concerning it, and be able to form some conception of it, Christ has Himself foretold His coming in these words: “When the Son of man shall come in His majesty, and all the Angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His majesty, and all nations shall be gathered together before Him” (Matthew 25:31-32). And again: “They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of Heaven with much power and majesty” (24:30). Thus we see Our Lord twice asserts that He will come in the clouds of Heaven, attended by all His Angels, in great might and majesty.
Who can depict the greatness of that power, the splendor of that majesty, the countless number of those Angelic hosts! Listen to what the Psalmist says on the subject: “A fire shall go before Him and shall burn His enemies round about. His lightnings have shone forth to the world, the earth saw and trembled. The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The Heavens declared His justice and all people saw His glory” (Psalm 96:3-6). And in another psalm we read: “Out of Sion the loveliness of His beauty shall shine forth. . . . A fire shall burn before Him, and a mighty tempest shall be round about Him” (Psalm 49:2). The prophet Isaias also predicts the advent of the Judge in the following terms: “Behold, the Lord will come with fire, and His chariots are like a whirlwind, to render His wrath in indignation and His rebuke with flames of fire” (Isaias 66:15). Moreover, Christ Himself declares: “As lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west: so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:27).
If such be the manner in which the Judge shall come, if flames of fire proceed from His countenance, if He descends from Heaven in a fiery chariot, armed with wrath against sinners, who but must tremble at His coming! We shall in fact, all falter and be afraid. Besides the terrors of the Judge Himself, the sight of the innumerable company of Angels that will descend with Him, will inspire us with awe and great alarm. For on that day not one Angel will remain in Heaven; they will all be present as witnesses of the judgment.
Now, theologians maintain that in the lowest choir of Angels the number of Angels is ten times greater than that of all the human beings that have ever existed upon earth. In the second choir there are ten times as many as in the first, in the third ten times as many as in the second, and so on, so that the number of these Angelic beings appears endless. All these Angels, who are pure spirits and therefore invisible to bodily sight, will then appear visible, exceedingly bright and glorious, so that the damned also may see the magnificence of Christ s advent.
St. John in his Apocalypse speaks thus of the hosts of Angels that will attend upon the Judge at His coming: “I saw Heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called faithful and true, and with justice doth He judge and fight. And His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many diadems; . . . and He was clothed with a garment sprinkled with blood, and His name is called: The word of God. And the armies that are in Heaven followed Him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth proceedeth a sharp two-edged sword, that with it He may strike the nations. And He shall rule them with a rod of iron; and He treadeth the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of God the almighty. And He hath on His garment and on His thigh written: King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Apocalypse 19:11-16).
How we all shall tremble, O my God, when we behold these hosts of celestial spirits with their kingly leader! The prophet Daniel once saw an Angel, and he was so terror-struck at his appearance, that he fell to the ground like one dead. If such an effect was produced on him by the sight of a single Angel, whose errand was one of comfort and consolation, what will become of us, when so many hundreds of thousands of heavenly princes draw nigh to us with wrathful countenances? St. Ephrem, speaking of this says: “The Angels will stand there with a menacing mien, their eyes flashing with the sacred fire of just indignation, roused by the iniquities of mankind.”
Now if the sight of the Angels alone, who will come to judgment with the Divine Judge, is so terrible, what will be the fear and dread inspired by the Judge Himself, when He comes in all the wrath of offended justice! As in Heaven there is no greater delight than the contemplation of God, so at the Last Judgment there will be no greater pain than to look upon the angry Judge. Before entering upon an explanation of this, let us see with what majesty Christ will come to judgment.
The advent of Christ will be so terrible that neither man nor Angel is capable of describing it aright. For all that is most calculated to appall the sinner will be here seen, and nothing will be wanting that can enhance the majesty of Christ. When a monarch makes his entry into a town, what pomp and splendor is displayed there! Strains of lively music mingle with the more solemn peal of bells, salutes are fired, the whole population is astir, every one straining his eyes to see the monarch; first come his servants, then his counsellors, then the nobles of the land; lastly he comes himself, surrounded by a vast multitude of people.
Yet what is all this magnificence the world can offer when compared with the majesty which will attend the coming of the King of kings! Compare a poor ragged beggar-boy with a sovereign prince who enters riding in a chariot of gold, and we have a feeble and insufficient image of the difference that exists between the pomp and splendor of this world and the glory wherewith Christ will come to judgment.
Yet His advent will not merely be grand and glorious beyond measure, it will likewise be awful in its nature. If the graves opened at the blast of the Angel’s trumpet, and the sound of that trumpet re-echoed throughout the whole world, what a panic of fear will seize upon mankind when the Angels who precede Christ's triumphal call cause the sound of their trumpets to be heard!
“What,” asks St. Augustine, “will become of us on that dreadful day, the Day of Judgment, when the Lord shall descend with His Angels with the sound of trumpets, and the whole earth shall tremble with fear?”
When God came down of old upon Mount Sinai, we read in Holy Scripture: “Now the third day was come and the morning appeared; and behold thunders began to be heard, and lightning to flash, and a very thick cloud to cover the mount, and the noise of the trumpet sounded exceeding loud, and the people that was in the camp feared.” And when all the people heard the thunder and the sound of the trumpet, and saw the lightning and the smoke arising from out of the mount, they were terrified, and withdrew to a distance, saying to Moses: “Speak thou to us and we will do all things that the Lord hath commanded, but let not the Lord speak to us lest we die” (Exodus 20:19).
If all this happened when God came down from Heaven to give His law to the Hebrew nation, and adopt them as His children, what, thinkest thou, O Christian, will be the case when He comes to require an account of the manner in which His commandments have been kept? If the children of Israel were so terrified at the giving of the law that they thought they should die of fear, what cause shall not we mortals, we Christians especially, have to tremble, since we have so often willfully transgressed the commandments of God!
O God, almighty Judge of all men, Thou wilt descend from Heaven at the Last Day with great power and majesty, to act in Thy character of Judge, and the thought of Thy coming causes me to quake with fear. Inspire me now, I beseech Thee, with salutary fear, so that I may avoid sin, and may not merit to be crushed by Thy just anger. Amen.
Part 11 On the Appearance of Christ's Cross in the Heavens The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
V. On the Appearance of Christ’s Cross in the Heavens.
When all mankind are assembled in the valley of Josaphat, the prediction of Our Lord will be fulfilled: “Men withering away for fear, and expectation of what shall come upon the whole Earth.” For they will be in such anxiety and terror in anticipation of the approaching judgment that, if such a thing were possible, they would faint away. They will look up to the Heavens continually with fear and trembling, and every moment that the coming of the dreaded Judge is delayed will serve to increase their apprehension of this advent. At length the Heavens will be opened, and the sign of Christ s triumphant victory, the sign of the holy Cross, will be carried down by a host of Angels and exhibited to the whole world.
These are Our Lord’s words in regard to this mystery: “The powers of Heaven shall be moved, and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in Heaven, and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn” (Matthew 24:29-30). The Catholic Church teaches us what this sign will be, which is to appear in Heaven: The sign of the Cross will appear in Heaven, when the Lord shall come to judgment. All the Fathers concur in interpreting this sign which will be displayed in the Heavens as the Cross of Christ. Although the cross whereon Our Lord suffered is now divided into innumerable little pieces, into particles even, yet by Divine power it will once more form a complete whole. It will be carried down from Heaven by the Angels with solemn pomp; and the Angels who bear it will be followed by others, who, as the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, maintains, will carry all the other instruments of the Passion; that is to say, the pillar, the lance, the scourges, the hammer, the iron glove, the dice, the scarlet robe, the white robe, the seamless tunic, the holy winding-sheet, the vessel containing myrrh and all the other instruments that were employed during the Passion, and the object of this will be to make manifest to the whole world how many and manifold were the pains Christ suffered for our sakes.
Now when all mankind behold the holy cross and all the other sacred instruments of the Passion shining like the sun at midday, for the cross of Christ will gleam with a light of unexampled brilliance, those who are waiting below will stand in trembling fear and woeful lamentation. For the sight of the holy cross and the other instruments of torture will recall to their mind all the grievous pains that Our Lord endured, and indeed in so forcible and vivid a manner, that His whole Passion will seem to be re-enacted before them. Then the bitterest remorse will fill the heart of the wicked. But this remorse, how great and how deep soever it may be, will be futile. It comes too late.
