Judgment – What Every Catholic Must Know About “The Four Last Things” (second in a series)

The Last Judgment (detail) by Michelangelo

Editor’s Note: Second in a series on the Four Last Things.

Catholic teaching identifies the Four Last Things as:

  • Death
  • Judgment
  • Heaven
  • Hell

In the first installment of this series on the Four Last Things, we examined what every Catholic needs to know about death. In this second installment, we will look at the Particular and Universal Judgments, the second of the Four Last Things.

The Particular and Universal Judgments

“And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27).

Bodily immortality, one of the preternatural gifts God gave to mankind, was lost when Adam and Eve sinned. The result is that men and women die at the end of their earthly lives. But, Jesus Christ conquered death so bodily death is no longer a permanent condition.

Prior to Redemption, there was no possibility for the dead to enter Heaven, but now there is. Christ defeated sin and death and has opened the gates of Heaven to us.

During our earthly lives, we have time and opportunity to accept God’s free gift of salvation and gain merit. We have the opportunity to enter into a communion with God and become holy. It is an opportunity for us to turn from sin and to live and love as God does, sharing in His Divine Life through Grace. This conversion from sin to God, this leaving behind the darkness to live in the Light, is a life-long pursuit. That is why Scripture speaks of salvation as a past event, a present happening and a future hope.

When we die, that is, when the soul separates from the body, we face judgment. The time for choosing good or evil ends at death. The time for meriting reward ends at death. Then is the time for judgment.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

There is a tendency today to discount sin – to either deny its reality or to ignore its consequences. But, just as we have seen and know that death is real, so can we see and know the reality of sin and is consequences. Simply look at your own life; only one who has deluded himself would deny the stark reality that faces us in a world separated from God.

“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21).

So let’s examine judgment.

The Particular Judgment

When we die, we shall face two judgments. The first of these is what theologians call the Particular Judgment. There will come a time when we are are individually judged by Christ. That moment will occur immediately following our death in the ordinary events of human history or, for those still alive, at the Second Coming of Christ. We will see our lives as they were, every act of sin and its consequences and every act of goodness and its consequences. We will see ourselves as God sees us. And, we will learn whether our reward is the beatitude and glory of God in Heaven or the everlasting punishment of Hell, separated from God.

This is the Particular Judgment.

For those who die before the return of Christ, our souls will depart for either Hell or to Heaven to await the Universal Judgment and the General Resurrection of our bodies at the Second Coming of Christ. These saved who depart for Heaven, if they are not perfected in the earthly life, will first undergo purification and suffer temporal punishment in Purgatory.

The saved who experience their Particular Judgment at the Second Coming of Christ will not have need of Purgatory as we ordinarily view it because they will already have undergone their final purification. Although Purgatory is not one of the Four Last Things, we will look deeper into it when we examine Heaven and Hell in the next installment.

The Universal Judgment

At the end of time, when Christ returns, all the sins of each person will be revealed for all to know. Theologians call this the Universal Judgment. Some refer to this as the final or general judgment.

It seems at times we are more concerned about what others know about us than what God knows. We act as if we are more embarrassed by others knowing our faults than about God knowing them. Contemplating the Universal Judgment is one of those times. Out of embarrassment, we might wonder why there should be a Universal Judgment.

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…’” (Matthew 25:31-34).

The justice of God demands that all be revealed. How often in this life does it appear that the good suffer and the wicked prosper? We see this and know that this cannot be right. At the Universal Judgment, we will know that everything is as it should be. God’s justice and His mercy will prevail.

In this life, we cannot see into the hearts of others, but God can and does. Jesus told us not to judge others. In part, this is why. We can and should judge their actions, but we can never know their hearts… until the Universal Judgment when all will be revealed and each person’s final choice is revealed.

Does the prospect of the Universal Judgment disturb you? One of the things for which we have time to overcome in this life is the sin of pride. It is because of pride that we fear others knowing our inmost dark secrets. The practice of humility, strengthened with frequent sacramental confession can overcome that fear and deepen our spiritual life.

So that’s it… “it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment…”


Editor’s Note: In next Sunday’s third installment of this series, we will look at Heaven and Hell.

Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life™. A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.

He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplains to the St. Peter Chanel Business Association and co-founder of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.

Looking for a Catholic Speaker?  Check out Deacon Mike’s speaker page and the rest of the ICL Speaker’s Bureau.

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About the Author

Deacon Michael Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life™. A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.

He is a co-founder of the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference; the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference; and Chaplain of the St. Peter Chanel Faith at Work Business Association and co-founder and Chaplain of the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries.

He and his wife have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

NB: The views I express on this site are my own. I am not an official spokesman for either my parish or diocese.

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks for doing my homework, this is a fascinating topic.

    “Jesus told us not to judge others. In part, this is why. We can and should judge their actions, but we….”

