From Sermons for Every Sunday in the Year by Rev. B. J. Raycroft, A. M. Published by Fr. Pustet & Co. Copyright 1900 by Rev. B. J. Raycroft
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. (St. Math. xxiv.-30.)
My Dear Friends: The General Judgment will be an event of awful import to the human race. Any trial is troublesome. When you have a lawsuit, you are anxious for a decision favorable to yourselves. You make every preparation, you leave nothing undone which may jeopardize your cause. On the day of trial you are feverish with anxiety and excitement, lest the case may be declared against you. But in the last trial, during which the Son of God will sit in judgment, there are involved decisions of the greatest importance. Whether you consider the vast number of persons concerned, the appalling consequences, or the eternal reward, you cannot find anything comparable to the General Judgment.
Upon that decision depends everlasting misery, or endless happiness; ceaseless tears, or incessant joys; a life with Jesus forever, or a continuous privation of the presence of God. A skeptic may say: "Oh, this idea of a General Judgment is all bosh. I don't believe anything of the kind. Time and again people have deceived themselves about this same topic. They imagined the end of the world near at hand. Some prophesied the day, but it came not. Away with the notion! "
You must not, my Christian friends, overlook the fact that the Son of God has foretold the Judgment, and He says in this very chapter: "The heavens and the earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away." Which shall you believe; upon which will you rely-our Saviour, or a scoffer?
Moreover, while Noe was building the ark according to the command of God, undoubtedly people were amazed at his work, and thought him foolish for constructing such a huge refuge from temporal dangers. They must have laughed at the notion. The whole earth was to be destroyed, together with every living thing, except this insane builder and his family and the animals sheltered in the ark. This vast building was to float on the waters, to rise above the highest mountains. Why, where would all this water come from? Such, my dear friends, we may suppose were the remarks made by the unbelievers in the days of Noe. Indeed, the remarks upon this occasion were probably more rash and foolish than anything we could imagine. But the flood came as God had predicted, and the wicked were consumed in the angry waters.
Thus also the General Judgment will come, although many may consider it a myth. As sure as you and I are here today, we shall stand in the presence of the Son of God to receive the sentence of condemnation, or the reward of heaven. And what an awful spectacle of black despair and of sublime glory will commingle in that scene. The angels of the Lord will go forth with a great trumpet to summon the elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them. What a stupendous gathering of people shall be there! How various in form, how different in soul! All the great ones of the earth; the kings and rulers of every age and nation, the scholar of every clime, pope and priest, rich and poor, all will there be collected. For what? For judgment!
The monarch at whose beck millions bowed, will be present. But where is the blaze of royalty? He is alone. No richly decorated retinue attends him. The crown and the throne are absent. His will was mighty. He was a god on earth; but there he stands as humbled as the humblest. The beggar is as great as he, perhaps greater; for all that elevates a person then are his good works. His head is not bedecked with the diadem, but visible upon his brow are all the acts of tyranny, debauchery, and cruelty of his infamous reign. The rights of his subjects were considered as naught. He spoke, and they trembled; he rebuked, and they suffered imprisonment or death. He fancied there was none so great as he; but now behold him, shorn of his pomp and power! How low, how disregarded! In the presence of his God, he sinks into insignificance. His condition is shared by all those who were mighty or ruled, but who abused their power or governed with haughtiness and injustice.
In that vast throng, where are the cruel wealthy arrayed? You would not know them were it not for all the sins of which opulence was the cause. The wail of the orphan, the widow and the wronged rises to the Throne of Justice against them. How many burning tears they have caused to be shed! How many have they oppressed? Wealth was might, and might was right. But the curses which an outraged people heaped upon them were heard by the Avenger of the weak and the lowly. Where now is their power, where their riches, where their pride and ostentation? All have perished. They are unattended. They learn that God alone is great.
Assembled for judgment are parents who hurl maledictions upon the heads of their offspring. It was he who worked his father's or mother's ruin. The child in turn utters imprecations against the parent. Ah! Had my parents trained me to habits of virtue; had they kept me from bad company; had they taught me to pray; had they led me on the path to heaven ...I would not now be seen on the way to hell. The husband will curse the wife, and the wife will curse the husband; for they have been each others spiritual ruin.
But, oh, the awful thought! What will be the punishment for those who have murdered their unborn offspring; who were cruel enough to destroy life with a mother's hand? A mother, who should die for her child; a mother, the ideal of affection, heartlessly besmearing her hand with the blood of the helpless, is an appalling thought.