This remorse is the companion of despair. In their anguish of soul and their despair they will exclaim with Cain, the fratricide: “My iniquity is greater than that I may deserve pardon!” or with Judas, who betrayed his Lord and Master: “I have sinned, in betraying innocent blood.” Yes, all the lost will concur in exclaiming, “Alas! we have sinned in betraying innocent blood. We have tortured, we have crucified, we have put the Son of God to death by our sins.” Then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, for they will perceive how grievously they have offended against God, but the cries of mourning and despair prevailing everywhere will be in vain.
What will the unfortunate heathen say, who have never heard, never known anything about Christ’s Passion? They will bitterly bewail and lament their ignorance, saying: “Alas! we unhappy ones, had we but known this, we should never have come to this misery. Had we but known that the great and infinite God did and suffered so much for us, how grateful we should have been to Him, how willingly we would have served Him! We were deluded by our false gods. We saw in them no virtues, only vile and vicious deeds. Against the promptings of conscience we imitated their vices, and hence we are damned. We cannot complain, or think ourselves wronged by the holy and just God, because we are amongst the reprobate. If only we had hearkened to the voice of our conscience, this would not have been our fate.”
But what will those say who put Christ to death? Pilate, Caiphas, Annas, the high priest, as well as the Jews who cried: “Crucify Him!“ and “His blood be upon us and upon our children!” all who took part in the cruel, atrocious crime of crucifying their God, will at the sight of the sacred instruments of the Passion shriek aloud in despair and desire to be annihilated. Execrated and cursed even by the damned, they will stand there, branded as deicides, objects of abhorrence to the whole world.
It is not my intention to discuss what bad Christians, who have blasphemed the Son of God by word or deed, will feel at that time; for brevity’s sake I leave thee, reader, to meditate upon it for thyself. Only one thing I would ask of thee; reflect upon this, what thou wouldst say, what thou wouldst most deeply regret, if thou wert amongst the number of the damned, and didst then perceive that thou hadst been the cause of Christ s sufferings and hadst crucified Him by thy sins. Couldst thou now feel in thy heart something of the contrition which would then pierce thy soul, assuredly thou wouldst never again for the remainder of thy life commit any heinous sin. Couldst thou now mourn over the sufferings of Christ with expressions of such poignant sorrow as would then rise to thy lips, thou wouldst infallibly obtain the remission of thy sins. Wherefore, frequently adore thy crucified Savior, call to mind His sufferings for thy sake, and recite the following prayer:
O faithful Redeemer of the world, who didst endure such unspeakable sufferings for me, a miserable sinner, I pray Thee let not Thy bitter Passion and Thy death upon the cross be unavailing for me. Impress the remembrance of them deeply upon my heart, that I may have them ever before my mind, and may avoid sin which was the cause of Thy suffering. Thus when Thy cross shall appear bright and shining in the Heavens on the Day of Judgment, may it not be to me a sign of damnation, but of salvation, a sign of Thy mercy and of Thy love. Amen.
Part 10 How All Men Will Await Christ's Coming in the Valley of Josphat The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
Let us now contemplate the multitudes gathered together in the place of judgment. All mankind, every human being who has ever lived upon earth, as well as all the rebellious spirits who were cast out of Heaven, will be compelled to appear here before the judgment seat of Christ.
Who can attempt to enumerate these countless multitudes? The number of the earth’s inhabitants living at this present moment amounts to about 1,400,000,000. This vast multitude will have disappeared in less than half a century, and another generation, no less numerous, will have taken their place and filled the earth anew. So it will go on and on until the Last Day. What countless hosts there will be arraigned before the judgment seat of Christ!
The good will be all together, rejoicing in the certainty of their eternal salvation. They are adorned with glorious apparel, and shine like the stars of Heaven. They know one another, they greet one another, and exchange mutual congratulations respecting their happy lot.
Not so the wicked. The good stand on the right hand, and they upon the left. Unfortunately the number of the wicked is far, far larger than that of the good. Both before and after the coming of Christ the prince of darkness held sway over a much greater number of subjects than Christ Himself. Alas! my God, what an immense multitude there will be on the left hand! The mourning and misery amongst them will be so unparalleled that the good who are on the right hand would, were it possible, be deeply touched with compassion.
For all these countless millions of human beings will pour out their excessive sorrow and anguish in piteous lamentations. Awaiting the coming of the supreme Judge, they stand together, apart from the just, full of confusion at their own hideousness, and especially at their sinfulness, now evident to all.
Yet above and beyond all this misery is the consternation that prevails on account of the coming of the Judge; it is beyond the power of words to express. For now these unhappy creatures first become fully aware how terrible are the judgments of God, which they during their lifetime heeded so little. Now for the first time they recognize what a fearful disgrace it is for them to have their sins made manifest in the presence of all the Angels and Saints, in the presence likewise of the devils and of the lost. Now for the first time they are conscious of the awful nature of the sentence that will be passed on them by the Judge whom they have often insolently set at naught. These and many other things contribute to imbue them with such an unutterable dread of the coming of their Judge, that they quake in every limb with terror, and almost swoon away with apprehension and alarm.
They will say to one another in plaintive tones: “Alas, what have we done! How terribly we have deceived ourselves! For the sake of the few and transitory joys of earth, we must undergo an eternity of anguish. What good are all the riches, the voluptuous pleasures, the pride, the honors of the world to us now? We fools have trifled away celestial and eternal goods for the poor and paltry things of earth. Alas, what will become of us when our Judge appears! Ye mountains, fall on us, and ye hills, cover us, for truly it would be less intolerable for us to be crushed under your weight, than to stand before the whole world covered with shame and confusion, and behold the wrathful countenance of the just Judge!”
Unhappy sinner, whoever thou art who readest this book, do not flatter thyself with the vain hope that this description of the misery of the lost is exaggerated. They will complain a thousand times more loudly, and their pain and misery will be unutterable. Avail thyself of the short and precious season of thy earthly existence, do penance, do now all that thou wouldst desire to have done at the Day of Judgment. Ask of God grace to amend thy sinful life, in order that the day of Christ’s coming may not be a day of unspeakable terror to thee.
My God, I acknowledge that by my sinful life I have deserved to be banished from Thy presence forever. Yet I sincerely repent of my sins and pray Thee for the grace of a true conversion, so that I may not await Thy coming among the number of the lost. Amen.
Part 9 On the Manner in which the Good and the Wicked will be Conducted to the Place of Judgment The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
According to the generally-received opinion the final judgment will be held in the valley of Josaphat, at no great distance from Jerusalem. This opinion rests upon the words of the prophet Joel: “I will gather together all nations, and bring them down into the valley of Josaphat, and I will plead with them there.” And again: “Let the nations come up into the valley of Josaphat, for there will I sit to judge all nations round about” (Joel 3:2, 12).
It is not difficult to allege a reason why Christ should hold the final judgment there, for it is in the neighborhood of the spot where He suffered, and is it not just that in the same place He should appear as our Judge? Mount Olivet, the scene of His agony, was also that of His glorious Ascension.
It may, however, be objected, that the valley of Josaphat could not contain the millions and millions of human beings who will be gathered together for judgment. But when a spot is indicated as the probable theatre of the Last Judgment, it does not necessarily follow that all mankind will be crowded into that narrow space.
We will now consider in what manner we shall be assembled for the final judgment. If the good and the evil are found together in the graveyards and elsewhere, that will come to pass which Our Lord predicted: “So shall it be at the end of the world: the Angels shall go out, and shall separate the wicked from among the just” (Matthew 13:49). For since the good are laid to rest amongst the wicked, it follows that at the resurrection they will be found amongst the wicked. Accordingly, after the General Resurrection the holy Angels will come and separate the elect from the reprobate. St. Paul, speaking of this, says: “For the Lord Himself shall come down from Heaven with commandment, and with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God; and the dead who are in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive who are left, shall be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ into the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16). All the good, that is to say, will be carried on the clouds with splendor and great glory by the Angels to the place of judgment.
Now imagine to thyself what a beautiful sight it will be, when the Saints with their glorified bodies, shining like burnished gold in the sunlight, will be transported through the air, escorted by their guardian Angels! With what exultation and rejoicing will they pass on their triumphal way!
