You’re going to die someday – but your soul will live on. Do you know what will happen to you?
The Catholic view on the afterlife can get a bit complicated, but to keep it simple Catholics have traditionally boiled it down to the “Four Last Things.”
Here’s what every Catholic needs to know about them:
Unless the Second Coming happens during your lifetime, you’re going to die. Nobody knows when, but it’s going to happen. So live accordingly!
Death is when your soul separates from your body. Your body will start to decompose, but your soul will live on forever (eventually being reunited with your body at the final resurrection).
If your soul is living on, where does it go? That’s determined by the second “thing.”
Right after you die, you will face judgement before God. He knows everything about you: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
God is the perfect Judge, so there’s no concern that his judgements will somehow be unfair or unjust. He will determine if you should spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. Are you living in a way that you’re ready for your Judgement?
This is where you want to go, if that wasn’t already obvious.
Heaven is a place of eternal, loving union with God, the source of all being, goodness, and beauty, the fulfillment of every human heart.
So how do you go here? Only by dying in in a state of grace through Christ in his Church. There’s no other way!
If you’re wondering how Purgatory fits in here, it’s a temporary place that some people who are sent to Heaven will have to endure in order to prepare for Heaven. It’s not one of the “last things” because it’s not a final state.
This is where you go if you don’t go to Heaven. You don’t want to go here.
Hell is a place of eternal separation from God and punishment for our sins. All people who die in a state of Mortal Sin or Original Sin go to Hell, no exceptions.
It’s been traditionally understood that there are two kinds of possible punishment in Hell. The first is called the poena damni, or punishment of the damned, and it is the pain of eternal despair knowing that you have forever lost the opportunity to be with God in Heaven. The second is called the poena sensus, or punishment of sense, and it is eternal torment by fire in proportion to our sins.
How You Should Live in Light of the “Four Last Thing”
Follow Christ! Repent of your sins! Go to Mass! Receive the Sacraments of the Church frequently! It’s only by God’s grace in Jesus Christ that we can face Death and Judgement, gain Heaven, and avoid Hell.