The Truth About God's Mercy by Mary Beth Bonacci
The Arlington Catholic Herald  September 25 - October 1, 2014
Reprinted with permission

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"In death, a human being emerges into the light of full reality and truth.  he takes up that place which is truly his by right.  The masquerade of living with its constant retreat behind posturings and fictions, in now over.  Man is what he is in truth.  Judgment consists in this removal of the mask in death.  The judgment is simply the manifestation of the truth." - Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Whenever somebody I know dies - which seems to be happening a lot lately - I wonder a little bit.  Where is he?  How does it work?  Of course, I believe in a just and merciful God.  I also believe, as Christ told us, that there is judgment after death.  But what does that look like?

Different people have different ideas, different visions of that judgment.  Some see it as a terrifying encounter with a wrathful God.  Others see it as a mere formality, a brief stopping point before entering the heaven that everyone (except perhaps Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin) is guaranteed to enjoy immediately after death.

I am more and more convinced that the essence of our eternal judgment is, as Pope Benedict XVI said, simply, "the manifestation of the truth."

At the moment of death, I believe that I will see the absolute truth of my life for the first time.  I will see the fruits of my work - my speaking, my writing, my good deeds - as they spread out and down through generations in time and eternity.  That might be kind of nice.  But I also will see the consequences of my sins - my thoughtless words, my selfishness, the neglected opportunities to do good - as they play out generation after generation.  And I am perhaps not quite so enthused about that.  I will see the times where my lack of courage or desire to be liked kept someone from knowing the truth about the love of Christ.  I suspect that I will even see suffering - both temporal and eternal - that I could have prevented if I had listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  And I don't like that at all.

When the truth is made manifest, all lies will be exposed.  That makes me happy, when I think of the times I have been unfairly accused or the subject of inaccurate gossip.  But it makes me nervous when I think of the various lies I know I am capable of telling - lies that the important things don't really matter, lies that I am better spiritually than I am, that I don't need to root out those things in my life that keep me from God.

I have no idea what it's going to be like to see all of this truth spread out before me.  But frankly, it makes me a little nervous.

Fortunately, somehow in all of this I will see the mercy of the God who loves me, the Father who knows my weakness and knows how I tried to cooperate with His grace.  I will see where He was with me, where He moved in my life, how He held me up, and He forgave my many confessed sins and failings.

I don't know exactly how that mercy works.  Some say it means that, regardless of how we lived our lives, the merciful God will overlook it all and escort us into our heavenly reward.

I don't think it's quite that simple.

They say, "How could a God who loves us send anybody to hell?"  But here's the thing: I don't think God sends anybody anywhere.  It think it's the truth that determines our eternal destination.  God doesn't judge us.  He doesn't weigh in with His divine opinion.  The truth just is, I believe that, once we see the truth of our lives played out before us - the ways we have chosen God or not, the ways we have cooperated with His grace or not - the answer will be evident.  I have even heard it said that the condemned choose hell themselves - that for those who have refused to submit to God in this life, the ultimate submission of heaven is intolerable.  They choose His absence, which is hell.

I also believe that part of God's mercy may be to allow us the final purification of purgatory before we enter the heaven that contains nothing unclean.  If that is the case, I agree with C. S. Lewis that, "pains he may still have to encounter, but they embrace those pains.  They would not barter them for any earthly pleasure."  If the truth is that purification will bring us into the presence of God, then we will desire that purification more than anything else we could imagine.

I believe that God loves us - all of us.  I believe that I will see that love, in all of its beautiful, blazing glory, at the moment of my death.  And I will see how poorly I have responded to it.

I also believe that His greatest desire is that we all choose Him and follow Him.  I believe that He is a merciful God who understands our weakness and our brokenness.  I don't know exactly what His mercy looks like, but I know it is available to us in abundance for the asking.

And so, in this life, I am asking, I am praying for His guidance and abundant helpings of His mercy, which I surely need.

And I am praying for the grace and wisdom to live in the truth, and to root out any lies, rationalizations or illusions from my life.

Because when I see God - the way, the truth and the life - face to face for the first time, I want that "truth" part to be as beautiful as possible.

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