And when they all come together in the valley of Josaphat, they will greet one another lovingly, and embrace one another with mutual joy. Think for a moment, O Christian, how thou wouldst rejoice if thou wert so fortunate as to find thyself amongst the number of the blessed. This happiness is yet within thy reach; if thou dost really desire it with all the strength of thy will, thou wilt be counted in this happy company. Bestir thyself to fulfill all thy duties well and faithfully, and thou too shalt one day join in that glorious and triumphant procession.
We will now consider how the wicked shall be transported to the valley of Josaphat, and what will await them there. Alas! their doom is so sorrowful, that I can scarcely venture to describe it in detail. What will these unhappy sinners think, what will they say, when they see the holy Angels taking the elect from their midst and carrying them with glory and splendor through the air? The Wise Man gives us an insight into their thoughts when he tells us: “These, seeing it, shall be troubled with terrible fear and shall be amazed at the suddenness of the unexpected salvation of the just; saying within themselves, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit: These are they whom we had sometime in derision, and for a parable of reproach. We fools esteemed their life madness and their end without honor. Behold how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the Saints” (Wisdom 5:2-5). How it will grieve them to behold those whom they formerly despised so utterly now honored and beloved by the Angels of God, and conducted by them in glory and triumph to meet Christ. And they who once made such a display of their riches, who despised all their fellow creatures in their arrogant pride, now stand amongst the fallen Angels, poor, miserable, contemned.
When the Angels have escorted all the elect to the valley of Josaphat, they will proceed to drive all the reprobate thither, with the evil spirits that are mingled with them. They will cry with a loud voice: “Away with you, away to judgment! The Judge of the living and the dead commands you to appear before Him.”
What a piercing cry of anguish these unhappy creatures will utter! They will do their utmost to resist the behest of the Angels, but they will struggle in vain; they must obey the command of God s messengers. Together with the evil spirits the damned will be forcibly driven to the place of judgment. What an awful journey! The air is rent with cries of rage. The spirits of darkness, with diabolical malice and cruelty, already vent their spite in tormenting the hapless creatures whom sin has made their victims. Hear the shriek of despair wrung from the wretched beings: “Fools that we were! thoughtless fools! Whither has the path of transgression led us? Alas! it has brought us to the severe, the terribly severe tribunal of God!”
Listen, O sinner, to the sorrowful lamentations and self-accusations of these poor creatures. Beware lest thou too shouldst be of their number. Pray God to preserve you from so shocking a doom, and say: “Most merciful God, remember at how great a price Thou didst purchase me, and how much Thou didst suffer for me. For the sake of that inestimable price do not permit me to be lost, rescue me, number me amongst the sheep of Thy fold. With them I will then praise and magnify Thy loving kindness to all eternity.”
Part 8 On the Resurrection of the Dead The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
On the Resurrection of the Dead.
The reader will perhaps not take what has been said in the preceding chapter much to heart, because he cherishes the hope that he will not be alive during that awful period. But what we are now about to speak of concerns every one, whoever he may be. Wherefore let him read it attentively and ponder it seriously.
The first event that will follow upon the end of the world is the general resurrection of the dead. All men, whoever they may be, and whenever and wherever they have lived, not excepting infants whose existence has been but one brief moment, will rise again. With the solemn blast of a trumpet God will cause all men to be summoned to the Last Judgment. Concerning this Christ says: “He shall send His Angels with a trumpet and a great voice; and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the Heavens to the utmost bounds of them” (Matthew 24:31). And St. Paul says: “We shall indeed all rise again, but we shall not all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52).
After the vast conflagration God will send out His Angels, who will blow so mighty a blast upon their trumpet, that it will re-echo throughout the whole world. The sound of this trumpet will be so solemn that it will cause the earth to tremble. Its powerful voice will awaken the dead, calling on them: “Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment! Arise ye dead, and come to judgment! Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment!” Loud, continuous, and most solemn will be the blast of that trumpeter.
How terrified all the evil spirits and the souls of the lost will be when they hear this call! They will howl and mourn, for the fatal hour has come at last, the hour they have looked forward to so long, and with such unutterable dread. There will be such a commotion in Hell, such raving and raging and fury, that one might imagine the devils were all tearing one another to pieces. “Alas, alas!” they will shriek in their despair. “How can we possibly stand before the countenance of our angry Judge! How can we possibly endure the shame, the agony that will be our portion! Could we only remain here, how gladly would we do so, great as are the torments we have now to endure!” But vain are all their wishes, futile are all their struggles.
They cannot choose, but must obey the voice of the trumpeter. The general resurrection begins while its sound still re-echoes over the whole globe. Do not pause to ask how this can be, for we know that it will be so, on the irrefragable authority of God’s omnipotence and His word which cannot deceive.
However long ago the body of a man may have crumbled into dust, whatever changes it may have passed through, every portion and every particle will unite to form again the same body which was his during his lifetime. “And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hell gave up their dead that were in them” (Apocalypse 20:13).
Consider this solemn truth, O Christian, for it concerns thee closely. As certainly as thou now livest, so certainly wilt thou one day rise again from the grave. Place this awful moment vividly before thee. Even if thou wert pious, and shouldst end thy days in the grace of God, yet, according to the testimony of Holy Scripture and of the Catholic Church, fear and trembling will lay hold upon thee. Considering how inconceivably rigorous God will be in His judgment of men, even the just will have cause to fear in appearing before His tribunal, as we shall presently show. And if good and just men are afraid, what will be the fear that thou, poor sinner, wilt feel, when the trumpet calls thee to judgment! Wherefore amend thy ways, and make thy peace now with thy strict Judge, by works of penance, while there Is yet time. Now in order that thou mayest prepare thyself for that terrible hour of resurrection, we will describe first the resurrection of the good, and then that of the reprobate.
Awakened by the solemn sound of the trumpet all the souls of the just will come down from Heaven, and, accompanied by their guardian Angels, betake themselves to the spot where their remains were interred. The graves will be open, and in them the bodies will be seen lying, incorrupt but yet lifeless. The body of every good man will rest in the grave as if he were asleep; it will be blooming as a rose, fragrant as a lily, shining as a star, fair as an Angel and perfect in every member. What will the soul say when she beholds the body appertaining to her lying before her in such beauty? She will say: “Hail, blessed and beloved body, how I rejoice once more to rejoin thee! How lovely thou art, how glorious, how pleasing, how fragrant! Come to me, that I may be wedded to thee for all eternity.” Then through the power of God the body will be reunited to the soul, and in that same instant return to life.
O my God, what will be the astonishment of the body when it finds itself alive again, and molded in so beauteous a form! Soul and body will greet each other lovingly and embrace each other affectionately with heartfelt emotion. The soul will speak thus to the body: “How earnestly I have longed for thee, how I have desired to see this day! Now I will conduct thee to the regions of heavenly bliss that we may rejoice together for evermore.” And the body will answer: “Welcome, dearest soul; it is indeed a heartfelt joy to me to be with thee again. The greater the pain our past separation caused me, the greater the delight our present reunion affords.”
Then the soul will speak again, and say to the body: “Blessed be thou, my chosen companion, who hast been so faithful to me. Blessed be thy senses and all thy members, for they have ever abstained from evil.” And the body will reply: “Be thou rather blessed, O dearest soul, for it was by thy instigation I did so, and thou didst incite me to all that was good. It is to thee that I owe my present felicity, therefore I praise and magnify thee, and I will praise and magnify thee to all eternity.” Thus body and soul will rejoice together with inexpressible satisfaction.
Then the holy guardian Angels will congratulate these blessed beings and exult with them over their joyous resurrection. In all cemeteries, and places where many persons are buried, the blessed will arise first with resplendent glorified bodies. That they will take the precedence over the others may be gathered from Christ’s words, when He says: “Wonder not at this; for the hour cometh, wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. And they that have done good things shall come forth to the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).
And as in every graveyard there are many persons to rise again, and amongst these a considerable proportion will be good and just, imagine the pleasure it will be to them to see one another again, arrayed in such shining glorious bodies.
God grant that I be counted amongst the number of these happy individuals! How heartily will I thank Him if He grant my request!
