A STUDY OF THE EIGHT LAST THINGS:
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD TO ETERNITY
PART I: DEATH
Beloved and Merciful Lord,
Death for Your children is the hope of the first step into Your eternal embrace. Guide us on our journey to that door of death that leads to eternity that we may be prepared in heart, mind, and spirit, to be received as children of holiness. Help us to take to heart Thomas a Kempis' excellent advice to keep a clean conscience and a clean soul in preparation for the day death will come for each of us: Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience... Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren't fit to face death today, it's very unlikely you will be tomorrow.... [Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ, 1,23,1]. Guide us in our study, Lord, we pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord!
Roman Missal, Litany of the Saints
I want to see God and, in order to see him, I must die. St. Teresa of Avila, Life, chap 1
I am not dying; I am entering life. St. Therese of Lisieux, The Last Conversations
There are those who would tell you that the ultimate journey would be a journey into outer space, but they would be wrong. The ultimate journey is the journey that begins the moment you take your last breath and your brain waves cease all activity. In that moment you begin the last stage of your personal journey through life by stepping beyond the threshold of death. It is a journey which has been destined from the moment you took your first breath. No reservation has to be made, but there was a price that had to be paid for that which you were destined from the moment of your conception. And yet, you have the freedom to accept the gift of the final destination or you can reject the gift. It is a gift which has been paid in full by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and the destiny God has willed for you is eternity with Him, but as it was from the fall of our original parents, the outcome of the destination is entirely in your hands.
This is the first lesson in a study of the 8 "last things". Traditionally the Church has defined the "last things" as 4: Death, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. However, in this study we will be focusing not only on these "last 4 things" but we will be expanding our list to include the 8 last things of concern for humanity from the moment of death to the new creation of heaven and earth at the end of time. Our list of the "Eight Last Things" includes:
Death is the final scene in the drama of our individual earthly lives. It is the moment when the worth of our lives will be measured and the success or failure of our lives determined. It will not be measured in terms of wealth or beauty or influence but in terms of our individual holiness in the eyes of God and our willingness to love. In fact, in the end, it all comes down to "love". Before His death Jesus commanded His disciples, and all disciples who live and die in all ages of time: I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete. This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. John 15:9-12
The question you should be asking yourself at the end of every day is "How have I shared the love of Jesus Christ today and if I should cross the threshold of death tonight, did I love enough?"
The Unity Between Body and Soul
What human being indeed can know the intentions of God? And who can comprehend the will of the Lord? For the reasoning of mortals is inadequate, our attitudes of mind unstable; for a perishable body presses down the soul...Wisdom 9:13-15a
Answer: Death is the separation of soul from body.
Question: If death is defined as that moment when the soul departs the body, and it is determined that it is the soul which sustains life, what is the definition of a soul? Look up the definition of "soul" in a Catholic dictionary and also read Isaiah 57:16 and CCC#s 362-66.
Answer: According to the Modern Catholic Dictionary a soul is: The spiritual immortal part in human beings that animates their body. Though a substance in itself, the soul is naturally ordained toward a body; separated, it is an "incomplete" substance. The soul has no parts, it is therefore simple, but it is not without accidents. The faculties are its proper accidents. Every experience adds to its accidental form. It is individually created for each person by God and infused into the body at the time of human insemination. It is moreover created in respect to the body it will inform, so that the substance of bodily features and of mental characteristics insofar as they depend on organic functions is safeguarded. As a simple and spiritual substance, the soul cannot die. Yet it is not the total human nature, since a human person is composed of body animated by the soul. [..]. page 413-4.
Main points of the Catechism references:
Answer: Man received a soul when God first breathed His divine life into Adam.
Therefore, the Church's definition of soul affirms that the human being is not a soul trapped in a body, as the Gnostic heretics believed, but soul and body is a created unity. This is why, in the fulfillment of the New Covenant, Christ will come again to unite the body with the soul in the Resurrection of the dead [1 Corinthians 15:45-55].
