Baltimore Catechism: last judgment, resurrection, hell, purgatory, heaven

Lesson 37

408Q. When will Christ judge us?
A. Christ will judge us immediately after our death, and on the last day.

“Immediately.” In the very room and on the very spot where we die, we shall be judged in an instant, and even before those around us are sure that we are really dead. When we have a trial or judgment in one of our courts, we see the judge listening, the lawyers defending or trying to condemn, and the witnesses for or against the person accused. We are in the habit of imagining something of the same kind to take place in the judgment of God. We see Almighty God seated on His throne; our angel and patron saint giving their testimony about us – good or bad – and then we hear the Judge pronounce sentence. This takes place, but not in the way we imagine, for God needs no witnesses: He knows all. An example will probably make you understand better what really takes place. If you are walking over a very muddy road on a dark night, you cannot see the spattered condition of your clothing; but if you come suddenly into a strong light you will see at a glance the state in which you are. In the same way the soul during our earthly life does not see its own condition; but when it comes into the bright light of God’s presence, it sees in an instant its own state and knows what its sentence will be. It goes immediately to its reward or punishment. This judgment at the moment of our death will settle our fate forever. The general judgment will not change, but only repeat, the sentence before the whole world. Oh, how we should prepare for that awful moment! See that poor sick man slowly breathing away his life. All his friends are kneeling around him praying; now he becomes unconscious; now the death rattle sounds in his throat; now the eyes are fixed and glassy. A few minutes more and that poor soul will stand in the awful presence of God, to give an account of that man’s whole life – of every thought, word, and deed. All he has done on earth will be spread out before him like a great picture. He will, towards the end of his life, have altogether forgotten perhaps what he thought, said, or did on a certain day and hour – the place he was in and the sin committed, etc.; but at that moment of judgment he will remember all. How he will wish he had been good! How, then, can we be so careless now about a matter of such importance, when we are absolutely certain that we too shall be judged, and how soon we know not. When you are about to be examined on what you have learned in school or instructions in six months or a year, how anxious you are in making the necessary preparation, and how you fear you might not pass, but be kept back for a while! How delighted you would be to hear that a very dear friend, and one who knew you well, was to be your examiner! Prepare in the same way for the examination you have to stand at the end of your life. Every day you can make a preparation by examining your conscience on the sins you have committed; by making an act of contrition for them, and resolving to avoid them for the future. You should never go to sleep without some preparation for judgment. But above all, try to become better acquainted with your Examiner – Our Lord Jesus Christ; try by your prayers and good works to become His special friend, and when your judgment comes you will be pleased rather than afraid to meet Him.

409Q. What is the judgment called which we have to undergo immediately after death?
A. The judgment we have to undergo immediately after death is called the Particular Judgment.

“Particular,” because one particular person is judged.

410Q. What is the judgment called which all men have to undergo on the last day?
A. The judgment which all men have to undergo on the last day is called the General Judgment.