The resurrection of the wicked will follow immediately upon that of the just; but oh, how different will it be! In every burying-ground all the lost souls will assemble whose bodies have been interred there, and they will be compelled again to assume them and reunite themselves to them. But what will be the reluctance, the disgust wherewith they will do this! When the soul sees her own body, she will shrink back from it with the utmost repulsion, so hideous will it be, and she will feel that she had rather go straight to Hell than again unite herself to it. For the bodies of the reprobates will resemble devils more than men, so frightful, so loathsome, so offensive will they be. Yet, however the soul resists and opposes the reunion with her body, now so hideous, she must submit to it, for God compels her to it.
Who can depict the despair that takes possession of the body when, reanimated by the return of the soul, it awakens to a consciousness that it is lost forever. With a shriek of rage it will exclaim: “Woe is me, woe is me to all eternity! Better were it for me a thousand times never to have been born, than to have come to this resurrection of misery!” Then the soul will rejoin: “Thou accursed body, I have already for several hundred years had to endure the torments of Hell, and now I must return with thee to the everlasting burning. Thou art to blame for all this misfortune; I gave thee good counsels, but thou wouldst not follow them. Therefore thou art forever lost. Alas for me, unhappy soul that I am! Alas for me, now and forever more! Thou hast been the means of bringing me to this endless misery. Therefore I execrate the hour in which I first came to dwell with thee.” And then the body will answer the soul after this manner: “O accursed soul, what right hast thou to anathematize me, when thou art thyself the cause of all this wretchedness? Thou shouldst have ruled me more firmly and held me back from evil, for it was with this object that God united thee to me. Instead of associating thyself with me in works of penance, thou didst revel with me in sinful pleasures. It is for me, therefore, to curse thee to all eternity, because thou art the one who hast brought us both to everlasting perdition.” Thus soul and body will mutually anathematize each other.
Such are the unhappy circumstances that will attend the resurrection of the bodies of the damned in all graveyards and cemeteries when they leave the grave and enter upon a second life.
And now, reader, endeavor to imagine the shame and confusion which will weigh those poor creatures to the ground when first they see each other again. Husband and wife will meet, brothers and sisters, parents and children, friends and acquaintances; those who have lived in the same town or the same village and have known each other from childhood. Their shame will be so overwhelming that they would prefer to endure any physical torture than be exposed to it. And their bodies will be so hideously ugly, so disgusting in appearance, that they will shudder at the sight of one another. Who can describe the mourning and lamentation that will prevail amongst these hapless creatures! Their misery is indeed unutterable.
Bethink thyself, whoever thou art who readest or hearest this, what awful despair would seize upon thee if thou wert amongst the number of these lost souls. In what piteous tones thou wouldst bewail with them thy hapless fate. “Alas! what have we done? Woe to us most miserable ones! Would that we had never been born! Cursed be thou, my wife, who didst provoke me to sin! Cursed be you, my children, who are the cause of my damnation! Cursed be you, my friends and acquaintances, for you were the occasion of this calamity that has come upon me! Cursed forever be all those who have been partners of my life and partners of my sin!”
Think over this, O sinner, and let your hard heart be softened.
Whenever you pass by the cemetery of the place in which you live, remember that perchance thou mayest before long be laid there to rest in the grave until the general resurrection.
Wherefore make such good use of the brief period of life, that thou mayest be numbered among the just, and arise with them to everlasting felicity, and not with the reprobate to everlasting torments. Pray often thus in thy heart: “O most compassionate Lord Jesus, I implore Thee for the sake of Thy bitter Passion and death, and through the Last Judgment at which Thou wilt be the Judge of the whole world, grant me grace to live in such a manner that at the resurrection I may arise with joy and not with shame.” Amen.
Part 7 On the Signs That Shall Precede the Last Judgment The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
Jesus Christ, the Judge of the living and the dead, who at His first coming appeared upon the earth in all stillness and tranquility, under a gentle and attractive form, will come again the second time to judgment with great majesty and glory.
In order that His advent may not find us unprepared, He will send beforehand many and terrible signs to warn us to abandon our sinful life. Of these signs He Himself says: “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. For there shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be. And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved.” What an awful announcement! What a terrible prophecy!
Could there be any more terrible prediction made to us than this which comes from the lips of eternal Truth? When God was about to destroy the city of Jerusalem, He announced its downfall by several signs. A comet, resembling a fiery sword, blazed over the city, and hosts of armed warriors were seen contending in the air. Jerusalem might at the last moment have interpreted aright these signs and done penance unto salvation. But Jerusalem knew not the time of its visitation. If God caused such wondrous signs to appear before the destruction of one single city, will He not announce the approaching end of the world, and the chastisements that are to come upon it, by awful and terrific signs? There is therefore every reason to believe, that a considerable time before the Last Day, fearful signs will appear in all lands in the Heavens.
This Christ appears to indicate in the words: “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; men withering away for fear, and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world.” These signs will become more numerous day by day, and men will be struck with such terror, that if God did not shorten those days, even the very elect would begin to despair. Then, as St. Jerome says, the Heavens will be overcast with heavy clouds, and a dreadful tempest will arise.
The force of the wind will carry the inhabitants of the earth off their feet, and whirl them aloft in the air; trees will be uprooted, houses unroofed. Long peals of thunder will resound in the Heavens, the flashes of lightning, like serpents of fire, will light up the sky, and with their forked tongues, playing about the dwellings of mankind, will kindle a general conflagration, amid the crash of thunder. The waters of the ocean will be so agitated that their waves will rise mountain-high, towering almost to the clouds. The roaring and raging of the storm-swept billows will last for some time. All the beasts of the earth will lift up their voice, and their dismal howls will fill the air, so that the hearts of men will stand still for terror.
Yet this is but the beginning of sorrow, Our Lord tells us. What will next occur He describes in these words: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from Heaven, and the powers of Heaven shall be moved.”
This darkening of the sun will take place in the full light of midday. And as its golden rays enlightening the face of nature rejoice both man and beast, so the sudden withdrawal of its light will cause sorrow and distress to the whole of creation And this all the more, because the moon will cease to shine, and her gentle, peaceful light will no longer illuminate the shades of night. All the stars also which bespangle the firmament and cast a glimmering to earth, will disappear from their accustomed place. This awful darkness will strike such alarm and anguish to the heart of all living creatures, both men and brutes, that the mourning and lamentation will be universal.
With the wail of distress ascending from the dwellers upon earth, the howls of the evil spirits in the air will mingle in hideous concert, for they will perceive from these signs that the Day of Judgment is at hand; they know that they will soon have to appear before the rigorous tribunal of God; they know they will be cast down to Hell for all eternity. Hence their fury, their rage, and frantic raving.
Here we may repeat the words spoken by Christ: “This is but the beginning of sorrow,” and we may add, there will be no end to it. For after the terrific darkness all will be upset and in disorder, and the elements will be let loose, so that men will fear lest the Heavens should fall and the earth sink from beneath their feet. This is what Christ means when He says: “The powers of Heaven shall be moved and the stars shall fall from Heaven.” For in accordance with the Divine will, the firmament with all its stars, the sun with its attendant planets, the atmosphere with its veil of clouds, will be so mightily shaken and made to tremble, that appalling sounds of crashing, breaking, fearful explosions, will everywhere be heard. The stars will be driven from their orbits, and thus the great powers of Heaven will conflict with one another.
What will the feelings be of the man who lives through events such as these? How all mankind, all created beings, will mourn! Christ Himself tells us this will be so: “Upon earth will be distress of nations by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves; men withering away for fear, and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world” (Luke 21:25-26). And in another place He says: “There shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be. And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved” (Matthew 24:21-22).
Our Lord could have used no stronger expression to describe the utter misery of unhappy mortals, than by saying, they shall wither away for fear, and apprehension of the things that are yet to come upon the world. How is it possible for the men who shall be alive at that time not to despond, not to despair, in presence of such fathomless misery? Even the faith and courage of an apostle would be sorely tried to bear up against such unspeakable wretchedness. All men will have the appearance of one who has seen a ghost. Their hair will stand on end, their knees will strike together, they will quake with fear, their terror will deprive them of the power of speech, their hearts will die within them for tribulation, they will lose reason and consciousness, no one will help his neighbor, no one will comfort his neighbor, no one will so much as exchange a word with his neighbor; only they will all unite in weeping and wailing, and fly to hide themselves in the caves of the earth.
