Imagine a man with a bad conscience. Perhaps to the world he appears to be a very good man. He goes to Mass, is kind to the elderly and he gives to charity. But all is not right. He is doing, or has done something which he knows is wrong. But, alas he has left it unresolved.
Maybe it’s a murder that he committed in his youth, a serious theft or even an adultery. He thinks that he has “gotten away with it”, that nobody really saw him. Perhaps, if there were any witnesses at all, they are all now gone or have been forgotten. But, this does not matter – his soul is still not really at rest. Deep inside himself there is this niggling reiteration of reality, and it just won’t go away. For, he knows in truth that a grave error in his past has not been attended to.
Perhaps his discord is because of something completely secret, such as the pernicious vice of impurity. Maybe it is that hidden beneath a compassionate front there lies a soul who has made a god of sensuality and carnality. “I am doing no harm,” he reassures himself. “Nobody or hardly anybody sees,” he thinks – but his conscience, if he allowed it to speak at all, would state quite clearly that what he is doing is wrong.
Perhaps, on the other hand, it is that he has committed sins against the Faith, by either pretending to himself or to others that he is an atheist, and / or by blaspheming against God – holding hatred or resentment for the One who Created him. “I can think what I like,” he supposes to himself, but even so, something inside will whisper to him at the oddest of hours, that really, he is indulging in a forbidden fruit. He pretends not to hear these faint murmurs of his beaten down conscience, but, if he ponders long enough, it is obvious that with his sinful thought or action there comes an inordinate pleasure which is intensely momentary but ultimately not satisfying.
The ultimate purpose of every human being is to love God. This is true happiness. This is the eternal longing which is written into the heart of every man. We seek God. We need God. Our very existence craves His Love and His Vision. This is why we are discontented in this world, for we all are in exile. We are being put to the test, to see if we are worthy of Heaven – worthy to stand before the Beatific Vision of God.
Once more, let us consider this man, who is living with mortal sin on his soul. Imagine him as he wakes up on his last day of life. He does not know it, but, as Christ has warned, death will come at the hour least expected, “like a thief in the night.” What, do you suppose, is he going to do? Will he remain obstinate in sin, or will he, at the last moment, find the grace of perfect contrition?
The reality is that “as you have lived, so you shall die.” One cannot simply take for granted an extraordinary grace of final repentance. Every single day of life must be lived in preparation for death. If we only meditated more on what exactly is at stake, we would look at life from a completely different perspective.
The first and the greatest horror of sin is that it is an affront to the Glory of God. It is only when we sufficiently consider the true vileness of sin in relation to the infinite goodness of The Creator, that we can truly understand sin’s effect and the justice of the punishment which it demands.
All temptation is deceit, and every sin has at its core a lie. When a man commits a serious sin in full knowledge and with full consent, he chooses wrong above right, falseness before truth, and so he drives away God from his soul. He becomes an enemy of Heaven, and his soul is effectively dead. Sanctifying grace, the indwelling of God Himself in the soul, cannot reside in something which is defiled. Perfect Goodness cannot have as its vessel something which has declared itself against this very Goodness.
To die in such a state, at enmity with God, is indeed a horror to comprehend. For at the moment a man expires, his soul, his fate, is fixed for all eternity – and so, if a man dies in a state of serious sin, there can be no doubt, that he is damned to Hell forever.
In an instant of excruciating despair the dark shadow of an endless night will have descended. Despite this wretched blackness, he will see with horrific clarity the vileness of his sins, and, overcome with terror, his entire soul will at once and forever yearn for what it has forfeited – the eternal vision of God. He will suddenly realise, at the moment of damnation, why he was created. He will also know, all too painfully, that he will never now fulfil that reason – that he will never, ever see God.
Such will be the pain of loss that his whole soul will burn from within itself with an intensity far beyond that which earthly fire can have. The entire soul will become engulfed in an endless reaction against itself. He will be utterly detestable in its own sight, and everything he beholds will be vile and repugnant. His whole existence will be so much like a beautiful symphony that gets stuck forever on a screeching discord. Regret will be his constant lament as he is trapped in a hopeless panic that never ends. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For goodness, love, everything pleasant and comforting will forever be beyond his reach.
And all this for what? Obstinacy in sin is truly a horror greater than Hell. It is the damned themselves who have chosen perdition, by refusing to give up sin while they were alive. While we live we must have hope! We must always and at once renounce the world, the flesh and the devil, praying constantly for humble contrition. God will forgive those who are truly sorry for having offended Him. And He has, in His Goodness, left the Sacrament of Confession, woefully under used in this age, as an open door – that every sinner, freed from his sins, might return easily back into the grace of God. The importance of frequent Confession, in the battle for salvation, cannot be overestimated.
St John the Baptist said it clearly – “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.” We can never suppose how near or far we might be from our dying breath. All we know is that it won’t be too long. Heaven or Hell awaits at every moment. Now is the time to prepare for Judgement. God wants us to choose Him, and so, having confessed our sins, to look forward in hope to an eternity of happiness.