There is a collection of heresies identified by the term "Gnosticism". All the belief systems of these Gnostic sects were different in various ways but each of these various heretical communities had one element in common: they denied the perfect union of the humanity and divinity of Christ. The Gnostic communities saw the physical and material as evil and only the spirit as good, the true man was the soul that was trapped in the shell of a body. Matter was believed to be hostile to spirit, and creation was held to be the product of an evil god. But the Church and Sacred Scripture has always taught that creation is good [Genesis 1:4, 10, 13, 18, 21, 25, and 31] and that man is a unity of body and soul willed by God from the time of creation [Genesis 2:7]. Therefore, in God's plan of salvation for mankind the liberation of both the soul and the body are part of His plan. The validity of this plan is evident in our Christian worship.
Question: What is the center of Christian worship in the celebration of the Mass?
Answer: The center of our worship is literally the Body of Christ. We received Christ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. CCC# 364: The human body shares in the dignity of "the image of God": it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit. [..].
All the Sacraments concern the material and the spiritual.
Question: Can you find elements of matter associated with each of the Sacraments instituted by Christ?
Question: Can you think of an example where God used the physical and material in creating life? Can you think of any examples where Jesus used matter to heal or to establish the sacraments?
1. Adam was created from adama, the Hebrew word for the dust of the earth, when God breathed His breath or spirit into him; Eve was created from the bone of Adam's rib. Jesus' life is given to us in His literal and material glorified blood and in His literal and material glorified flesh. This is the reason the drinking of animal blood and the eating of raw animal flesh was prohibited from the time of the covenant with Noah when man was first given permission to consume the flesh of animals [Genesis 9:3]. God commanded the prohibition not to eat raw flesh [raw flesh contains blood] or drink blood because the power of a life is in its blood [Genesis 9:4] and it was His plan to use blood as the power through which to forgive sins [Leviticus 17:12; Hebrews 9:18-23]. This prohibition was repeated in Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-12; Deuteronomy 12:16 and 23. To separate blood from the body will bring about death; hence in the Eucharistic sacrifice the wine is separated from the bread and then joined prior to the words of Consecration when a fragment of bread is place in the cup.
2. Jesus used His spit mixed with mud and water to heal the man who was blind from birth in John 9:6-7; Jesus used water to make wine in the wedding at Cana in John 2:6-10; He offered his Body and Blood at the Last Supper [Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20]; and at His command His followers were to baptized unto His death and Resurrection in the water of Christian baptism in Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 15:15-16; etc.
The soul [the nephesh in Hebrew and psyche in Greek] signifies the deepest essence of who we are, God's breath in us that gives life to our mortal flesh [CCC# 363]. Soul and body form a single human nature, but the soul is the form that holds your body together. Without the form that holds the whole body together the body cannot continue to exist. When the soul leaves the flesh can no longer generate life and begins to rapidly deteriorate [CCC# 365].
Question: When does God create the soul? Is the soul in heaven before the human act of conception? See CCC# 366.
Answer: No, according the CCC# 366 every spiritual soul is created by God. It is His act in union with human reproduction. In human procreation men women become partners in creating new life with God:
There is no reservoir of souls in heaven waiting to be created. Babies are not angels waiting to be born!
Answer: It is the spirit which tells us that the soul is oriented toward God. Animals and plants have souls but they do not have spirit. Spirit is an animating principle that sustains life to be immortal; therefore it is the Church's teaching that animals do have souls but they do not have immortal souls; instead they have only natural souls [plants have vegetative souls]. If it was otherwise, we could not kill animals and eat their flesh, nor could we eat plants.
