"Another new day! Another opportunity to do good and to avoid evil."
Then a second friend said, "Pretty sure that wasn't supposed to be funny, but the 'fires of hell' makes me chuckle!" To which the first of the two friends added, "I know... I laugh in the face of fires of hell."
Although I understood my two friends' comments as humor and not as an endorsement of evil, I wanted to emphasize the seriousness of my initial statement by saying, "I find it helpful to meditate on death, judgment, heaven, and hell to remind myself of the whole purpose of life on earth, and to help me choose good. I still fall into temptation, but I hope less frequently than I might otherwise do. And I spend even more time meditating on the mercy of God, which I know I will need. God is both just and merciful!
So, I offer some thoughts on what are called in Catholic parlance, the last things.
DeathThe last of our human experiences is death. At the moment of death the body and soul are separated. The body becomes a corpse and decays. The soul is immortal and continues to exist. It waits to rejoin its body at the end of time.
JudgmentWe will be judged by Jesus, Our Lord, by the standard of his life, for He is "the way, the truth, and the life."
There are two judgments, the particular and the general. The particular judgment is personal and happens immediately after death. At that moment each person will receive either an eternal reward, heaven, or an eternal punishment, hell.
The general judgment occurs at the end of the world, when Our Lord will come again, the Second Coming. At this judgment all truth will be revealed about our thoughts, deeds, and our relationships with God and others. It has been likened to a day in court. This is also when body and soul will be reunited for all eternity.
HeavenHeaven is the reward of those who did God's will during their earthly life. It is a place of unending union with God in love. We will be joined, too, by all the angels and saints.
There are many images of heaven, but no one knows exactly what it will be like, except that it is certainly desirable and a place of utmost happiness and love. It is what we mean by salvation.
Hell is the punishment for those who died without repenting for their serious sins, and who refused to accept God's love and mercy. It consists of eternal separation from God, the saints, and the angels. The people who populate hell are there by their own choice. It is they who have excluded themselves from God.
What about "the fires of hell?" I see it as a figure of speech. One finds allusions to hell in both Scripture and literature which imply there is a fire. And maybe there is. Or maybe it's a way of saying this is a place of severe unhappiness and suffering.
Will many be saved? Will few be saved? Will you be saved? Will I be saved? Let us pray for the salvation of all souls.
For further reading I recommend the following article from Msgr. Charles Pope. Will Many Be Saved? A look at an important new book by Ralph Martin | Archdiocese of Washington