“General,” because every creature gifted with intelligence will be judged on that day – the angels of Heaven, the devils of Hell, and all men, women, and children that have ever lived upon the earth. The Holy Scripture gives us a terrible account of that awful day. (Matt. 24-25). On some day – we know not when, it might be tomorrow for all we know – the world will be going on as usual, some going to school, others to business; some seeking pleasure, others suffering pain; some in health, others in sickness, etc. Suddenly they will feel the earth beginning to quake and tremble; they will see the ocean in great fury, and will be terrified at its roar as, surging and foaming, it throws its mighty waves high in the air. Then the sun will grow red and begin to darken; a horrid glare will spread over the earth, beginning to burn up. Then, says the Holy Scripture, men will wither away for fear of what is coming; they will call upon the mountains to fall and hide them; they will be rushing here and there, not knowing what to do. Money will be of no value then; dress, wealth, fame, power, learning, and all else will be useless, for at that moment all men will be equal. Then shall be heard the sound of the angel’s great trumpet calling all to judgment. The dead shall come forth from their graves, and the demons rush from Hell. Then all shall see our Blessed Lord coming in the clouds of Heaven in great power and majesty surrounded by countless angels bearing His shining Cross before Him. He will separate the good from the wicked; He will welcome the good to Heaven and condemn the wicked to Hell. The sins committed shall be made public before all present. Imagine your feelings while you are standing in that great multitude, waiting for the separation of the good from the bad. To which side will you be sent? Our Lord is coming, not with the mild countenance of a saviour, but with the severe look of a judge. As He draws nearer and nearer to you, you see some of your dear friends, whom you thought good enough upon earth, sent over to the side of the wicked; you see others that you deemed foolish sent with the good, and you become more anxious every instant about the uncertainty of your own fate. You see fathers and mothers sent to opposite sides, brothers and sisters, parents and children, separated forever. Oh, what a terrible moment of suspense! How you will wish you had been better and always lived a friend of God! The side you will be on depends upon what you do now, and you can be on the better side if you wish. Do, then, in your life what you would wish to have done at that terrible moment. Learn to judge yourself frequently. Say this, or something similar, to yourself. “Now I have lived twelve, fifteen, twenty, or more years; if that judgment came today, on which side should I be? Probably on the side of the wicked. If then I spend the rest of my life as I have lived in the past, on the last day I shall surely be with the wicked. If my good deeds and bad deeds were counted today, which would be more numerous? What, then, must I do? It will not be enough for me simply to be better for the future – I must try also to make amends for the past. If a man wishing to complete a journey on a certain time, by walking a fixed number of miles each day, falls behind a great deal on one day, he must not only walk the usual number of miles the next, but must make up for the distance lost on the previous day. So in our journey through this life we must do our duty each day for the future, and, as far as we can, make up for what we have neglected in the past.

*411Q. Why does Christ judge men immediately after death?
A. Christ judges men immediately after death to reward or punish them according to their deeds.
412Q. What are the rewards or punishments appointed for men’s souls after the Particular Judgment?
A. The rewards or punishments appointed for men’s souls after the Particular Judgment are Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell.
413Q. What is Hell?
A. Hell is a state to which the wicked are condemned, and in which they are deprived of the sight of God for all eternity, and are in dreadful torments.

“Deprived of the sight of God.” This is called the pain of loss, while the other sufferings the damned endure are called the pain of sense – that is, of the senses. The pain of loss causes the unfortunate souls more torment than all their other sufferings; for as we are created for God alone, the loss of Him – our last end – is the most dreadful evil that can befall us. This the damned realize, and know that their souls will be tortured by a perpetual yearning never to be satisfied. This is aggravated by the thought of how easily they might have been saved, and how foolishly they threw away their happiness and lost all for some miserable pleasure or gratification, so quickly ended.

Besides this remorse, they suffer most frightful torments in all their senses. The worst sufferings you could imagine would not be as bad as the sufferings of the damned really are; for Hell must be the opposite of Heaven, and since we cannot, as St. Paul says, imagine the happiness of Heaven, neither can we imagine the misery of Hell. Sometimes you will find frightful descriptions of Hell in religious books that tell of the horrible sights, awful sounds, disgusting stenches, and excruciating pains the lost souls endure. Now, all these descriptions are given rather to make people think of the torments of Hell than as an accurate account of them. No matter how terrible the description may be, it is never as bad as the reality. We know that the damned are continually tormented in all their senses, but just in what way we do not know. We know that there is fire in Hell, but it is entirely different from our fire; it neither gives light nor consumes what it burns, and it causes greater pain than the fire of earth, for it affects both body and soul. We know that the damned will never see God and there will never be an end to their torments. Now, all this is contained in the following: Hell is the absence of everything good and the presence of everything evil, and it will last forever. Now, a priest coming out to preach on Hell would not say to the people: “Hell is the absence of everything good and the presence of everything evil, and it will last forever,” and then step down from the altar and say no more. He must give a fuller explanation to those who are unable to think for themselves. He must point out some of the evils present in Hell and some of the good things absent, and thus teach the people how to meditate on these dreadful truths. If, then, you bear in mind that there is nothing good in Hell and it will last forever, and often think of these two points, you will have a holy fear of the woeful place and a deep sorrow for your sins which expose you to the danger of suffering its torments.

