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What is the Catholic Understanding of Judgment After Death?

Judgment as Stock-Taking

I remember as a kid taking very literally what a nun had told us about God rewarding each of us a hundred times over for whatever we did for him. Over Lent I had scraped together a few shillings out of my meagre pocket money. I had worked out exactly what the returns were to be and wrote down the sum for the day of reckoning.

Judgment as Viewing the Uncensored Text

As an adult I have come to accept that even the best of us operate out of conflicting motives – from basically selfish to surprisingly generous. For instance: I come into a slice of my parents’ estate and I spend ages agonising whether to pay off a good hunk of the mortgage, to take the family to Disneyland, or (before any family discussion) to put down the deposit for an RV that I have been eyeing up for a long time.

The Christian belief in judgment after death presents a very different image, more like a deep session with a compassionate but highly skilled counsellor who skilfully helps me to become aware and acknowledge my hidden motives and self-deceit. With total clarity I will also see where I was surprisingly generous and caring. It will be like coming to the climax of The Lord of the Rings, seeing how both Gollum’s obsession with the One Ring of Power and Sam’s dedication to Frodo were both necessary for the salvation of Middle Earth.

There will be no courtroom with God as the hanging judge. Rather our eyes will be opened to see if our life’s journey has ultimately been a search for truth and giving of self or, on the contrary, an effort to make myself the centre of the world. In judgment both God and I will ratify that decision.

Catholic Discovery

Handling death , Heaven