ESCHATOLOGY

An Insight into the Life of Evangelical Counsels

For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.

(NASB Mt 16:27)

[1] The topic of eschatology is a complex subject. It consists of interrelated subject matters (the reality of death and the realities after death like heaven, purgatory, or hell; the nature of judgment as particular and last, etc.) Only a few points are indicated below concerning consecrated life.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church. It comes from the Greek word eschaton, meaning ‘last.’ Eschatology refers to the doctrine of Christian faith concerning ‘the last things,’ with the coming of Jesus on ‘the last day’ as the pinnacle of the last things. Moreover, it reflects on human destiny, death, judgment, the resurrection of the body, heaven, purgatory, and hell – all of which are contained in the final articles of the Creed.2

[3] The Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is fundamental to the doctrine of eschatology as it is in the life of Jesus, as well as, to the life of the consecrated person. We pray that the rule of God may always prevail in our lives, also in the Church, in the society, and in the whole world at large. Christians have many expectations, which we call eschatological expectations and one of them is the "Eschatological expectation turned into a mission, so that the Kingdom may become ever more fully established here and now. The prayer, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ is accompanied by another: ‘Thy Kingdom come!’.”3 The first place of the Kingdom is the praying person. The reign of Jesus as King of his life should become more visible [evangelical] in the life of the consecrated person.

[4] Eschatological image. Fidelity to the vows makes the consecrated person participate in Church's mission of prefiguring the heavenly Bride and the future enjoyment eternal divine justice. The document Vita Consecrata describes a consecrated person this way: “Either alone or in association with others, they constitute a special eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and the life to come, when the Church will at last fully live her love for Christ the Bridegroom.”4 Each consecrated person is a bearer of the love of the Church. Like a flowing river of love flows from the groom to her Bride. We hope for immeasurable joy with the future heavenly Bride.

[5] Trinity: Eschatological fulfillment. Let us keep in mind that in the Kingdom of Heaven, love reigns; it consists in the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The trinitarian love is the goal and foundation of the perfectio caritatis, which every consecrated person professes5 “This special way of ‘following Christ,’ at the origin of which is always the initiative of the Father, has an essential Christological and pneumatological meaning: it expresses in a particularly vivid way the Trinitarian nature of the Christian life and it anticipates in a certain way that eschatological fulfilment towards which the whole Church is tending. In the Gospel, many of Christ’s words and actions shed light on the meaning of this special vocation.”6 Consecrated life is a special vocation within the baptismal vocation wherein salvation is its eschatological fulfillment. Hence, a consecrated person is special because of additional responsibility to his neighbors in bringing them home to the Father. Furthermore, special does not mean exceptions or privileges but accountability to Christ and to the people of God.

[6] Transfiguration. Every mission of every consecrated person is preceeded by an encounter with Christ, who promises eternal life upon leaving all. In addition, the Transfiguration event7 is an assurance to the disciples of the glory upon carrying the cross and following him. “The event of the Transfiguration marks a decisive moment in the ministry of Jesus. It is a revelatory event which strengthens the faith in the disciples’ hearts, prepares them for the tragedy of the Cross and prefigures the glory of the Resurrection. This mystery is constantly relived by the Church, the people on its way to the eschatological encounter with its Lord.”8 In a way, the transfiguration event renews where in the daily celebration of the Eucharist, we encounter not only the transfigured but the resurrected and the sacramentalized Christ. Indeed, we are blessed because the encounter is an encounter of communion. Christ is not only walking by our side but living and reigning within me through the sacrament of the Eucharist. Our daily participation in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is the beginning of tomorrow where we will meet Christ no longer veiled in the form of bread and wine but in a beatific vision, as he is.

[7] Christ: the eschatological goal. If the Father is the one who initiates the trinitarian life of the consecrated life, then why Christ should be its goal? St. Matthew says, “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”9 We can only experience the Father through the Son because "I and the Father are one." (Jn 10:30) The last citations speak adeptly, particularly for the ordained consecrated person (religious priest). However, without the least is the concern of the entire consecrated life. “Sacred ministers, for their part, are living images of Christ the Head and Shepherd who guides his people during this time of "already and not yet," as they await his coming in glory. The consecrated life has to show that the Incarnate Son of God is the eschatological goal towards which all things tend, the splendor before which every other light pales, and the infinite beauty which alone can fully satisfy the human heart.”10 The lives of our founders and foundresses are the best examples of authentic consecrated life, being set apart for God’s use. Usually “the eschatological goal towards which all things tend” is captured in the order’s or congregation’s motto (e.g. My God and my All – the Franciscan; That in all things God may be glorified – the Benedictines; For the greater glory of God – the Jesuits; By Him is the bounty of redemption – the Redemptorists, et. al.) They are eschatological mottos, a form of a summary of the hope obtained by the past members, and the future to be realized by those in the present.

