The second of the Four Last Things we are considering this Advent season is Judgment. Here we will discuss the Last Judgment, which will come at the end of time, and also the particular judgment, which happens to each of us at the moment of our death. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Every man receives his eternal recompense in his immortal soul from the moment of his death in a particular judgment by Christ, the judge of the living and the dead." (CCC 1051) When a person dies, Christ immediately judges him or her and assigns a place in Hell, Heaven, or Purgatory. Of course if you end up in Purgatory, you know you will eventually get to heaven.
The Last Judgment is something else entirely. First comes the general resurrection--when all the dead rise from the grave--followed by Christ coming in glory. The Gospel of Matthew tells us, "Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at his left...And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:32, 46) It's an extremely frightening concept...but a comforting one, as well. The Catechism tells us, "We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final 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." (CCC 1040)
We are often critical of those who judge others (of course we overlook the fact that in criticizing we are judging them too!). Add to this Pope Francis' repeated statements about looking to God's mercy rather than His judgment, and the whole concept gets even more confusing. How does God's judgment happen, anyway? The best we can do is simply trust in God--His mercy and His judgment--and do our best to choose Him now so that we may be happy with Him forever.