    Wait a minute!!! Jesus says don’t judge. You say we should!!! Now I have to decide if I should take you literally or not. Surely you would not contradict Jesus so I look further. Note: A major difficulty of mine is what to take literally and what not to, in reading the Bible, I have to here also!!!

    Fr Corapi also said we should not judge others but as I understood Fr. Corapi, we ARE responsible to judge everything but a person’s spiritual character. Otherwise we might hang out with dope pushers or others who do what we are taught is evil or wrong. Do you think I have a working understanding of the concept?

    I guess Fr Corapi’s explanation is another way of explaining what Deacon Mikebick said – we should judge their actions.

    Isn’t there a plain English word or phrase instead of “preternatural gifts”? Note: Guess I could improve my vocabulary if I looked it up!!
    from Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary; Favors granted by God above and beyond the powers or capacities of the nature that receives them but not beyond those of all created nature. Such gifts perfect nature but do not carry it beyond the limits of created nature. They include three great privileges to which human beings have no title–infused knowledge, absence of concupiscence, and bodily immortality

  2. I really like how you back up your statements with Bible quotes.

    “We will see our lives as they were, every act of sin and its consequences and every act of goodness and its consequences. We will see ourselves as God sees us.”
    What is the source of this statement? (I read almost the same thing from a private revelation at Medjugorje. …We will see our souls as God sees them.)

    “The saved who experience their Particular Judgment at the Second Coming of Christ will not have need of Purgatory as we ordinarily view it because they will already have undergone their final purification.”
    What is the source of this statement, especially the part about (already have undergone their final purification)

  3. Regarding judging others, there are two aspects to this. First, Jesus tells us:

    “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5)

    We have a tendency to worry about others’ faults without acknowledging our own. If we are to serve as transforming agents in the world, we must first be converted ourselves, otherwise we are just ineffectual and sanctimonious boors who do not reflect Christ. But, once we overcome that tendency, we can help others. That requires judging their acts.

    Second, it is God alone who is the judge of mans’ souls and never us.

    Regarding the preternatural gifts, these are gifts that were given by God to mankind that were within our human nature’s capacity to receive, but were not due us according to our nature. You can learn about them by reading part one of this series. Click on the Four Last Things tag at the bottom of the article.

    Deacon Mike

  4. Regarding seeing ourselves as God see us:

    “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

    Regarding purgatory and the Universal or Final Judgment:

    “The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.” (Catechism # 1031)

    Purgatory only exists until the Final Judgment, after which one goes to Heaven or Hell. It has been speculated that the final purgation for those alive at the Second Coming will transpire in the persecutions of that time.

    Deacon Mike

  5. On judgment, then, might it help to store in our minds a distinction between Judgment with a Capital J, and judgment with a lower case j? The first is God’s business and God’s alone. The second is within our range and indeed responsibility. We should not Judge people with a Capital J because we are not the Judge with a Capital J. We should not determine anyone’s eternal fate – think the loose phrases “You’ll go to Hell”, “To Hell with you” or indeed “You’ll get your reward in Heaven” – because that is not part of our commission from God. But we can and should judge people’s passing actions with a lower case j in order to correct them when they err (and do so in charity but without compromising the truth) and also to commend them when they do well (especially as regards children, who need to know what the right path of action is in order to stay on it). It stands to reason – quite literally – therefore, that in order to judge with a lower case j, we need to learn what’s right and what’s wrong. We can and should do this because we can and should judge with a lower j (but we are not passing sentence). We cannot, though, see into others’ hearts, so therefore we will never have the requisite knowledge to Judge with a Capital J. Nor should we ever want to. There is no conflict, therefore, between Judgment and judgment. Indeed, as Fr Bernard Lonergan so adeptly recognised: we judge all day long, it’s how we get by. “That smells like smoke, I judge there’s a fire nearby – I need to check this out.”

    As regards “preternatural”, it’s a great word. We naturally know the word natural. Preternatural is just six more letters to stick onto the front end. And it helps to define and codify the naturalities: the natural, the supernatural, the preternatural. It’s because of the fact that so much sentimental modern over emphasis has been placed on the first of those categories – “ahh, yeah, but it’s only natural” – to the detriment of our awareness of the other two realms (the preter- and supernatural) that modern man is in such a spiritual and ethical mess. Preternatural, a truly great word to know. Naturally.

  6. Gregory,

    I agree regarding judgment. I would only emphasize the necessity of our own conversion. No one is going to react favorably to a hypocrite’s judgment! Nor, as you say, is the poorly formed in any position to know right from wrong in many cases.

    And yes, “preter”-natural is a great word.

    Thanks for the comments.

    Deacon Mike

  7. Thanks for this great article. I’m just a little confused on why those saved who experience Particular Judgment at the Second Coming of Christ will not need Purgatory anymore.

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