It should be enough, therefore, for you to remember: there is nothing good in Hell, and it will last forever. Think of anything good you please and it cannot be found in Hell. Is light good? Yes. Then it is not in Hell. Is hope good? Yes. Then it is not in Hell. Is true friendship good? Yes. Then it is not in Hell. There the damned hate one another. There the poor sufferers curse forever those who led them into sin. Hence, persons should try to bring back to a good life everyone they may have led into sin or scandalized by bad example.

414Q. What is Purgatory?
A. Purgatory is the state in which those suffer for a time who die guilty of venial sins, or without having satisfied for the punishment due to their sins.

“Punishment” – that is, temporal punishment, already explained to you. After the general judgment there will be Heaven and Hell, but no Purgatory, for there will be no men living or dying upon the earth in its present condition to go there. All will be dead and judged and sent to their final abodes. Those in Purgatory are the friends of God; and knowing Him as they do now, they would not go into His holy presence with the slightest stain upon their souls; still they are anxious for their Purgatory to be ended that they may be with God. They suffer, we are told, the same pains of sense as the damned; but they suffer willingly, for they know that it is making them more pleasing to God, and that one day it will all be over and He will receive them into Heaven. Their salvation is sure, and that thought makes them happy. If, therefore, you believe any of your friends are in Purgatory, you should help them all you can, and try by your prayers and good works to shorten their time of suffering. They will help you – though they cannot help themselves – by their prayers. And oh, when they are admitted into Heaven, how they will pray for those that have helped them out of Purgatory! If you do this great charity, God will, when you die, put in some good person’s heart to pray for you while you suffer in Purgatory. There must be a Purgatory, for one who dies with the slightest stain of sin upon his soul cannot enter Heaven, and yet God would not send him to Hell for so small a sin. But why does God punish those He loves? Why does He not forgive everything? He punishes because He is infinitely just and true. He warned them that if they did certain things they would be punished; and they did them, and God must keep His promise. Moreover He is just, and must give to everyone exactly what he deserves.

*415Q. Can the faithful on earth help the souls in Purgatory?
A. The faithful on earth can help the souls in Purgatory by their prayers, fasts, almsdeeds; by indulgences, and by having Masses said for them.
*416Q. If everyone is judged immediately after death, what need is there of a general judgment?
A. There is need of a general judgment, though everyone is judged immediately after death, that the providence of God, which, on earth, often permits the good to suffer and the wicked to prosper, may in the end appear just before all men.

“Providence of God.” Sometimes here on earth we see a good man always in want, out of employment, sickly, unsuccessful in all his undertakings, while his neighbor, who is a very bad man, is wealthy and prosperous, and seems to have every pleasure. Why this is so we cannot understand now, but God’s reason for it will be made known to us on the Day of Judgment. Sometimes the wicked do good actions here on earth – help the poor, or contribute to some charity, for instance; and as God on account of their wickedness cannot reward them in the next world, He rewards them chiefly in this world by temporal goods and pleasures. For all their good deeds they get their reward in this world, and for the evil their punishment in the next. The good man who suffers gets all his reward in the next world, that even his sufferings here atone partly for the evil he has done.

A second reason for a general judgment is to show the crimes of sinners and the justice of their punishment; also that the saints may have all their good works made known before the world and receive the glory they deserve. On earth these saints were sometimes considered fools and treated as criminals, falsely accused, etc., and now the whole truth will stand out before the world. But above all, the general judgment is for the honor and glory of Our Lord. At His first coming into the world He was poor and weak; many would not believe Him the Son of God, and insulted Him as an impostor. He was falsely accused, treated shamefully, and was put to death, many believing Him guilty of some crime. Now He will appear before all as He really is – their Lord and Master, their Creator and Judge. How they will tremble to look upon Him whom they have crucified! How all those who have denied Him, blasphemed Him, persecuted His Church, and the like, will fear when they see Him there as Judge! How they will realize the terrible mistake worldlings made!