When this lamentation has lasted for a time, the God of justice will put an end to their misery, and all that is beneath the firmament of Heaven shall be destroyed by fire. For fire will fall down from Heaven, and ignite everything with which it comes in contact. In many places also flames will spring up out of the ground, and terrify unhappy mortals to such an extent that they will not know how to escape from them. Some will seek shelter in cellars and caverns, others will immerse themselves in rivers and lakes. The devouring flames will spread so fast that the forests will be set on fire, and the towns and villages will be included in the destruction. At length the whole earth will be on fire and a general conflagration will ensue, such as never has been seen or heard of. The heat of the raging flames will be so intense that the stones and rocks will melt, and the sea and all waters upon the earth will boil and hiss.
All men then living, every beast upon the land and every fish in the sea will be destroyed in this universal conflagration. Thus the whole world will be brought to a terrible end, and everything on this earth will be either consumed or purified by the fire. After this has happened, the appearance of the earth will be completely changed.
Part 6 On the Judgment The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
Above and beyond all that we have hitherto considered as contributing to make death terrible to us, is the thought that we must stand before the judgment seat of God, and give an account of all we have done and left undone. How awful this judgment is, we learn from these words of St. Paul: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). For if it is very alarming even to fall into the hands of an angry man, how much more terrible will it be to fall into the hands of an omnipotent God!
All the Saints trembled in anticipation of the sentence that would be passed on them by God, for they well knew how exceedingly severe His judgments are. The Royal Psalmist says: “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord, for in Thy sight no man living shall be justified” (Psalm 142:2).
And holy Job exclaims: “What shall I do if God arise to judge me? What am I that I should answer Him? I cannot answer Him one for a thousand.”
Again St. Paul says: “I am not conscious to myself of anything, yet am I not hereby justified; but He that judgeth me is the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:4). We read also in the lives of the Fathers that the holy Abbot Agathon was overwhelmed with fear as his end drew near. His brethren said to him: “Why shouldst thou be afraid, reverend Father, thou hast led so pious a life?” But he answered them: “The judgments of God are very different from the judgments of man.” The holy Abbot Elias used likewise to say: “There are three things that I fear. First I dread the moment when my soul has to leave my body; secondly, the moment when I must stand before the tribunal of God; thirdly, the moment when sentence is passed upon me.” No one can fail to concur in the saying of this saintly man, for indeed, beside the general judgment, there is nothing so much to be apprehended as these three things. All good and holy men have feared them, all do fear them. Those who do not fear them, prove that they know very little about them, or have meditated scarcely at all upon them. For the benefit of one who may be so unenlightened, I will give a brief instruction on the subject.
Consider, first of all, what a strange new sensation it will be for thy soul, when she finds herself separated from the body, in an unknown world. Hitherto she has known no existence apart from the body; now she is suddenly separated from it.
Hitherto she was in time; now she has passed into eternity.
Now for the first time her eyes are opened, and she sees clearly what eternity is, what sin is, what virtue is, how infinite is the being of the Deity, and how wondrous is her own nature.
All this will appear so marvelous to her that she will be almost petrified with astonishment. After the first instant of wonder, she will be conducted before the tribunal of God, that she may give an account of all her actions; and the terror that will then seize upon the unhappy soul surpasses our powers of conception.
No wonder the hapless sinner shrinks from appearing before a tribunal where he will be convicted of all his misdeeds and severely punished for them! Would he not rather be thrown into a dark dungeon, and be fed on bread and water, than have to stand before this judgment seat and be put to open shame?
If it is so hateful to a criminal to be brought before an earthly magistrate, well may the poor soul quake with fear when she is introduced into the presence of God, the strict and omniscient Judge, and required to give the most accurate account of all the thoughts, words, deeds and omissions of her past life. Holy Job acknowledges this when he says: “Who will grant me this, that Thou mayest protect me in Hell, and hide me till Thy wrath pass” (Job xiv. 13). Observe that even the patient Job would rather lie in a darksome pit, and be concealed in a gloomy, somber cave, than appear before the countenance of an angry God.
There are six things which strike terror into the soul, when she is summoned to the particular judgment.
(1) The soul fears because she knows her Judge to be omniscient; that nothing can be concealed from Him, nor can He be in any way deceived.
(2) Because her Judge is omnipotent; nothing can withstand Him, and no one can escape from Him.
(3) Because her Judge is not merely the most just, but the most strict of judges, to whom sin is so hateful that He will not allow the slightest transgression to pass unpunished.
(4) Because the soul knows that God is not her judge alone, but also her accuser; she has provoked Him to anger, she has offended against Him, and He will defend His honor and avenge every insult offered to it.
(5) Because the soul is aware that the sentence once uttered is irrevocable; there is no appeal for her to a higher court, it is useless for her to complain of the sentence. It cannot be reversed, and whether adverse or favorable she must needs accept it.
(6) The most powerful reason of all why the soul fears to appear before the judgment seat is because she knows not what the sentence of the Judge will be. She has far more cause to fear than to hope. And all thought of help is now over. Forever, forever lost; forever, forever damned!
These six points fill the soul with such unspeakable anguish and terror, that were she mortal instead of immortal, she would be willing to die the most cruel and violent death as a means of escape.
Consider, furthermore, in what form thou wilt appear before thy Judge, and how thou wilt be put to confusion on account of thy sins. If a man in punishment of his evil deeds were sentenced to be stripped to the skin in presence of a whole multitude, how greatly ashamed he would feel! But if some loathsome and disgusting sore upon his body were thus disclosed to sight, he would be still more ashamed. Thus will it be with thee, when thou standest before thy Judge in the presence of many hosts of Angels. Not merely will all thy wrong doings, thy thoughts, words and works be revealed, but all thy evil propensities will be made manifest to thee, and thou wilt be put to terrible shame because of them.
Thou canst not deny that these evil proclivities cling to thee, for art thou not given to anger, impatience, revenge, hatred, envy, pride, vanity, sensuality, sloth, greediness, self-love, avarice, worldliness and all malice ? These and other bad tendencies cleave to thy soul, and disfigure it so frightfully, that after death thou wilt be alarmed at the sight of thy own soul, and heartily ashamed of all the stains upon it.
Next consider in what manner thy holy Judge will receive thee, when thou appearest before Him not merely laden with a countless multitude of sins, but in a state of indescribable impurity. Thou wilt stand before Him in the greatest confusion, not knowing which way to look. Beneath thy feet Hell lies; above thee is the angry countenance of thy Judge. Beside thee thou seest the demons who are there to accuse thee. In thy own interior thou beholdest all thy sins and misdeeds. It is impossible to hide thyself; and yet this exposure is intolerable.
This would be a fitting time to expound how the evil enemy will accuse thee, how he will bring all thy sins to light and call down upon them the vengeance of God; and also how the just God will demand the most accurate account of all thy actions.
But this has so often formed the theme of preachers, that, for the sake of brevity, I will not enlarge on this part of my subject, but conclude with the following anecdote.
Two intimate friends agreed together that whichever of the two should die first, should appear to the survivor, provided he was permitted by God to do so. When at length one was removed by death, faithful to his promise he appeared to his friend, but with a sad and woebegone aspect, saying: “No man knows! no man knows! no man knows!” “What is it that no one knows?” his friend asked. And the spirit answered: “No one knows how strict are the judgments of God, and how severe His chastisements!”
These things being so, what does it behoove us to do, in order not to fall into the hands of a wrathful Judge? I can give thee no better counsel than this: Repent of thy sins, make a sincere confession, amend thy ways, and begin to think seriously about thy eternal salvation. Whilst thou art still in good health think sometimes of death, and prepare thyself for it. Do not postpone this until old age comes upon thee, or a mortal sickness overtakes thee. There is no greater, no more important art upon earth than the art of dying a good death. Upon this thy whole eternity depends; an eternity of surpassing felicity or of unutterable torment.
Only one trial is granted to thee; if thou dost not stand this one trial, all is lost, an eternity of misery is before thee. And if thou hast not learned this all-important art in thy lifetime, when thou art well and strong, how canst thou practice it to thy eternal gain when upon thy death-bed? It will be utterly impossible for thee to do so unless God works a miracle of mercy on thy behalf. Thou canst not reckon upon this; God has not promised it nor hast thou deserved so great a favor, Therefore let me entreat thee to follow my friendly counsel, and prepare thyself frequently for death whilst in full health and strength; for this is the only means whereby thou mayest hope to become proficient in the art of dying well, and pass successfully through the one trial that awaits thee, by which thy eternal destiny will be determined.
