Sermon on Judgment
By Father Kyle
Among all five of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, my favorite character is Davy Jones, the captain of the ship known as the Flying Dutchman. He first appears in the second movie of the series – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – when he and his wretched crew come aboard a shipwreck that they brought about, and Davy Jones looks over the five survivors. To one of them, who is trembling in fear, he says, “Do you fear death? Do you fear that dark abyss, all your deeds laid bare, all your sins punished? I can offer you an escape…I offer you a choice. Join my crew and postpone the judgment, one hundred years before the mast. Will ye serve?” The survivor accepts the offer, but of course, being bound to the Flying Dutchman is really no better an alternative to death and judgment. The man is given supernaturally long life on earth, but he becomes enslaved to the cruel captain for a whole century or longer. In his fear of judgment, the poor soul gives himself away to a life of forced servitude, eventually becoming a cursed part of the ship itself.
Judgment is one of what the Church calls “the four last things,” together with death, heaven, and hell, and so it is a fitting topic for us to reflect on in this month of October, as we draw close to celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (also known as All Souls Day). We are coming near to the end of the liturgical year, and so it makes sense for us to ponder the end of our earthly lives and the end of the world. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we are taught about the “particular judgment” and the “last judgment.” With regard to the former, the Church says, “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven – through a purification or immediately – or immediate and everlasting damnation.” (CCC 1022) In the movie quote I shared, this is probably the judgment that Davy Jones had in mind. We, at the moment of our deaths, will be rewarded according to our faith and our deeds in this life. No one can escape this. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul makes this abundantly clear: “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So, each of us shall give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12) None of us will escape physical death, and none of us will escape judgment after it.
At the same time, the Church also teaches us about the Last Judgment, at which time, “In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life.” (CCC 1039) When Christ returns in glory at the end of time, the resurrection of the dead will take place, after which there will be the Last Judgment, when everyone’s particular judgment will be made public to all. Just as divine justice requires that the wicked and unrepentant pay the price for the evil lives they led and the holy and virtuous receive the reward of their goodness, so too does divine justice require that the effects of their words and actions on others be made known to them, whether good or evil. The righteous will receive their praise from God and all His angels and saints and enjoy the new heaven and new earth in body and soul, while the unrighteous will suffer eternal damnation in body and soul.
Many people, myself included, do not like to think about all this because it is unsettling, when they reflect on their own sinfulness and worldliness, their own unworthiness of all that the Lord has given them and promises them. Speaking for myself, I am often worried about the account that I must make to God, not only for my life, but also for my sacred ministry as a priest. Much has been entrusted to me in my heavenly calling, and much will be expected of me. I think at times, we might sympathize with that poor sailor confronted by Davy Jones, with his fear that drove him to try to escape death and judgment. We are often tempted by the devil to numb our minds and hearts to these realities by immersing ourselves in worldly pleasures and concerns. Some are tempted to fall into sins of lust and impurity. Some are tempted to make money and possessions their god. Some are tempted to live for bodily food and drink, instead of the true food and drink of the Holy Eucharist. Some are tempted to become lost in anger and rage when spending too much time and energy observing how things are going in the political sphere, or idolizing the world of sports, or video games, or social media. There are many things to distract us and keep us from going beneath the surface level of human existence, many things to draw our attention away from our Christian identity and mission, many things to make us indifferent to matters of the heart and soul. Fear of death and judgment can spiritually paralyze people if they allow it to do so.
But the good news is that it does not need to be this way. We only need to fear those last things if we are living in sin. The remedy for such fear is love. In his first letter, St. John contrasts the two: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18) In the Sacrifice of the Mass, divine love is poured into our hearts in abundance, for we are blessed to receive Love itself in the Blessed Sacrament – the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. For our part, we should be praying to Him for an increase of love in us, for God above all things and for one another. We should desire to grow in this love every day and work, with the help of God’s grace, to make it happen by committing ourselves more to a life of prayer and doing deeds of love, especially for those in need. We have to remember that the Lord has not destined us for His wrath and damnation; He has destined us for eternal life with Him and each other in His Kingdom, and He has made that possible by suffering and dying for us on the cross, the supreme symbol of His love for us. Instead of giving ourselves over, in desperation, to servitude to our adversary and this passing world, we should be giving ourselves over, each day, to the Love that perfects us and calls us home. Whom will ye serve?