417Q. Will our bodies share in the reward or punishment of our souls?
A. Our bodies will share in the reward or punishment of our souls, because through the Resurrection they will again be united to them.
*418Q. In what state will the bodies of the just rise?
A. The bodies of the just will rise glorious and immortal.

We honor the dead body and treat it with great respect because it was the dwelling place of the soul and was often nourished with the Sacraments; also because it will rise in glory and be united with the soul in the presence of God forever. For these reasons we use incense and holy water when the body is to be buried, and even bless the ground in which it is laid. “Faithful departed” means all those who died in a state of grace and who are in Heaven or Purgatory. They may be in Purgatory, and so we pray for them. We pray that they may “rest in peace” – that is be in Heaven, where they will have no sufferings.

*419Q. Will the bodies of the damned also rise?
A. The bodies of the damned will also rise, but they will be condemned to eternal punishment.
420Q. What is Heaven?
A. Heaven is the state of everlasting life in which we see God face to face, are made like unto Him in glory, and enjoy eternal happiness.

The most delightful place we could possibly imagine as Heaven would not be near what it really is. Everything that is good is there and forever, and we shall never tire of its joys. All the pleasures and beauties of earth are as nothing compared with Heaven; and though we think we can imagine its beauty and happiness now, we shall see how far we have been from the real truth if ever we reach this heavenly home.

“God face to face” – that is, as He is. We shall not see Him with the eyes of the body, but of the soul. That we may see with our natural eyes, two things are necessary: first, an object to look at, and secondly, light to see it. Now, to see God in Heaven we need a special light, which is called the “light of glory.” God Himself gives us this light and thus enables us to see Him as He is. This beautiful vision of God in Heaven is called the “beatific vision,” and thus our whole life in Heaven – our joy and happiness – consists in the enjoyment of the beatific vision.

*421Q. What words should we bear always in mind?
A. We should bear always in mind these words of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul, or what exchange shall a man give for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels: and then will He render to every man according to his works.”

What does it benefit the poor creatures in Hell to have been rich, or beautiful, or learned, or powerful? If they had been good, it was all that was necessary to escape all their sufferings. Is there anything on earth that they would not give to be released? Why, then, did they sell their souls for so little while on earth? The present is the only time you have to merit Heaven and escape Hell. The past you cannot recall, and of the future you are not sure. Then use the present well and decide daily whether you wish to be in Heaven or in Hell.


This is the last chapter and conclusion of this series. What a powerful chapter it is indeed!

Click here to see the Baltimore Catechism archive. For general info on this series, see my initial post.

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7 Quick Takes Friday (set #150)

This week: Islam is not interested in an “win-win” – now, in the past, or ever. Enlightened thinking that could be found in any “modern” university. A woman makes a (very poor) case for abortion being good. “Judging”: yes, no, depends on circumstances, other? Interesting yet extremely brief summaries of the Bible. The Dominican Friars have a new vocations / promo video. Makeup and digital editing produces “slob evolution.”

— 1 —

We project upon Islam our Christian values and that is a huge mistake. Our president says ISIL is not “true Islam.” He is wrong. There will be a lot of death, destruction and atrocity visited upon us until we put aside political correctness and accept truth.

While this seems like sound commentary from a credible source, you may be thinking that it also seems uncharitable (you probably mean “politically incorrect”). Fortunately, we have the words of those who were models of charity, now in Heaven, to guide us. Read what did the Saints say about Islam? BTW: Islam has been at war with Christianity since its inception.

UPDATE: Daniel Greenfield wrote a related piece: A Nigerian Prince Called Islam.

— 2 —

This could be a professor at any “modern” university. He deduces, using his own enlightened reason, that since God created everything He also created evil. QED.

Spotted by Fr. Z

— 3 —

As she got older, this woman “started embracing the truth about reality and life and that we’re floating around the universe on a wet marble.” From this insight, she deduces her past and future abortions are actually good, not sinful.

— 4 —

What do you think of this video?

