Last night I had the pleasure of listening to, rather than leading, a class for soon-to-be Catholics.
The topic was "Last Things" which would be death, judgement, Purgatory, Heaven and Hell.
We are in a Military environment. It struck me, not long into the meeting, that our community has an intimacy with death that is probably a bit unusual.
I was surprised at how comfortable everyone seemed with the idea of death. I was surprised at how nonchalant the soldiers were about close calls they'd had. One fellow mentioned that he drove through a crater caused by an explosion that had only recently killed several soldiers.
Others talked of serious 'accidents' they'd been involved in where no one was killed, although it would appear that they should have been. It was not their time.
Most of us have had a close brush with the family of someone who has died.
A story was told about how some people (other soldiers) can just fall apart at the thought of death. One described the anti climax of being prepared to die, and then not having it happen.
Someone mentioned the knowledge that a kiss good-bye could be their last.
Purgatory is a doctrine that some find hard to accept. If one looks carefully, Scripture is actually quite liberal in texts that imply a place between earth and heaven. Maccabees tells us to pray for the dead. Why would we do that if they were in either heaven or hell? We are told that our works will be tested as if by fire.
Purgatory is not, as is sometimes said, a second chance, or a place where ones fate is decided. Those who find themselves in purgatory will, eventually, go to heaven.
Everyone in heaven is a saint. They may not be a canonized saint (one whose presence in heaven has been declared by the Church and whose name may be mentioned during the Mass) but if you are in heaven, you are a saint.
Heaven is a place of perfect happiness. Some people get the idea that heaven will be dull. We cannot imagine the glories and pleasures of heaven.
Hell? I've been told it will be a big party, as in the sense of unlimited sinning. Wrong again! Hell is a place of unending torment. It is eternally outside the view of God. We can't see Him, He can't see us. There will be no pleasure.
We can never judge that someone has gone to Hell. Only God knows that for sure, as much as we may speculate. We do not know if, perhaps, someone on his/her deathbed cried out to God for mercy. The Church does from time to time declare someone to be in heaven. "What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven".
Lent, the time preceding Easter, is a time where we look upon our lives and see if there are ways we may walk more closely with God. Take the time to take a look!