Part 5 On the Fear of Hell The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
Death is rendered yet more bitter to us by the fear of Hell and the clear view of eternity before us. For when we are dangerously ill, and death stares us in the face, the terror which fills us at the prospect of eternity is so overwhelming, that we are filled with fear. For we see plainly that in a few days a few hours perhaps we must enter eternity, and we know not what awaits us there. The dread lest we should be lost everlastingly is so great as to cause us to shudder.
Moreover, the alarm that tortures us is not a little augmented by the remembrance of the sins whereby we have oftentimes deserved Hell; for no man can be certain whether he has done penance aright, and whether he has really obtained pardon. This is explained by a passage from the writings of the aforementioned Pope St. Gregory, who describes this fear in the following words:
“The just man who is truly concerned about his eternal salvation will from time to time think of his future Judge. He will meditate, before death overtakes him, upon the account he will have to give of his life. If there are no great sins wherewith his conscience reproaches him, he still has cause for alarm on account of the daily sins of which he perhaps takes little heed. For how often do we not sin in thought? It is comparatively easy to avoid evil deeds, but it is a far more difficult matter to keep one’s heart free from inordinate thoughts. Yet we read in Holy Scripture: ‘Woe to you that devise that which is unprofitable and work evil in your thoughts!’ (Micheas 2:1). And again: ‘In your heart you work iniquities!’ (Psalm 57:3).
“Hence the just are ever in fear of the awful judgments of God, for they are conscious that all these secret sins will be brought to judgment, as St. Paul says: In that day God shall judge the secrets of men’ (Romans 2:16). And although all his life long a good man will walk in fear of the judgment, yet this fear will notably increase as he draws near to the end of his days. It is said of Our Lord, that when the time of His death approached, He began to be sorrowful and to fear, and being in an agony, He prayed the longer. Was not this intended to teach us how it would be with us in our latter end, and what distress and anguish would overwhelm us?”
Such are the words of Pope St. Gregory, calculated to inspire not only sinners, but also the just with fear, since, as the Saint says, even those who are not conscious of having committed any grievous sins, are yet full of apprehension in regard to the sentence that will be passed on them. If the just are not devoid of alarm, what can we poor sinners do, who know ourselves to be guilty of many and manifold transgressions, and who every day add sin to sin? What will become of us? What can we do? Is there no means we can employ to obtain mercy of God? I know no better counsel than that which Christ Himself gives us in the words: “Watch ye therefore, praying at all times, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that are to come, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36).
Since Christ points out to us prayer as the best and easiest means, let each one faithfully follow this exhortation and diligently call upon almighty God and His Blessed Mother, and all the Saints, imploring them day by day to protect him, and commending to them his latter end.
Part 4 On the Apparitions of the Spirits of Darkness The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
Besides what has been already mentioned, the terrible appearance of the evil spirits makes death yet more alarming to us. It is the opinion of many of the Fathers, that every one, when expiring, sees the evil enemy, at any rate at the moment of drawing his last breath, if not before. How appalling this sight is, and with what terror it must inspire the dying, exceeds the power of words to declare.
It is related of Brother Giles that, one day, when he was praying in his cell, the devil appeared to him in so frightful a shape, that the Brother lost the power of speech, and thought his last hour had come. As his lips could not utter a sound, he raised his heart in humble supplication to God, and the apparition vanished. Afterwards, when relating what had befallen him to his brother-monks, he trembled from head to foot as he described the hideous aspect of the adversary of mankind. Then going to St. Francis, he asked him this question: “Father, have you ever seen anything, in this world, the sight of which was so horrible that it was enough to kill one to behold it?” And the Saint replied: “I have indeed seen such a thing; it is none other than the devil, whose aspect is so loathsome that no one could gaze upon it even for a short time and live, unless God specially enabled him to do so.”
St. Cyril also, writing to St. Augustine, says that one of the three men who were raised from the dead told him: “As the hour of my departure drew nigh, a multitude of devils, countless in number, came and stood about me. Their forms were more horrible than anything imagination can conceive. One would rather be burnt in the fire than be compelled to look upon them. These demons ranged themselves around me, and reproached me with all the misdeeds I had ever done, thinking to drive me to despair. And in fact I should have given way before them, had not God in His mercy come to my aid.”
Here we have the testimony of one who actually had learnt by his own experience how frightful the appearance of the evil enemy is, and who declares that nothing can be more horrible than the form the devil assumes.
O my God! how overwhelming the terrors that will take possession of the hapless individual who lies at the point of death when the infernal dragon appears, full of rage, and threatening to swallow him up in his fiery jaws.
In this hour of supreme distress, send my guardian Angel to me, O God, I pray Thee, that he may drive away the evil enemy, otherwise I shall infallibly fall into despair and lose all hope of my salvation.
O most blessed Virgin Mary, who didst crush the head of the serpent, be with me in the hour of my death and do not permit the presence of the cruel adversary to cause my eternal perdition.
Part 3 The Assaults of Satan at the Hour of Death The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
Although death is in itself most bitter, yet its bitterness is not a little enhanced by the vivid remembrance of the sins of our past life, by the thought of the judgment to come, of the eternity before us, and by the assaults of Satan. These four things fill the soul with such terror, that it would infallibly despair unless strengthened by the help of God.
We will enter into some explanation of each of these four things, and also indicate some means of combating the fears they inspire.
With regard to the assaults of Satan, know that the all-just God permits him to have great power to assail us at the hour of death ; not indeed for our perdition, but for our probation. Before expiring the Christian has yet to prove that nothing can avail to make him forsake his God. For this reason the evil enemy employs all the power he has received, and brings all his forces to bear upon a man when he is dying, in the hope of causing him to sin, and thrusting him down to Hell. During our whole lifetime he attacks us fiercely, and neglects no means whereby he may deceive us. But all these persecutions do not bear comparison with the final onslaught with which he endeavors to overcome us at the last. Then he raves and rages, like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
This we learn from the following passage in the Apocalypse (12:12): “Woe to the earth and to the sea, because the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.” These words bear a special application for the dying, against whom the devil conceives a great wrath, and whom he makes every effort to seduce. For he knows full well that if he does not get them into his power now, he will never again have the chance of doing so. Hear what St. Gregory says on this point:
“Consider well how terrible is the hour of death, and how appalling the remembrance of our evil deeds will be at that time. For the spirits of darkness will recall all the harm they have done us, and remind us of the sins which we have committed at their instigation. They will not go to the death bed of the godless only, but they will be present with the elect, striving to discover something sinful whereof to accuse them. Alas ! how will it fare with us hapless mortals in that hour, and what can we say for ourselves, seeing how innumerable are the sins to be laid to our charge? What can we answer to our adversaries, when they place all our sins before us, with the object of reducing us to despair?”
The evil spirits will tempt their unhappy victim at the moment of death on various points, but especially in regard to the sins into which he has most frequently fallen.
If during his lifetime he has cherished hatred towards any one, they will conjure up before his dying eyes the image of that person, rehearsing all he did to injure him, in order to revive the flame of hate towards that enemy, or kindle it anew.
Or if anyone has transgressed against purity, they will show him the accomplice of his sin, and strive to awaken the guilty passion felt for that individual.
If he has been troubled with doubts concerning Faith, they recall to his mind the article of belief which he had difficulty in accepting, representing it to him as untrue.
If a man has a tendency to pusillanimity, the evil spirits encourage it in him, that they may perchance rob him of his hope of salvation.
The man who has sinned through pride, and boasted of his good works, they seek to ensnare by flattery, assuring him that he stands high in the favor of God, and all he has done cannot fail to secure him a place in Heaven.
Again, if in his lifetime a man has given way to impatience, allowing himself to be angry and irritated by every trifle, they make his illness appear most irksome to him that he may become impatient, and rebel against God for having sent upon him so painful a malady.
Or if he has been tepid and undevout, without fervor in prayer or assiduity in his religious exercises they try to maintain in his soul this state of apathy, suggesting to him that his physical weakness is too great even to allow him to join in the prayers his friends read to him.
Finally, they tempt those who have led a godless life, and repeatedly fallen into mortal sin, to despair, representing their transgressions to be so great as to be past forgiveness. In a word, the spirits of evil assail mortals at the moment of death most fiercely at their most vulnerable point, just as a skillful general will storm a fortress on the side where he perceives the ramparts to be weakest.