The Intrusion of Death
Remember me; how long have I left? For what pointless end did you crate all the children of Adam? Who can live and never see death? Who can save himself from the clutches of Sheol? Psalm 89:47-48
Answer: Death seems a natural part of life but it is not what God intended for mankind and is, therefore, an unnatural state for a human being. God created us to be sinless and immortal beings who live in full communion with Him. The Book of Wisdom teaches:
The Catechism affirms this teaching in #1008: Death is a consequence of sin. The Church's Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of man's sin. Even though man's nature is mortal, God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin. "Bodily death from which man would have been immune had he not sinned" is thus "the last enemy" of man left to be conquered.
Answer: The sin of our original parents: Well then, it was through one man that sin came into the world, and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned. Romans 5:12.
Question: Why does the personal sin of Adam and Eve, in which they disobeyed God and usurped the sovereignty of God in deciding what was good and what was evil, known as "original sin," affect all humanity? See CCC# 404-5; Romans 5:19a.
Answer: Adam and Eve's sin deprived all of their children of the original holiness of divine sonship, the grace of God. CCC# 404 states: The whole human race is in Adam "as one body of one man." By this "unity of the human race: all men are implicated in Adam's sin, as all are implicated in Christ's justice.
Answer: There are three kinds of sin: venial or unintentional sin, mortal or deadly sin, and original sin.
Question: According to Catechism citations 1856-61,
what three conditions are necessary for an individual's sin to be judged a mortal sin?
The Church generally divides sins into original and actual sins. We do not take an active part in "original sin" which we inherit from our parents along with our DNA. However, venial and mortal sins are "actual sin," which we personally commit. Actual sin is any willful thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the law of God. [Baltimore Catechism, Q52, page 57].
St. Francis of Assisi wrote concerning impossibility of escaping the grip of death: Praised are you, my Lord, for our sister bodily Death, from whom no living man can escape. Woe on those who will die in mortal sin! Blessed are they who will be found in your most holy will, for the second death will not harm them.
St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Creatures
Why Does Sin Cause Death?
For the wage paid by sin is death... Romans 6:23a
Church teaches death is a consequence of sin. Unbelievers say it is just part of life, but death is the antithesis of life.
Question: What is connection between sin and death? Why does sin cause death?
Answer: Sin breaks the relationship with God; God is the source of life and so to separate from Him is to merit death. James 1:14-15: Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person's own wrong desire. Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches full growth it gives birth to death.
God's worst punishments are when He lets us have the wrong things we insist we want. Man would have been immune from death if he had not sinned. Christ restored the grace necessary for man to overcome sin:
The Promised Liberation
And after this perishable nature has put on imperishability and this mortal nature has put on immortality, then will the words of Scripture comes true: Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin comes from the Law. Thank God, then, for giving us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 [Paul paraphrasing Hosea 13:14].
The obedience of Jesus has transformed the curse of death into a blessing. CCC# 1009
Through the sin of Adam we are born into a covenant of death, at baptism we have an exorcism in which original sin is forgiven and we are reborn into the family of God to fulfill our destiny as immortal and sinless sons and daughter as we were created in Eden.
Answer: The defeat of death was begun on the night of Jesus Passion and the first victory was won on the altar of the cross:
However, the final victory over death occurs when Christ comes again. At that moment the dead will be resurrected, body and soul will be reunited. Then after the Final Judgment both death and purgatory, for which there is no longer any need, will be destroyed: The sea gave up all the dead who were in it; Death and Hades [the grave/sheol/purgatory] were emptied of the dead that were in them; and everyone was judged as his deeds deserved. Then Death and Hades were hurled into the burning lake. This burning lake is the second death; and anybody whose name could not be found written in the book of life was hurled into the burning lake [Hell].
Question: If God did not create death but allows it, why does He allow it? See CCC# 1005-10; 1018; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; Mark 14:33-34; Hebrews 5:7-9; Romans 5:19-21; Philippians 1:21; 2 Timothy 2:11.