IMHO, there is a valid message here but it is incomplete. Pictured are extremes. It would be naive (and possibly dangerous) to NOT use your life experience to make an initial assessment. I can imagine how it is possible that a “right” answer could turn out to be the wrong one upon further investigation. So yes, judge – then re-judge and re-judge as more and more information becomes available. Be aware of your confidence based upon the info you had and immediate circumstances involved. This is common sense.

As a general topic, judging is not bad. Scripture warns, as everybody knows, against judging (Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37). Specifically against condemning a person for what you judge to be their heart or state of their soul. It is twisted beyond all recognition to say it means to never judge period. That is political correctness, not scripture, and used to bludgeon those who do not self-censor opinions others have judged to be in opposition to their ideaology.

Finally, on “judging” objectively sinful actions, see my piece from 2 years ago: Always be nice!.

— 5 —

A while back, Igniter Media produced this interesting summary of the Bible…   The Bible in 50 Words:

LectorPrep.org also took a shot at summarizing salvation history in ~250 words:

In ancient Sumer (modern Iraq) lived a rich, wily fellow soon to be renamed Abraham. We’d call him, and everybody else at the time, a pagan. He followed the mysterious voice of God and moved to Palestine, around 1800 BC, where he made a covenant with God.

His grandson Jacob was renamed Israel, and Israel’s twelve sons and their families wound up in Egypt seeking relief from famine. The Egyptians and others lumped these and other nomadic people under the name Hebrews. Eventually the Egyptians enslaved the Hebrew descendants of Israel.

Around 1200 BC Moses revived their ancestral religion and led them out of Egypt back to the land Abraham had occupied. (The event is known as the Exodus.) On the way, at Mount Sinai, Moses renewed the covenant between God and the people, their side of the Covenant being expressed concretely in the Ten Commandments.

Generations after Moses saw: the kingships of Saul, David, Solomon and lesser kings; the Temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem; the division into northern and southern kingdoms (Israel and Judah, respectively); the prophets; the Exile in Babylon; more prophets; a dispirited return from exile; the diaspora (dispersion of many of the people now known as Jews (from “Judah”) among Mediterranean pagan populations; occupation of their homeland by Greeks under Alexander, then occupation by the Romans; the coming of John the Baptist; the coming of Jesus of Nazareth; and more.

— 6 —

This is a new vocations / promo video for the Dominican Friars:

— 7 —

Many (over 17M) people have seen the Dove “Evolution” video on digital image manipulation to make people look unachievably “perfect”:

At about the same time, but somehow missed by me, this really good spoof was made:


Some random thoughts or bits of information are worthy of sharing but don’t warrant their own full post. This idea was started by Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary to address this blogging need. So, some Fridays I too participate when I have accumulated 7 worthy items. Thank you Jen for hosting this project!

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Elsewhere: the Church in America

Francis Cardinal George, the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, has written and commented often in recent years on the Church in America. He recently wrote A tale of two churches in the Archdiocese newspaper – Catholic New World.

His Eminence looks at the founding of America and our embrace of religious freedom. Cardinal George gives a solid summary of how that has “evolved” into a new state imposed religion, centered not on God but on government.

When I was a newly confirmed Catholic (2010), I was trying to size-up the hierarchy in the US. My initial read of Cardinal George was progressive, liberal or whatever other description you prefer for one who is not a defender of orthodoxy – the certain, true, dogmatic and doctrinal teaching of the Church. Fr. Michael Pfleger and his antics contributed to that opinion. He has however, shown himself to be quite orthodox. He also has no blinders on about the direction we are headed, famously noting “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” Cardinal George is a good shepherd of his flock.

UPDATE: Cardinal George was a good shepherd of his flock. His retirement due to age has been expected, but was just announced. Pope Francis appointed Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, WA as the successor.

There was always a quasi-religious element in the public creed of the country. It lived off the myth of human progress, which had little place for dependence on divine providence. It tended to exploit the religiosity of the ordinary people by using religious language to co-opt them into the purposes of the ruling class. Forms of anti-Catholicism were part of its social DNA. It had encouraged its citizens to think of themselves as the creators of world history and the managers of nature, so that no source of truth outside of themselves needed to be consulted to check their collective purposes and desires. But it had never explicitly taken upon itself the mantle of a religion and officially told its citizens what they must personally think or what “values” they must personalize in order to deserve to be part of the country. Until recent years.

