Posted November 11, 2013 in Things New and Old:
His Voice Is Not to Be Mistaken

by Fr. David May.

Cheer up! It’s November! Time to think of the last things: Death, Purgatory, Heaven, Hell, and Judgment Day.

This month’s column will focus on the last one, and I’ll start with the story of the dragnet in the sea (Mt 13: 47-50). The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a dragnet drawn through the sea and pulling up fish of all kinds (13:47).

If we take this parable as describing the end of time, then that net is a very thoroughgoing one, pulling everyone up and out of whatever they were doing at the time.

Now the time for doing is over. The time for ordinary fish-life and even extraordinary fish-life is finished. ‘Nemo’ has been found! And so has everyone else!

Next comes the final (and eternally binding) assessment of fish. Just as experienced fishermen can easily tell good from bad and what is marketable from what isn’t, so the angels will, with dispatch, determine which ones are kingdom-worthy and which are to be discarded and destined for the fire.

I’m not sure about fish, but people so judged will spend all eternity weeping and gnashing their teeth. End of parable.

You have to go elsewhere to find out something of what the righteous can expect. There’s no word of it here!

On Judgment Day everyone will not only be found but found out. Reputation is one thing, career-standing another. But on that Day whatever was really going on in the murky depths beneath appearances will at last come to light.

Though not referred to here, one immediately thinks of that other line the Lord often uses on such occasions: Many who are first will be last, and the last, first (Mt 19:30).

Presumably, the fish are caught by surprise. As far as we know, there was no general ocean-wide announcement that next Thursday at 1:45 p.m., Newfoundland time, the end would come. Right to the end, tuna were being tuna, sharks were being sharks, sea horses were horsing around, etc.

Presumably one is judged based on who one was created to be: no need for sturgeon to bemoan they are not flying fish or blue marlins, sea bass, etc.

And while fish haven’t much difficulty, one presumes, just being themselves, in the parable there seems to be a lot of sorting out going on, some going one way—the "good" pile—and some going the other way, the "bad," fire-destined group.

What do we learn from all this? For one thing, the world as we know it, with its laws of endless repetition, being born and dying, sinning or seeking holiness, and "the more things change the more they remain the same"…will end.

The days when one can choose good or evil are on limited offer, whether that be in one’s personal life or in the cosmic duration of planet earth.

It ain’t gonna go on indefinitely, which means that, there is another World one day to be revealed, and that one is described in other parts of the New Testament.

Judgment Day also means that choices we make while we can make them will have eternal consequences.

The Scriptures assure us in relation to this of two things: 1.) That God is merciful and wants all people to be saved; 2.) That people are free to choose good or evil, and if they choose evil over good, they will reap the consequences of that decision.

Put succinctly, God isn’t playing around. And, while we can never measure the vastness of his great mercy to the repentant sinner or of his desire to save the very worst of us, we must be careful not to underestimate the importance of our freedom and God’s infinite respect for this freedom.

Dependent as we are upon the grace of God for all things, our eternal destiny is also dependent on the freedom ever at work in human decisions and actions.

And the Scriptures assure us that there is One only who can sort this business out! Our duty is: to obey the Lord and to trust.

Now, how does that make you feel? For myself, when I remember Judgment Day, I feel somewhat better! Why? Because I am reminded once again that the world as we know it in its present state—this world with all its sins, sufferings, and problems—will one day end. And then it will be renewed according to the glorious plan of God!

Alleluia! This, I like. I like especially that Our Lord gathers up the fragments so that nothing will be lost (Jn 6:12) when it comes to his creation. Somehow the Resurrection of the dead will accomplish all this.

How? I have no idea, and I feel better yet knowing I won’t have to worry about that. It will be completely the work of my Lord and Savior, whom, I hope, I will glorify for all eternity for carrying out this cosmic scheme of his. Alleluia again!

Paradoxically, I also feel some better that what is evil is getting the axe. Take, for example, the evil in me. Yes, it must go. No, I won’t let go of it, repent of it fully, without the grace of God hammering away at my stupidly implemented, at times, gift of freedom.

Just knowing that if I don’t repent, I could get sucked into those eternal fish-fires and weeping and gnashing of teeth, well, it sobers me up a little.

Maybe you’re not the type who needs sobering, but I would bet that most of us are, and only the Lord can sort that one out, too. I’m not much interested in a god who lets me off the hook even if I’m not true, even if I am dishonest, a hypocrite, and keeping serpents as a hobby in the basement chambers of my heart.

Anger. Lust, Greed. Vanity. Pride. Sloth. If he doesn’t care about them, why should I? But the fact is: he cares very much about them, down to the last shred of sin.

It all has to go—not to mention what comes leaping out of my heart through my mouth or through my deeds. It all has to go, or else it will go on and on and on and on in the eternal fires of misery. So the Scriptures teach us.

I ran across a disturbing quote the other day from a novelist writing about a "nice" priest, a very modern and "compassionate" priest, and it was piercing enough to capture my attention:

"And the priest. A man of broad principles. Of liberal sentiments. Even a generous man. Something of a philosopher. Yet one might say his way through the world was so broad it scarcely made a path at all.

"He carried within himself a great reverence for the world, this priest. He heard the voice of the Deity in the murmur of the wind in the trees. Even the stones were sacred. He was a reasonable man and he believed that there was love in his heart.

"There was not. Nor does God whisper through the trees.

"His voice is not to be mistaken. When men hear it, they fall to their knees and their souls are riven and they cry out to Him and there is no fear in them but only that wildness of heart that springs from such longing.

"And they cry out to stay his presence, for they know at once that while godless men may live well enough in their exile, those to whom he has spoken can contemplate no life without Him but only darkness and despair. Trees and stones are no part of it.

"The priest in the very generosity of his spirit stood in mortal peril and knew it not. He believed in a boundless God without center or circumference. By this very formlessness he’d sought to make God manageable …

"In his grandness God had ceded all terrain … and had no say at all. To see God everywhere is to see Him nowhere."*

Talk about words with a bite! I’m not so sure, by the way, that God does not speak in the wind or in trees and stones and everywhere else. But if he does, it’s the same God who spoke from the heart of the fire to Moses and from the luminous cloud to his Son on Mt. Tabor: he’s the one who means business, and he is Lord of all time and of eternity. To hear him is to love him and to beg to be totally his.

The only real danger in life is to choose to ignore him, missing the piercing Beauty of the One who alone can master the human heart and not only leave it free but grant it the greatest freedom imaginable: to love as he has loved us.

*Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, 152-153), quoted in Fire of Mercy: Heart of the Word, Meditations on the Gospel of St. Matthew, Vol II by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Ignatius Press, p. 316.


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