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Fear of Judgment Is the Way of the Saints

Read the Gospels. You will see a constant theme of our Lord’s preaching: the Four Last Things. Last week, we covered death. Now we take up the subject of judgment. The Imitation:

To many the saying, “Deny thyself, take up thy cross and follow Me,” seems hard, but it will be much harder to hear that final word: “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” [1]

Over and over in the Eastern Rite is supplication made for “a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ.” The Apostle warns, “we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil” (II Cor. 5:10). Thus, the saints lived just as the Rule of St. Benedict says: “in fear of the day of judgment” [2].

St. Jerome: “As often as I consider the day of judgment, I tremble. Whether I eat or drink, or whatever else I do, that terrible trumpet appears to sound in my ears, arise ye dead, and come to judgment” [3]. St. Augustine said nothing removed from him earthly thoughts as perfectly as the fear of judgment [4]. St. Benedict says this is the very first step in humility:

The first step, then, of humility is if one set the fear of God always before his eyes and altogether avoid forgetfulness; and be always mindful of everything that God has ordered and always ponder over life eternal, which is prepared for those that fear God; and how hell will consume, for their sins, such as despise God; and if he keep himself at all times from sins and faults, alike of thought, of the tongue, of the eye, of the hand, of the foot, or of self-will; and moreover hasten to cut away the desires of the flesh. [5]

The fear of judgment is the way of the saints. It is the height of folly that the modern Church has cast out holy fear from our churches. Are we better than our fathers who feared judgment? Do not exalt yourself above the saints, but be humbled with the fear of judgment.

Orthodox Doctrine Must Produce Holiness

You who are zealous over orthodox doctrine: beware! Let not these words of Jesus Christ be spoken of you at the Judgment:

Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity. (Mt. 7:21–23)

You who confess the creed of our fathers, do you imitate our fathers? You who rightly scorn the communism of the clergy, do you have mercy on the poor? You who justly rebuke bishops for their cowardice, are you then courageous to preach the Gospel? You who burn with righteous indignation at the sins of the Holy Father, do you burn with charity also to forgive him?

As Christ says, And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt. So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts (Mt. 8:34). Again St. John declares: If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not? (I Jn. 4:20). And again St. Paul says: If I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing (I Cor. 13:2).

The only thing that matters at the Judgment is faith that worketh by charity (Gal. 5:6). If your faith does not produce charity, then your faith is dead — merely an intellectual exercise, and worse, the faith of demons (Jas. 2:13, 26). It is at the Judgment, says St. Augustine, that the demon will stand before God and say of the sinner, “Most just God, declare him to be mine, who was unwilling to be yours” [6]. Therefore, fear the Day of Judgment, and bring forth fruit worthy of penance (Mt. 3:8), that these words may not be spoken to you by the Just Judge:

Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me…Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me. And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting. (Mt. 25:41-43, 45-46)

Speaking on the Judgment, St. Alphonsus laments the many graces wasted by Christians:

Christians, he will say [at the judgment], if the graces which I have bestowed on you had been given to the Turks or to the Pagans, they would have done penance for their sins; but you have ceased to sin only with your death. [7]

Let not the graces given to you from your baptism be a source of shame at the Judgment, but of glory. Do penance and overcome your sin. By God’s grace, do the works of mercy. At the Judgment, the saints rejoice in the work of God in them: “O happy penance! which merited for me such glory” [8].

Fear of God and Hope in God

The Holy Ghost says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7), and the Lord says fear him (Lk. 12:5). And yet the Lord also says, Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom (Lk. 12:32). Do not fear as the pagans who have no hope, but understand that this fear is placed in you that you may trust not in yourself, but in God, who is rich in mercy. Therefore, fear the Lord and hope in Him, as the Prophet declares: The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him: and in them that hope in his mercy (Ps. 146:11), and again, his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him (Lk. 1:50).

There is perhaps no other prayer that so perfectly expresses fear and hope than the Dies Irae (originally an Advent hymn). The fear is drawn out in considering the Day of Judgment from the beginning of the hymn:

Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth,
When from heaven the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth.

The second half of the hymn considers the mercy of God and the Passion of Christ, bringing hope to the penitent:

Faint and weary, Thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me.
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?

Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning;
Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning!

Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given.

Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.

Low I kneel, with heart’s submission,
See, like ashes, my contrition,
Help me in my last condition.

Mercy is for the contrite. Fear the Lord, and your soul will burn with salutary sorrow for sin. Consider His Passion, and your soul will feel true contrition and hope in His mercy for the Day of Judgment. Suffer your penance now, that you may not suffer the words of condemnation on that day, but the blessed words of eternal life: well done, good and faithful servant (Mt. 25:23). Jesus Christ will bless the saints at the Judgment:

He will then bless all the tears shed through sorrow for their sins, and all their good works, their prayers, mortifications, and communions; above all, he will bless for them the pains of his passion and the blood shed for their salvation. And, after these benedictions, the elect, singing alleluias, shall enter Paradise to praise and love God eternity. [9]

[1] Imitation of Christ, Bk. 2, ch. 12

[2] Rule of St. Benedict, ch. 4

[3] Commentary on Matthew,  quoted in St. Alphonsus, Sermon on the 1st Sunday of Advent, “On the General Judgment”

[4] Ibid.

[5] Rule of St. Benedict, ch. 7

[6] Quoted in St. Alphonsus, op. cit.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., St. Peter of Alcantara to St. Teresa.

[9] Ibid.

Image: Dennis Jarvis via Flickr.

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