Last Judgment

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2015/09/25 at 12:00 AM


 Very few works of art in our world have the impact of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, which adorns the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel.
 Completed in 1541 after 4 years of work, this Renaissance fresco is a riot of color and images, which excites the eye and stimulates both mind and heart.
 The great genius of this fresco is not so much its sheer beauty and artistic imagination, as it is the clear message that each of us must make a radical choice to either accept or reject Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, for this fresco provides a glimpse into that great final moment when Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead!
 Seated in the center of the painting with His Blessed Mother to His side, Jesus is depicted as strong and powerful, reigning supreme as He is surrounded by His saints and pronouncing judgment on souls who ascend to the heavens or fall to hell accordingly.
 The most interesting part of the fresco, though, is the very bottom in which angels and demons wrestle for souls, a reminder of the spiritual battle for our souls that is constantly being waged around us whether we realize it or not.
 In the bottom right of the picture is Charon from Greek mythology, steering the ferry that carries the damned down the River Styx to where they are greeted by Minos, Hell’s gatekeeper, whose body is coiled about by a serpent.
 On the faces of the damned are terror, fear and loathing, for now they realize that their grave sins and refusal of Christ’s mercy have merited an eternity of hellish pain and suffering.
 On any given day, we can open the newspapers or turn on the news and learn of anotherterrible tragedy or saga of sorrow in our world. It is not hard to find examples of incredible
human suffering.

 But truly, my brothers and sisters, the greatest tragedy any of us can face is eternaldamnation. And what this means is that the greatest burden in this life is to be in a state of
mortal sin, for to die in mortal sin necessarily means that we will be damned for eternity.

 What matters most in this life, then, is not to be free of suffering or sorrow. It is not ofgreatest importance that we are comfortable and happy in this life. All that truly matters is
that we are living in a state of grace!

 When we maintain our souls in a habitual state of grace, we can truly exercise the beautifulvirtue of hope “…by which we desire the kingdom of Heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, no. 1817).
 But this does not mean that any lapse into mortal sin should ever extinguish our hope for eternal life, for just like the widow’s son in the Gospel, Jesus can bring us back from death to life by His words.
 If we are dead in sin, but contritely place ourselves under the healing hand of Christ in the confessional, His words of absolution – spoken by Him through a priest – brings us back to life just as surely as Jesus revives that young man in today’s Gospel.
 But this new life that we receive in the confessional should not be taken for granted, nor should we ever flirt with grave sin, rashly presuming upon God’s mercy.
 Rather, as true followers of Christ we must seek to live habitually in a state of grace – avoiding even the near occasion of sin.
 Remaining in a state of grace requires living a spiritual life, and avoiding a life of carnal pleasure. As St. Paul reminds us: “what a man sows in the flesh, from the flesh also will reap corruption. But he who sows in the spirit, from the spirit will reap life everlasting.”
 Of course there’s more to living a life of grace than merely avoiding sin and seeking to live a spiritual life. While doing so may keep us in a state of grace, our goal must be true holiness, for this is what glorifies God and secures our salvation.
 Yet holiness is never attained simply by focusing on ourselves. To grow in genuine holiness requires reaching out in charity to help others. This is the all-important virtue that we must strive for, for it is the virtue of charity that helps to form the other virtues within us.
 Charity takes many forms, but I think the most important form of charity is helping people to overcome their sinfulness so that they may grow in genuine holiness.
 If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my life as a priest, it is that people are fragile. All of us bear particular wounds and sufferings that are the mark of sin – either our own sins or the sins of others. Oftentimes the wounds we bear inhibit our growth in holiness.
 But that doesn’t have to be the case! For when we seek to live by the spirit, we can see in our wounds a means of growing closer to Christ. When we unite our wounds to Christ’s wounds, they are transfigured and become a means of spiritual strength for us.
 Yet oftentimes, this is only possible when someone lends us a helping hand. Just as we often need the assistance of others when we are physically wounded in order to find healing, so too do we need the assistance of others to find healing for our wounds of sin.
 As St. Paul tells us today, we should be willing to bear one another’s burdens, and not grow tired of doing good. This requires the virtue of magnanimity so that we may look beyond a person’s sin to see his wounds that have helped bring about that sin.
 So often when we see a person sinning in a grievous way, we are tempted to judge them and to be scandalized. And worse yet, we often turn to gossiping about them as well.
 But St. Paul tells us today that when we see someone sinning, we should instruct them in a spirit of meekness – not judging, but realizing that we, too, could fall into a serious sin.
 This doesn’t mean we should ever excuse the sins of others, especially when those sins aregrave and scandalous. But like Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, we should show
compassion for that person’s woundedness while gently admonishing them not to sin again.

 Brothers and sisters, each of us is precious in God’s eyes, no matter how numerous or graveour sins may be. And each us, in working out our own salvation, is called to help others
along the path to salvation.

 Sometimes all it takes is a kind word, a smile, or an earnest prayer coupled with a generoussacrifice on our part to help turn another away from sin and find healing for his wounds.
 In a spirit of humility, may we be always clear in our understanding of what is sinful andoffensive to God, while never judging the hearts of those we see sinning.
 In a spirit of meekness and magnanimity, may we each be willing to bear the burdens ofothers, gently correcting and helping each other to heal from our sins.
 And through the practice of the virtue of charity may we merit to be resurrected from theeternal death our sins deserve so that we may reign with Christ Jesus forever in Heaven.

September 2013

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
To enable the audio, lease go directly to Fr. Reid’s homily homilies and select the matching date.

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