Why Do Catholics Stress the Last Judgment?*
The great theme of divine judgment runs throughout the Book of Job (see, for example, 34:21-23, 25). God alone is competent to render such a judgment, since he alone sees all things completely and as they truly are. Only he is powerful enough to enforce a sentence on the wicked. And only he is perfectly holy and righteous, so his judgment will be utterly just.
We must live soberly in light of that reality, "for he forewarns no man of his time to come before God in judgment" (Job 34:23). And what exactly is a man's designated "time"? The moment of his death.
"It is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). The Catholic Church affirms the reality that each human being possesses an eternal soul, which is separated from the body at death (see Jas 2:26). In this particular judgment, each individual's eternal destiny is determined by a divine examination of his or her life.
Those who have died in friendship with God will go on to complete any purification still necessary in preparation for their entrance into heaven (see "Why do Catholics believe in Purgatory?" and "Why do Catholics believe strange things about Heaven?") Those who have died outside of friendship with God will spend eternity apart from him in hell (see "Why do Catholics believe that a loving God sends people to Hell?").
Yet there is more. Jesus affirmed, as the Jewish prophets and St. John the Baptist had done, that a universal judgment is also to come at the end of time (see Dn 7:10; Mt 3:7; 25:31-46). As God the Son, Jesus himself will return in power and glory to serve as the divine judge in this general (or last) judgment, when our bodies will rise to be reunited with our souls and to share in their judgment and eternal fate (see Mt 26:64; Jn 5:26-29; 1 Cor 15:35-44; see also ("Why do Catholics believe strange things about the End Times?").
Other related scriptures: Dt 32:36; Jgs 11:27; 1 Sm 2:10; 24:13; Ps 1:5; 7:7-10; 9:16-18; 50:1-6; 51:5-6; 75:1-11; 82:8: 94:1-11; 96:9-13; 98:7-9; 110:6; Is 2:4; 11:1-5; 33:22; Ez 34:17, 20, 22; 35:11; Dn 12:1-4; Jl 2:1-10; 3:3-4; 4:1-2; Mal 3:19; Mt 5:22; 7:1-5; 11:20-24; 12:32; Mk 12:38-44; Lk 12:1-3; Jn 3:18-21; 5:22; 6:39-40; 12:48; Rom 2:16; 1 Cor 3:12-15; 4:5 Heb 10:26-31
Catechism of the Catholic Church: 327; 677-682; 1020-1022; 1038-1041; 1051-1054; 1059.
*Quoted from The New Catholic Answer Bible. Wichita, Kansas, Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005. www.firesidecatholic.com
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