[8] Conforming one’s whole existence to Christ. On the other hand, there is the tendency to reduce the sequela Christi to a set of norms and conduct, a pure moralism. Truly, one cannot exclude, norms and customs in following Christ but stopping on them is “spiritual minimalism.” The goal of consecrated life is conformity to Christ – the categorical norm of consecrated life. Conformity means having the form of Christ. The form is that which can be perceived, likely being the light and salt of the earth: “You are the salt of the earth; [….]. You are the light of the world.”11 Conformity with Christ is not an idea nor appearance but the form of Christ present in us, we may be unaware of it but people can sense it in us. “In the consecrated life, then, it is not only a matter of following Christ with one’s whole heart, of loving him “more than father or mother, more than son or daughter” (cf. Mt 10:37) – for this is required of every disciple — but of living and expressing this by conforming one’s whole existence to Christ in an all-encompassing commitment which foreshadows the eschatological perfection, to the extent that this is possible in time and accordance with the different charisms. By professing the evangelical counsels, consecrated persons not only make Christ the whole meaning of their lives but strive to reproduce in themselves, as far as possible, "that form of life which he, as the Son of God, accepted in entering this world."12 The form of Christ is the foundation of the charisms of every institution. For example, the patience of Christ is the foundation of patience in teaching children, taking care of the sick, etc. Every charism has its foundation in the form – i.e. the mysteries of Christ. According to the example of St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”13 St. Francis of Assisi lived a life of the Gospel sine glossa ending in the impression of the holy wounds (stigmata). Consecrated life is either all for Christ or all to the world – it allows no in-between. Conformity with Christ allows no compromise with worldly values.

[9] The attitude of hope. The challenge of our spiritual entrepreneur is that we are yet in this physical world and yet we are already invited to live the life to come. It is not a negation of this present life but our mission is to give a perceivable prelude to that life to come. The advantage, however, is that every man has the desire and sense of the future life regardless of the religion of the person. It is universal. Everybody wants to live forever. It is within man's DNA. God planted hope in us. Our hope is consecrated because it is rooted in the faith in the resurrected Christ. “With the passing of the centuries, the Church has not ceased to foster this attitude of hope: she has continued to invite the faithful to look to the salvation which is waiting to be revealed, “for the form of this world is passing away.”14 It is in this perspective that we can understand more clearly the role of consecrated life as an eschatological sign. It has constantly been taught that the consecrated life is a foreshadowing of the future Kingdom.”15 The proclamation of the Gospel is not to be concentrated in the condemnation of faults and weaknesses but learning our weaknesses and the possibility of ending a life apart from God is the hope that God is not getting tired of us, though we are from time to time. "Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence."16 In this world, full of frustrations and despair consecrated people are witnesses of a consecrated hope for the good to come.

[10] Eschatology includes the title life everlasting five associated experiences which the Catechism of the Catholic Church presents us: the particular judgment, heaven, purgatory, hell, and the last judgment. The experience of these realities comes after physical death.

[11] The particular judgment and the hour of our death. Death is the end of this earthly life and the beginning of life without end. But death as all we know is only a portal, a gateway to Father's house. It is going back home. But it is different from an earthly home because it is a home of either blessedness or damnation.17When the moment finally comes for uniting oneself to the supreme hour of the Lord’s Passion, the consecrated person knows that the Father is now bringing to completion the mysterious process of formation which began many years before. Death will then be awaited and prepared for as the supreme act of love and self-offering.”18 The consecrated person’s last act of the profession of evangelical poverty is death. This reveals to us that even breath, body, and spirit are not our own. They have to return to the ultimate owner. The life we lived belongs to Christ, the death we die is within the saving death of Christ himself. At that moment we hope that our death participates in the redemption that Christ’s death brought to us (i.e. our death as redeemed death).19 The Eucharist that we daily celebrate is an anticipation of our end with Christ, a concelebration of the Paschal Mystery.20

[12] The resurrection of the body. The Church’s celebration of the Paschal Mystery is a meeting with the Resurrected Christ. “This mystery is constantly relived by the Church, the people on its way to the eschatological encounter with its Lord.”21 We are witnesses of the resurrected Christ not only of the Crucified One. Our final destiny is not the Cross but the resurrection, as the creed professes. Amidst fear in this present life, Christ is always exhorting us to rise and have no fear.22 Together with St. Paul, we profess, "Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord ... that I may know him and the power of his resurrection" (Phil 3:8,10).23

[13] Heaven. Heaven seems a reality to be experienced definitively at the end of our earthly journey. “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they ‘see him as he is,’ face to face.”24 Blissfulness promises that no one could resist such a promise. “Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.”25 However, the experience of heaven begins not after death but even in this earthly existence since means being with Christ. “To live in heaven is ‘to be with Christ.’ The elect live ‘in Christ,’ but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name. For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom.”26 The heaven after death is the fulness of the consummation of the life in Christ we have begun in this earthly life.