But the devils do not always confine themselves to tempting a man in regard to his chief failings and predominant faults; they frequently tempt him to sins of which he has not hitherto been guilty. For these crafty foes spare no pains to deceive the dying, and if they fail in one way, they attempt to succeed in another. These temptations are of no ordinary character. They are sometimes so violent that it is impossible for weak mortals to resist them without supernatural assistance. If it is all that any one in good health can do to withstand the assaults of the devil, and even such a one is often overcome by them, how difficult must it be for one who is enfeebled by sickness to struggle against foes so formidable!
On this point a pious writer says: “Unless the dying man has, previous to his last illness, armed himself against these attacks, and accustomed himself to do battle with his spiritual adversaries, he stands a poor chance of prevailing against them at the moment of death. If he does so, it will be only through the assistance of almighty God, of our blessed Lady, of his guardian Angel, or of one of the Saints. For our merciful God and His Angels and blessed Saints do not abandon the Christian in the hour of his direst need; they hasten to his help, that is, provided he is deserving of their aid.”
[In the book, An Unpublished Manual of Purgatory, there is the following account by a Religious Sister, whom God allowed to appear to a fellow Religious Sister: "I had no agony, as you know, but I can tell you this, that at the last decisive moment, the devil lets loose all his rage against the one that is dying. God permits souls to go through these last trials in order to increase their merits. Souls that are strong and generous, in order that they may have a more glorious place in Heaven, have often had, at the end of their lives and in the moment of death, terrible combats with the angel of darkness. You have been witness to this. But they always come out victorious. God never allows a soul that has been devoted to Him during life to perish at the last moment. Those souls who have loved the Blessed Virgin and invoked her all their lives receive from her many graces in their last struggles. It is the same for those who have been really devout to St. Joseph, to St. Michael, or to any of the saints. I have already said one is glad to have an intercessor with God in those dreadful moments. Some souls die quite tranquilly without experiencing any of those trials. God has His designs in everything. He does or permits all for the good of each particular soul" (An Unpublished Manual of Purgatory) ].
In order to prepare one’s self before one’s last illness to combat these temptations, it will be advisable to recite with due devotion the following prayer:
O Jesus, compassionate Redeemer of mankind, I recall to mind the threefold temptation Thou didst undergo from the evil enemy, and I pray Thee through the glorious victory Thou didst obtain over him, to stand by me in my last conflict and fortify me against all his temptations. I know that in my own strength I cannot contend against so powerful a foe, and I must assuredly be vanquished unless Thou, or Thy blessed Saints, grant me timely assistance. Therefore I now earnestly implore Thy help and that of Thy Saints, and propose to arm myself to the best of my ability by Thy grace, to meet the temptations that await me. I promise now, before Thee and the holy Angels and blessed Saints, that I will never voluntarily expose myself to any temptation, of whatever nature it may be, but with the help of Thy grace I will combat it vigorously. Amen.
Part 2 The Terror of Death The following is taken from Fr. Cochem's Book, The Four Last Things
It appears to me unnecessary to say much about the terrors of death. The subject has been sufficiently enlarged upon by various writers; besides, everyone knows and feels for himself that life is sweet and death is bitter. However old a man may be, however broken in health, however miserable his circumstances, the thought of death is an unwelcome one. There are three principal reasons why all sensible people fear death so much:
First, because the love of life, the dread of death is inherent in human nature. Secondly, because every rational being is well aware that death is bitter, and the separation of soul and body cannot take place without inexpressible suffering. Thirdly, because no one knows where he will go after death, or how he will stand in the Day of Judgment.
It will be well to explain the second and third of these reasons rather more fully, in order on the one hand that those who lead a careless life may perhaps be awakened thereby to a fear of death, and learn to avoid sin, and on the other that each one of us may be warned to prepare for death, lest we be overtaken by it unawares. Every one shrinks instinctively from death, because it is bitter, and painful beyond description to human nature.
The soul of man is subject to many anxieties, apprehensions and sorrows, and the body is subject to pain and sickness of all kinds, yet none of these pains can be compared to the agony of death. A man who loses his good name and his property feels acute grief, but he does not die of it. All suffering and sickness, all grief and anguish, however terrible, is less bitter than death. Hence we see death to be a mighty monarch, the most cruel, the most relentless, the most formidable enemy of mankind. Look at a man wrestling with death, and you will see how the tyrant overpowers, disfigures, prostrates his victim. Now why is death so hard, so terrible a thing?
It is because the soul has to separate itself from the body. Body and soul were created for each other, and so intimate is their union that a parting between them seems almost impossible. They would endure almost anything rather than be torn asunder.
The soul is fearful of the future, and of the unknown land to which she is going. The body is conscious that as soon as the soul departs from it, it will become the prey of worms. Consequently the soul cannot bear to leave the body, nor the body to part from the soul. Body and soul desire their union to remain unbroken, and together to enjoy the sweets of life.
In one of his epistles to St. Augustine, St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, relates what was told him by a man who had been raised from the dead. Amongst other things, he said: “The moment when my soul left my body, was one of such awful pain and distress that no one can imagine the anguish I then endured. If all conceivable suffering and pain were put together they would be as nothing in comparison with the torture I underwent at the separation of soul and body.”
And to emphasize his words, he added, addressing St. Cyril: “Thou knowest that thou hast a soul, but thou knowest not what it is. Thou knowest that beings exist called Angels, but thou art ignorant of their nature. Thou knowest also that there is a God, but thou canst not comprehend His being. So it is with everything that has not corporeal shape; our understanding cannot grasp these things. In like manner it is impossible for thee to understand how I could suffer such intense agony in one short moment.” And if some people apparently pass away most peacefully, this is because nature, exhausted by suffering, has no longer the force to struggle with death.
We know from the testimony of Our Redeemer Himself that no agony is like the agony of death. Although throughout the whole course of His sorrowful Passion, He was tortured in a terrible manner, yet all the martyrdom He endured was not to be compared with what He suffered at the moment of His death. This we gather from the Gospels.
Nowhere do we find that at any period of His life the greatness of the pains He bore extorted from Our Lord a cry of anguish. But when the moment came for Him to expire, and the ruthless hand of death rent His Heart asunder, we read that He cried out with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. Hence it is evident that at no period of the Passion did Christ suffer so acutely as at the most painful separation of His sacred soul from His blessed body.
In order that mankind might at least in some measure understand how terrible was the death Christ died for us, He ordained that we, at our dissolution, should taste something of the bitterness of His death, and experience the truth of the following words of Pope St. Gregory: “Christ’s conflict with death represented our last conflict, teaching us that the agony of death is the keenest agony that man has ever felt or will ever feel. It is the will of God that man should suffer so intensely at the close of his life, in order that we may recognize and appreciate the magnitude of Christ’s love for us, the inestimable benefit He has conferred on us by enduring death for our sakes. For it would have been impossible for man fully to know the infinite love of God, unless he too had drunk to some extent of the bitter chalice which Christ drank.”
In this passage from the writings of the holy Pope Gregory we are taught that Christ ordained that all men in the hour of their dissolution should suffer the like pains which Christ suffered for us in His last agony, in order that they may gain some knowledge, by their own experience, of the terrible nature of the death He endured for us, and the great price He paid for our ransom. How painful, how terrible, how awful death will be for us, if our death is in any degree to resemble Christ’s most agonizing death!
How severe a conflict is before us poor mortals! What torments await us at our last hour! One is almost inclined to think it would have been preferable never to have been born, than to be born to suffer such anguish. But it is thus that Heaven is to be won, and through this narrow gate alone can we enter into Paradise. Wherefore, O Christian, accept your destiny cheerfully, and form a steadfast resolution to bear unmurmuringly the bitterness of death. For it is a great merit to yield up one’s life the life every man loves so well and submit with a ready and willing mind to the pangs of death. And for the purpose of encouraging you to gain merit in your last moments, let me counsel you to make the following determination to suffer death bravely.