Answer: Death became part of God's divine mercy to save man from sin. God can take a tragedy and turn it into good when we put our faith and trust in Him. In God's mercy He transformed death into a door to eternal life through the work of Jesus Christ:
Because of Jesus Christ, Christian death can become a positive experience and a celebration of entering into a life more real and satisfying than the former existence on earth. Through Christian Baptism the believer has already "died" with Christ sacramentaly and has been resurrected out of the baptismal waters by the Holy Spirit to new life. The Catechism teaches: if we die in Christ's grace, physical death completes this "dying with Christ" and so completes our incorporation into him in his redeeming act [CCC# 1010; 1470].
St. Ignatius Bishop of Antioch wrote in a letter in 107AD, as he prepared for his execution and his entrance into eternity: It is better for me to die in Christ Jesus than to reign over the ends of the earth. Him it is I seek, who died for us. Him it is I desire, who rose for us. I am on the point of giving birth... Let me receive pure light; when I shall have arrived there, then shall I be a man. In Christian death we can transform our individual deaths into an act of submission and obedience which becomes an act of love for God the Father just as Jesus offered Himself in obedience in love to the Father on the altar of the Cross [CCC# 1011].
Please read Romans 5:1-21.
In this passage Paul presents Christ as the new Adam, undoing the sin of the first Adam in His obedience to the will of God and bringing about man's salvation. Paul writes, So it is proof of God's own love for us that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. How much more can we be sure, therefore, that, now that we have been justified by his death, we shall be saved through him from the retribution of God. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more can we be sure that, being now reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more can we be sure, being now reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. What is more, we are filled with exultant trust in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained our reconciliation. [..]. One man's offence brought condemnation on all humanity, and one man's good act has brought justification and life to all humanity. Just as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience are many to be made upright. [..] ...so that as sin's reign brought death, so grace was to rule through saving justice that leads to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Question: How does one prepare for death? Why does the Litany of Saints in the Roman Missal include the plea: "From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord"? See CCC# 1013-14
Answer: Death is the end of our journey through this life and the stepping off point of eternity for both those who will be declared to be righteous and those whose sins will condemn them. The Church encourages us to be prepared for this departure through regularly receiving the Sacraments Christ's has given to us to sustain us in a state of grace, a necessity for entering into eternity with the Most Holy Trinity. Since we cannot foresee the circumstances of the end of our earthly existence, we need to be prepared. Those who die suddenly may not be prepared but those who approach death with the knowledge of its opening door can be ready to step across the threshold in a state of grace. The Sacrament of Anointing is our preparation. It is the healing sacrament of not only the body but the soul [see CCC# 1511-32].
In the document from Vatican II known as Gaudium et Spes, the bishops of the Universal Church wrote: Although the mystery of death utterly beggars the imagination, the Church as been taught by divine revelation and firmly teaches that man has been created by God for a blissful purpose beyond the reach of earthly misery. In addition, that bodily death from which man would have been immune had he not sinned (cf. Wisdom 1:13; 2:23-24; Romans 5:21; 6:23; James 1:15) will be vanquished, according to the Christian faith, when man who was ruined by his own doing is restored to wholeness by an almighty and merciful Savior. For God has called; man and still calls him so that with his entire being he might be joined to him in an endless sharing of a divine life beyond all corruption. Christ won this victory when he rose to life, for by his death he freed man from death (cf. 1 Cor 15:56-57). Hence, to every thoughtful man a solidly established faith provides the answer to his anxiety about what the future holds for him. At the same time, faith gives him the power to be united in Christ with his loved ones who have already been snatched away by death; faith arouses the hope that they have found true life with God. [The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, page 640.
It is because of the saving work of Jesus Christ that we have the courage, in the hour of our death, to petition our Blessed Mother, Mary most holy:
Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee,
Blessed are you among sinners and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
And it is the saving work of Jesus Christ which gives us the hope and faith to pray to the Most Holy Trinity in that final hour:
In the hour of my death call me and bid me come to you, that with your Saints I may praise you forever and ever. Amen [from the Anima Christi]
Additional suggested Catechism References:
As a consequence of sin: 1008
Suffering death for the sake of faith: 1258
Resources used in this lesson:
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