[14] Purgatory. “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”27 Since God is absolute holiness sin cannot co-exist with Him. Purgatory, a state of purification should be seen as God's mercy instead of temporal condemnation. The communion between the living and the dead plays its role between the living faithful on earth praying in suffrages for immediate deliverance from the fire of purgatory to the glory of heaven. "From the beginning, the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.”28 The mercy of God works through the faithful offering of sacrifices. Again, purgatory expresses the absolute holiness of God and does not mean absolute superiority but absolute love making the souls in the purgatory of his eternal beatitude.

[15] Hell. Deep within man’s being is the desire to be with God as St. Augustine says: “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”29 Therefore, hell is an enduring restlessness of the soul longing for God but will never be satisfied. One thing more, the reality of hell tells too the reality of human freedom but in this case, it's misuse or abuse. “Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. (Freedom). This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’.”30 Hell is only for those who accepted the invitation of the devil to turn away from God and embrace nothing but darkness. “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want ‘any to perish, but all to come to repentance’.”31 An expression of hope that no one would be in hell, an expression of fraternal hope.

[16] The last judgment – The coming of Jesus. Usually, art's presentation of Jesus Christ on the Last Judgement is the judge condemning and awarding the souls. We forget that Jesus Christ of the last judgment is the absolute love of God amidst the non-love of mankind towards God and creation, especially neighbors. "The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ, he will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything toward its end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God's justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God's love is stronger than death."32 The final judgment is the realization of man's hope for divine justice that human justice cannot render. For consecrated people, it is well known that the faithful observance of the evangelical counsels and the question of its perfection in charity would be the point of rendering the account.

[17] Together with the faithful, we profess every Sunday our common faith in the definitive coming of Jesus on the last day. However, we also pray for his daily coming in the Our Father.33 Every day we celebrate his daily coming to us and in us in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The late Pope Paul Vi wrote: "The Eucharist, through which we do not cease to proclaim the death and resurrection of the Lord and to prepare ourselves for His coming again in glory, brings back constantly to mind the physical and moral sufferings by which Christ was afflicted, and which He had indeed freely accepted, even to His agony and death on the Cross.”34 The last judgment is the final seal of the love of God in Christ and humanity. One's final moment of evangelical counsels is the zenith of the celebration of Christian existence that everyone received in their baptism; and every consecrated person who strove to be faithful until the the last day will consider it a celebration of the full realization of evangelical life. A consecrated person should rejoice over his definitive end as an eventful celebration.


1 For a comprehensive biblical treatment of this topic consult the Anchor Bible Dictionary, pp. 2581ff of Pdf digital edition.

2 Cf., CCC, 1001, 1020–1050; cf., 2771

3 Mt 6:10; cf., VC, 27.

4 VC, 7.

5 In his book Spouse of the Word Balthasar wrote: "Absolutely all Christian life is 'eschatological' because in baptism the Christian has been crucified to this world along with Jesus, has died to it and been buried, and has risen along with Jesus – as a citizen of the new age and from now on only as a foreigner and pilgrim here below on earth." [Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology II: Spouse of the Word (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 293.]

6 Ibid., 14.

7 Cf., Mt 17:1-9.

8 VC, 15.

9 Cf., Mt 11:27.

10 Ibid., 16.

11 Mt 5:13 & 14.

12 Ibid., 16.

13 Gal 2:20.

14 1 Cor 7:31; cf. 1 Pet 1:3-6.

15 Ibid., 26.

16 1 Pt 3:14.

17 “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven – through a purification or immediately, – or immediate and everlasting damnation” (CCC, 1022).

18 VC, 70

19 “In these various and complementary ways, the consecrated life shares in the radical poverty embraced by the Lord, and fulfils its specific role in the saving mystery of his Incarnation and redeeming Death” (Ibid., 90).

20 Cf., ibid., 6.

21 Ibid., 15.

22 Cf., ibid., 40.

23 Ibid., 93.

24 CCC, 1023.

25 Ibid., 1024.

26 Ibid., 1025.

27 Ibid., 1030.

28 Ibid., 1032.

29 Confessions, Bk. I, 1.

30 CCC, 1033.

31 CCC, 1037.

32 CCC, 1040.

33 Cf., Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, Dimensio contemplativa, (1980), 1.

34 Paul VI, Testificatio Evangelica ( 1971), 48.

Author

Fra Alfonsus D. Panaligan, OFMConv., SThD
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