O God of all justice, who hast ordained that since the Fall of our first parents all men should die, and also that it should be the lot of many amongst us to taste in their death something of the pains Thy Son endured at the hour of His death, I submit most willingly to this Thy stern decree. Although life is sweet to me, and death appears most bitter, yet, out of obedience to Thee, I voluntarily accept death with all its pains, and am ready to yield up my soul whenever, wherever, in what way or manner soever it may please Thy Divine Providence to appoint. And since Thou hast made death so bitter to man, in order that we may feel to a certain extent by our own experience how painful a death Thy beloved Son underwent for our sakes, I willingly accept the penalty of death, that I may at least at my latter end know something of the pains my blessed Lord suffered on my account. In honor, therefore, of His bitter Passion and death, I now cheerfully subject myself to whatever sufferings I may be called upon to pass through at the moment of my departure, and declare my determination to bear them with all the constancy of which I am capable. I pray that this resolution on my part may be pleasing in Thy sight, and that Thou wilt give me grace to bear my last agony with patience. Amen.
Part 1 We Have Entered the Liturgical Season of "The Four Last Things"
It is towards the end of the liturgical year that the Church has providentially and instructively placed the feasts of Christ the King, All Saints and the Poor Souls in Purgatory. It is at this time of year that, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, that leaves begin to fall from the trees and the ground is coated with those dead leaves. Since we have now entered the last days of the liturgical year—and since we are also living in the “End Times” of the world, as revealed by Our Lady to Sr. Lucia of Fatima—it is well worth considering the essential, yet distasteful and unpalatable, truth about the end of each person’s life.
Skulls on the Dining Table Talking about “distasteful” and “unpalatable” brings to mind food and eating. The original (Pre-Vatican II) ritual and discipline for the religious Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, would require that at all meal times there would be placed a skull upon the dining table within visibility of all the religious present—so that, even though they were eating to live, they would be reminded that one day they would die. The Carmelites would also display a written sign which said: “Remember man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return!”― which is what the priest says to us as he places a sign of the cross with ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. We have all been sentenced to death by Original Sin (Adam and Eve’s sin) and by the Actual Sins (our own personal sins). We may not be certain about where we will end up after death—Heaven, Purgatory or Hell—but we can be absolutely sure of dying.
Death is the end of our earthly life and it will send our soul before the Judgment Seat of God. It is a sobering thought that we should always keep before our eyes and not stuff it into the closet. St. Thomas Aquinas says that we should always keep our end or goal in view—for as we live, so shall we die; as we sow, so shall we reap: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall reap corruption. But he that soweth in the spirit, of the spirit shall reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:7-8).
One Thing You Can Bank On—You Will Die and be Judged Life’s one certainty is death. Everyone knows this, though not everyone knows what comes next. The rich shall die just as the poor. Some will die young, other will die in old age. Some will die alone, others will die amongst family and friends. Some will be martyred or murdered, others will die in accidents. Some will die when God wants them to die, others will commit suicide. Some will die quickly, others slowly. Some will die loved, other will die hated. Some will die healthy, others will die sick. Some will die with the Faith, others will be die without the Faith. Some of those with the Faith will die in a state of grace, others will die in a state of mortal sin. All of these variables are unknown to us—but what IS KNOWN is that WE WILL DIE! We will die just as Our Lord died and Our Lady died. Death is not the question—it will certainly come—the question is what will happen to us after death? Will we go to Heaven, to Purgatory, or to Hell?
St. Philip Neri wrote: “Beginners in religion ought to exercise themselves principally in meditation on the Four Last Things.” Traditionally, the sermons preached on the four Sundays of Advent were on the Four Last Things. The Church always taught that man should be prepared for the Novissima, the Four Last Things. It is what we pray in the Hail Mary: “Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.” It is a wise prayer, because Scriptures makes us this great promise: “In all thy works, remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin eternally” (Ecclesiasticus 7:40). That is to say, one who meditates on the Novissima will not go to Hell. It is quite a promise, and it is why the pastors of the Church have always preached on the Novissima, the Four Last Things. In the Age of Faith, consideration of the Novissima became a branch of learning, eschatology.
You may wonder what is the meaning of the sinister or mysterious sounding word “eschatology” (pronounced eska-tology). The word “eschatology” is derived from the Greek words “eschaton,” meaning “last,” and “logos” meaning “word” or “words”—thus “eschatology” means “words about the last times or end times” and refers in particular to the study of the end of our lives and the end of the world. Today students have chemistry, biology, social sciences. But there isn’t much attention paid to the eschatology, the study of the Last Things.
St. John Bosco Terrifies His Boys Let us turn to St. John Bosco for a moment. The year is 1854. The scene, a room at St. John Bosco’s school, filled with youths gathered to hear the spiritual lecture of the evening. Don Bosco entered, looked around the room and described a strange dream. He had seen a number of his boys on the playground, but one was draped in black and wearing a kind of tophat with the number 22 on it. He was confused about what this meant, until a dignified stranger appeared and told him that the lad had only 22 “moons” to live.
“I know who that lad is. He is right here among you,” the priest announced. Terror gripped the boys. This was the first time that Don Bosco had predicted the death of anyone in his school publicly and so solemnly. He noticed the fear and continued, “Don’t be afraid! True, I know that boy, and he is here now, but this is a dream, and you know that dreams are only dreams. One thing is certain, though – we must always be prepared, just as Our Divine Savior has warned us in the Gospel, and never commit sins. If we follow this rule, death will not frighten us. Put your conscience in order, therefore, and resolve not to offend God anymore. And on my part, I shall look after the boy of the 22 moons. These moons signify 22 months. I hope he will die a good death.”
The announcement caused an understandable fear among the boys. And, it did them good because each one began to consider the state of his soul should he be called to stand before God. The fear of God is the beginning of the wisdom. The focus on death kept the boys in God’s grace as they counted the months. At the end of the 22 months, one young man had a sudden attack of abdominal pains and died unexpectedly. He had made a general confession only a week before.
This was the first of a series of the dreams of St. John Bosco in which he saw the impending death of one of his boys. Each time, he announced to the auditorium that he had seen the boy, he knew him, but would tell no one, since it was only a dream. But he warned each one “to look after and correct himself, for while he wonders who it is, he himself may be just the one.” Each time, one of the boys would die within the prescribed time. Each time, the fervor of the whole group would increase, as the boys made more frequent and fervent Confessions and Communions, preparing themselves for the Novissima or Four Last Things.
How fortunate those boys were. The Saint entered the room and announced: “One of you will die. That is that. You can believe it or not. It was only a dream.” The boys believed the dreams because everything that he related actually came to pass. Therefore, those dreams forced them into seriousness about life. Death was no longer something distant, for the old, the weak, the sick. No, it could be I, a healthy young man, or anyone else in the room, and it could be soon. I better be prepared. And the confession lines would lengthen, and acts of piety and contrition would increase, as each one began to think about and prepare for death.
Sobering Thoughts for Catholics How should a Catholic act in response to the possibility of unexpected death? A Catholic should follow the advice that St. John Bosco gave to his boys and make sure that he or she is prepared at all times. The bishops and priests should be at the pulpit reminding the flocks: “You could go to Hell!” It is enough to have committed one mortal sin, and at the moment the terrorist bullet hits, you may not have a chance to repent, to confess, to return to a state of grace. The last opportunity for that can be now.
At times God permits a sudden death with the intention, among others, that many others might become frightened and turn to the path of virtue. Suddenly, a man begins to think on the Novissima: “I need to put my life in order, to consider not just the things of this life ― my family, my house, my business, etc. I better have my soul in order because an eternity of happiness, or an eternity of suffering and Hell, depends on what I do now.”
It is a sign of the mercy of God that He allows us to glimpse the Damocles’ sword handing over the heads of us all ― to invite us to think about death, and understand that things in this life are not worth anything except to the degree they help us to die well. Because if we die well, we will have eternal happiness sharing the happiness of God. If we die badly, we also will have eternity, but the eternal suffering of Hell. What a difference!
As Don Bosco with proverbial wisdom warned his sons: “Make hay while the sun shines. Let us not allow the devil to delude us into thinking we may put our consciences in order only at the moment of death.” And he added: “For the Son of Man is coming at the time you least expect.” We are encouraged to meditate on the “Four Last Things” often, so that death does not come and find us unprepared, like a thief in the night. Unpleasant? Yes, I know! But there is no other way to package death. But, like all things, it has a both a negative and positive side to it. The negative is that our soul is taken forcibly out of our body, which leaves it dead. The positive side to it is that our ‘deathday’ is also our ‘birthday’ in which we are born to a new and, hopefully, better life.