In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered “sinful.” Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The “ruling class,” those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone. We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family. Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger.

When the recent case about religious objection to one provision of the Health Care Act was decided against the State religion, the Huffington Post (June 30, 2014) raised “concerns about the compatibility between being a Catholic and being a good citizen.” This is not the voice of the nativists who first fought against Catholic immigration in the 1830s. Nor is it the voice of those who burned convents and churches in Boston and Philadelphia a decade later. Neither is it the voice of the Know-Nothing Party of the 1840s and 1850s, nor of the Ku Klux Klan, which burned crosses before Catholic churches in the Midwest after the civil war. It is a voice more sophisticated than that of the American Protective Association, whose members promised never to vote for a Catholic for public office. This is, rather, the self-righteous voice of some members of the American establishment today who regard themselves as “progressive” and “enlightened.”

The inevitable result is a crisis of belief for many Catholics. Throughout history, when Catholics and other believers in revealed religion have been forced to choose between being taught by God or instructed by politicians, professors, editors of major newspapers and entertainers, many have opted to go along with the powers that be. This reduces a great tension in their lives, although it also brings with it the worship of a false god. It takes no moral courage to conform to government and social pressure. It takes a deep faith to “swim against the tide,” as Pope Francis recently encouraged young people to do at last summer’s World Youth Day.

Swimming against the tide means limiting one’s access to positions of prestige and power in society. It means that those who choose to live by the Catholic faith will not be welcomed as political candidates to national office, will not sit on editorial boards of major newspapers, will not be at home on most university faculties, will not have successful careers as actors and entertainers. Nor will their children, who will also be suspect. Since all public institutions, no matter who owns or operates them, will be agents of the government and conform their activities to the demands of the official religion, the practice of medicine and law will become more difficult for faithful Catholics. It already means in some States that those who run businesses must conform their activities to the official religion or be fined, as Christians and Jews are fined for their religion in countries governed by Sharia law.

The entire piece is excellent and insightful. Read The Cardinal’s Column: A tale of two churches.

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Children of God

Guest contributor:   Ed Trego

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14-17)

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1)

As Christians, we should find great comfort and joy in these scriptures. I find it unimaginable that I, a sinful man, am a son of God. But if I believe the bible, that is exactly what I am. What wondrous love God has for us. Man has rejected Him throughout history. We rejected and killed His prophets, His kings, His judges, and even His son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. And yet He still desires to adopt us into His family and call us His children.

This is perhaps one of the hardest things for those seeking God to understand. We are conditioned to believe that we are rejected when we do not do those things others request of us. If we are rude, we are not liked. If we turn our back on someone who needs our help, we don’t expect them to help us when we need it. When we lie to others, we are quite certain that they will lie to us as well. This is the way we live in our fallen humanity. What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. Choose whatever cliché you wish, we don’t expect love and kindness from those we refuse to be loving and kind toward.

God, however, doesn’t return hate for hate, rejection for rejection. He continually gives love and forgiveness. He will certainly admonish us, or punish us. He will try us as gold is tried in fire. But His intent is never to turn us away, only to bring us closer to Him. We are the ones who can, and sometimes do, reject God, not the other way around. If we are condemned to eternal damnation it is of our free choice, not God’s punishment. He desires us to be part of His family, but if we refuse, He won’t force us.

Imagine the hurt and sorrow that is caused by the rejection of a child. I’m sure most of us who are parents have had some experience with that occurrence. Hopefully it was short lived and the child returned to our open, loving arms. But there are those children who never return. Whose rejection is permanent. As much as we want them to come home, they will not. As much as we want to forgive them, take them in our arms and love them, they remain distant. This is an incredible hurt, a hurt that never heals. But in the end, it is the child who must return. We can’t, as parents, force their love or demand their company. We can only hope and pray that they will someday realize the love they are rejecting.

,If we, as parents’ can feel this hurt and understand it, how much more does God know of this pain, this rejection? He has, throughout history, given us blessings, love and friendship. And we, as His children, have rejected His love and caring. We have moved away and refused to be part of His family, just as our children have sometimes done.

