The Last Judgment, The Judgment of Love

The Last Judgment, The Judgment of Love February 7, 2021

Richard Mortel (photographer): Fra Angelico, Last Judgment / Wikimedia Commons

Jesus is coming again. When he comes, he will judge the living and the dead. Through that judgement, Jesus will reveal to everyone, including ourselves, who we are. No one will be able to hide from the truth. What we have made of ourselves, who we have become, will be clear. We will not dispute it. There will be nothing which we can dispute, because it will be true, and we will know it is true. We will know ourselves

Jesus comes not to condemn us, but to free us, to liberate us. Jesus wants us to receive deifying grace and so to become partakers of the divine nature in and through him. But to get there, we must not lie to ourselves. We must not deny our need for God. Jesus will make sure we understand what we can achieve all by ourselves and we will see how little that is. However, if we have made room, any room, for love in us, that love will serve as our bridge to grace; it will make sure we move outside of ourselves which is what we need to do if we are to receive the bounty of God’s love. If we have embraced love, even if we have faltered in such love, that love can open us up and  set us free so that in and through that love, we will be welcomed into the kingdom of God. If, on the other hand, we have denounced love, that, too, will be made clear, and in that unlove, we will experience the full consequences of our unlove, all its bitterness and strife as  it  reverberates back at us: all that we wished upon others in that unlove we will feel and experience ourselves.

Jesus, preaching about the last judgment, told us that it will show us who and what we have become by showing to us what we have done for others in the world. This is how we will see  whether or not we have opened ourselves to love. For love has us give ourselves over to others and think about and be concerned about them. When we help those in need, our love grows; when we reject them, or worse, ridicule or cause them some undue harm, our love wanes.

What we do out of love connects us with the God who is love, and so is done for God. On the other hand, rejection of love distances us from God, and what is done against love, and is done against God. Thus, as we grow in love, as we act out of love and help others around us, we will find, we did it for God, even as when we abandon love, act with malice towards others and hurt them, we will find we have also done such to God. In the last judgment, our embrace of love or unlove will determine who and what we are and what we have become. If we have joined ourselves with love, we should not be surprised to hear the judge tell us well-done, for we have done it for God and connected ourselves with God. If we have acted with malice, and let such malice rule over us and turn us into creatures of hate, it should not be surprising that the judge will, with pity, decry what we have become and reveal that we have turned away from God by our actions (cf. Matt. 25:31-46). St. Maximos the Confessor suggests the guidelines of the judgment, indicated by Jesus when he discusses the last judgment, are based upon the basic divisions of love:

They say that love is the most general of virtues, and that the most general power of productive love is reason, which, holding on tightly to its own Cause, is parted through its activities into six more general modes, compassing the various forms by which the principle of love is distinguished, namely, attending physically and spiritually to the hungry and thirsty, to strangers, to the naked, the sick, and to those in prisons. [1]

We will find ourselves being told by God we have done well if we embrace these six ways of embracing love. Corporal works of mercy, corporeal works of love, are not secondary issues but rather form a primary place in our salvation. To disregard them as secondary is to ignore Jesus and what he declared in his ministry.

Since, as Maximos said, love is the most general of virtues from which all other virtues flow, to nurture our virtue we should nurture love. This can lead us to say we nurture Christ by the way we nurture our love and act in the world in the way love suggests. “For Christ is refreshed and renewed in every virtue of our soul, in every pursuit of our faith, in every work of justice, mercy, and piety, since he himself is the author and founder of every good work.”[2]Christ is refreshed by us in our acts of love, when we help the homeless, when we help the hungry, when we help the refugee, when we help victims of racism or sexism, when we help those weighed down by burdens, we help not only them, but Christ, who, with the greatest of compassion, has joined himself with them, feeling the burdens of those in need.

Love is the greatest of virtues, as it is the most general of virtues, and through it all other virtues can be nourished. This is why love is able to cover a multitude of sins, for in and through love, we can overcome our sins. Love connects us to the God who is love, so that through it we receive the bounty and grace of God’s love. That bounty transcends any failure on our part, so  not only is it able to restore us to the condition we were before our sin., it can make us better than before. It is, for this reason, why we must understand what whatever spiritual disciplines  we engage will be shown to be worthless if they are not connected to love. Thus, if we fast without love, all we will do is grow hungry with our hate. And so if we must discipline ourselves under the mantle of love, we must consider others around us in our discipline, and act, not just for our own self-correction, but with the needs of others:

Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak  (1 Cor. 8:8-9 RSV).

Fasting can be good, if we use it to discipline ourselves, to overcome undue self-attachment, if we use it to remind ourselves that our lives are not meant for the pursuit of inordinate pleasures at the expense of others. Fasting can help us, but if we begin to glorify ourselves in and through fasts, or begin to think fasting is more than a tool but an end in itself, then our fasting is in vain.  Eating or not eating is not the issue, the issue is how we develop ourselves so that we do not lead selfish, self-centered lives. We must not focus on our wants and needs while ignoring the needs of others. Fasting by itself will not commend us to God. If we fast thinking God should be satisfied by our fast, without engaging the higher virtue of love, we will fail to achieve our desire and will go away angry and confused. On the other hand, if  we embrace such love, if we have died to the self already, and so look after and promote the good of others equally to our  own good, then we will find we are no better or worse if we fast. When we are filled with boundless love, we embrace fasting, not for ourselves, but as a way to encourage others, to show that self-discipline can be of value if approached with the right spirit; in this way, our fast will not be about ourselves but others, and so will be done in love and so will be able to do some good.

What we need to learn is simple: we need to learn how live our lives full of love, to be disciplined in our actions, so that we do not give in to baseless desires if our actions will hurt others. The more we act upon and nourish our love, the more will we nurture Christ. And if we become perfectly one  with the way of love, we will show ourselves to be true children of God. Then, when Jesus comes, Jesus will reveal to us and the world the glory of that love as we are welcomed into the kingdom of God and receive our boundless inheritance.


[1] St. Maximos the Confessor, On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture: The Response to Thalassios. Trans. Fr. Maximos Constas (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2018), 232-3.

[2] St. Chromatius of Aquileia, Sermons and Tractates on Matthew. Trans. Thomas P. Scheck (New York: Newman Press, 2018), 47 [Sermon 11].

 

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