In that numberless assembly will be those who will crave for vengeance to be inflicted upon the heads of monsters of impurity, which doomed them to a life of shame on earth, and effected the eternal damnation of their souls. Pure she was and innocent when first he seduced her to sin. Her aspirations were lofty. The future was promising. The smiles of health and beauty were on her countenance; on her brow, sincerity, modesty, and honor. Life was budding into summer--a summer of happiness, peace, and innocence. But, alas! From all this she turned away, to listen to the flattery of him who meditated her ruin. She fell; perhaps rose again, only to sink deeper into the meshes of impurity; she had broken away from the anchor of innocence. There was soon no restraint.
In turn, she allured others into sin. Thousands were destroyed by her fall, and now she invokes maledictions upon her malicious destroyer. She sees how much is lost and nothing gained, save that she will continue during eternity to curse the scoundrel whose bewitching tongue and bland smiles robbed her of peace and affected her wretchedness. She thought him honorable. He had a suave demeanor. It was the subtlety of the serpent. He gloried in his conquest. Among his associates he boasted of his damnable deeds. He was not one who had struggled with temptations, fought them back, and prayed in order to conquer; or in an unprotected moment fell a victim to allurements of mighty temptations. No; his ambition was to pollute purity; his greatest glory, the destruction of others.
But on the other hand is the young man who was ensnared by a false woman's charms. He was a noble youth, ignorant of the infernal way of the bad. The pride of his parents and his friends, his every motive was stamped with the seal of honor and manliness. The emotions of the heart stimulated to high resolve. He was ambitious; but his ambition was worthy of a great-minded, noble-hearted young man. Fortune caressed him; a bright future beckoned him on. But there he stands now a picture of despair and remorse. He had magnificent talents, but he abused them. His soul was once spotless, but now it is tarnished with the foulness of crime. Dejected and alone he stands. Misery has claimed him for her own. He knows his fate, and bitterly laments his awful misfortune.
Around about him is a hideous group. Drunkards who died in their sins, cursing God they breathed their last breath; nor have they ceased to blaspheme His holy name. There is the murderer with his dagger reeking with the blood of his helpless victim. It was an instrument of destruction, now it is a witness of His horrible crime. His victim is in his presence. The death wound pleads with irresistible eloquence for justice. With more than human power it tells of the fatal blow. How he prayed for pity and for life, but both were denied him. He was cut off in his sin. Now he is damned, and torture gives vehemence to his appeals. How can the murderer expect mercy? He gave none. His victim's doom is sealed. Can he expect pardon, who deprived a human being of life and despoiled him of the opportunities of repentance and salvation?
All, however, are not bad who are gathered there. The saints and martyrs and all those who lived a pious life, rejoice in the happiness to be possessed for eternity. The martyrs' wounds are now their glory. These are proofs of noble lives and heroic deaths; all of the virtuous are overjoyed. Their suffering on earth is now considered nothing. Their trials and sufferings and anguish are to be rewarded with an endless life with their Creator. The palm of victory is theirs, and the crown of immortality is the compensation for their tireless efforts in the service of God.
It is beyond my power to describe to you the heavenly enthusiasm with which they will be filled upon that occasion. But it is important for us to ponder well the consequences of this last trial, as the interests of the entire human race are involved, and ask ourselves: On what side shall we be after the irrevocable decree goes forth? We shall surely be present, but what will be the sentence? Will it be: Come forth, ye blessed of My Father; or, Depart, ye cursed ones? While all are awaiting the close of the final act in the great drama of human existence, the sun grows pale, the moon is darkened, the stars fall from the heavens, and all Nature seems convulsed at the overawing scene to be enacted. In the midst of this consternation the Son of God appears with great power and majesty. Not weak and haggard as He was on Calvary, but surrounded with all the glory of heaven.
The good will move to welcome Him Who is the source of all their joy, and for Whom they bore all wrongs, insults, and even death, with remarkable fortitude. The very damned will admit His goodness and love for the human race. Their greatest torture will be the consciousness of the loss of One Who had an infinite attachment for all mankind. They will acknowledge their damnation is to be attributed to none but themselves; and will curse themselves on account of their ingratitude toward the fountain of all mercy and charity.
As the Saviour of mankind looks out upon that immense concourse of people, and sees so many who have blasphemed against Him, who have wronged themselves and others; in a word, as He beholds all who have violated His laws and spurned His mercies, He pronounces the sentence of endless joy and everlasting sorrow.
The cause of this joy or this despair is largely due to our own conduct. It is ourselves who compel Him, according to justice, an attribute of His nature, to declare us guilty, if guilty we be. And on that solemn occasion we shall, no doubt, understand this better than we do now, although now we are not ignorant of the fact that God cannot save us without our own cooperation. Let us strive then to follow Jesus faithfully through life, that on the Last Day we may have the inexpressible pleasure of following Him to His eternal mansion. Let us, too, invoke the prayers of Mary that she may lift us when we fall, and by