Our God is an incredibly forgiving God who loves us entirely and will throughout eternity. Even as we are broken and saddened by the rejection of our children, so God is when we reject Him. Yet He is always there, with His arms open. He would love nothing better than to take us in His arms and hold us in His love forever.

As a family member, we have an obligation to participate in family functions. Whether that be a Thanksgiving dinner, a birthday, wedding, or other special occasion, we are expected to be there. The expectation isn’t one of a requirement, but of a desire. A desire to fully participate in the life of the family. In our world today, our families are sometimes spread all over the country and may not always be able to participate in family events. But the phone calls, the surprise appearance, the regrets for being unable to attend, are evidence that we recognize the importance of the occasion and our desire to be a part of it.

We must also recognize that being a member of God’s family also entails some family responsibilities. Just as being a good family member in our human family, we must also be a good member of God’s family. We must participate in those things that are pleasing to God. This includes attending church as a privilege, not a chore. We are very blessed to have the opportunity to worship God publicly without fear of retribution. In many areas of the world this isn’t possible. We should always be mindful and protective of this blessing.

We need to love one another. Jesus tells us in numerous places throughout the gospels of the importance of this command. The Sadducees asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law.” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40) Without this kind of love, we can’t claim to be a member of God’s family.

We must strive to please God in all that we do. We will fail, and fail again, but we must continue to try. God knows that we are weak and will fail in our efforts to please Him. But I believe that God truly is pleased by our efforts to please Him, even when we fail. He is always there to pick us up from our failures and help us get back on the right track even though He knows that we will fail again. If we were to ask for God’s help before we fail, He would provide us with the strength to not fail. But we, as humans, have a very hard time admitting that we can’t do it ourselves.

As our parents forgave our mistakes in childhood, so will God forgive our mistakes in adulthood. That’s part of the definition of family; the willingness to forgive the errors, or sins, of our brethren. Even though human parents sometimes fail at this responsibility to forgive, God never will. Regardless of our sins, He is waiting to forgive them and welcome us back into His family with open arms.

When I confess my sins and seek forgiveness I say an “Act of Contrition”. It is a prayer of remorse for having sinned against God and recognizing that fault. It is also a statement of willingness to try my best to change my life in order to not offend God with my sins. It is quite simple, but very moving. I consider this prayer to be instrumental in my salvation and continued membership in the family of God. I firmly believe that failing to be sincere in my remorse and commitment to try to do better means that I have not honestly sought forgiveness for my sins.

“Oh my God I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend you, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life.”

For me the most meaningful part of this prayer is that I detest my sins because they offend God. Of course I don’t want to suffer the pains of hell, but more importantly, I don’t want to offend and disappoint my loving father in heaven. As a human, full of weakness and failings, I know full well that I will need to say this prayer many times in this life. We all fail in our efforts to avoid sin. We are blessed that we have a God who wants to forgive; who wants us as part of His family.

If you ever doubt the forgiveness of God and His willingness to accept us back into His family I suggest you read the parable of the prodigal son. (see Luke 15:11-32). As a member of a family this son did virtually everything wrong that could be done wrong. He essentially wished his father dead by asking for his inheritance. He then took his inheritance and wasted it on a wanton, wild lifestyle, eventually becoming destitute and starving. When he finally recognized the wrong he had done, he went home to his father offering to serve him not as a son but as a servant. He felt he didn’t deserve to be considered a son after all that he had done. The love of his father, however, was so great that he immediately took the boy back in as a son and celebrated his return.

This is the love God has for us. We can do nothing that God will not forgive if we only ask it of Him. He will accept us back into His family and forget the wrong we have done without question. If only we could live in our earthly families with this kind of love, perhaps we could better understand the incredible gift God has given us by counting us among his children.

“But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying. ‘Abba! Father!’ So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir. (Galatians 4:4-7)


The above meditation is a chapter from Ed’s new eBook “The Narrow Gate”. Available now for only $1.99 on Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and other fine publishers.

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