Michelangelo’s mighty fresco of the Last Judgment covers the wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel. A legend claims that a cardinal disliked the artist’s use of nudity in the fresco and harassed him about it. Irritated, Michelangelo put the cardinal in the fresco, writhing in hell at its bottom. Outraged, the cardinal complained to the pope. “Make him take me out of here.” Amused, the pope replied, “Eminence, you know very well, I can only help people get out of purgatory.
The Catechism says, “The resurrection of all the dead of both the just and the unjust will come when Christ returns in glory” (Paragraphs 1038, 1040).
In the parable of the Last Judgment, the supreme judge divides the sheep from the goats according to their deeds of love and care for the needy. Jesus identifies with the poor and suffering by saying, “Whatever you did to these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me.” (Mt. 25:40). How will the world end at the second coming? The world as we know it, distorted by sin and evil, will cease to be. But Scripture speaks of a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter, 3:10-13; Rev 21:1). Vatican II teaches:
“We know neither the moment of the consummation of the earth and of man, nor the way the universe will be transformed. The form of this world distorted by sin is passing away and we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, whose happiness will fill and surpass all of the peace in the hearts of men” (Gaudium et Spes, 39, SVC).
George Frederic Handel concludes his stirring Oratorio Messiah with the “Amen Chorus.” Similarly, the Catechism finishes its explanation of the Creed with the word “Amen.” In Hebrew, “Amen” comes from the same root of the word “believe.” The term connotes: solidity, reliability and fidelity. Amen speaks both of God’s fidelity to us and our confidence in our dear Lord Jesus.
Listen again to Gaudium et Spes final word of joy, hope and confidence about the end times. “God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells, whose happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace in the hearts of men.”
Norbertine Fr. McBride is a popular lecturer and author of more than 40 books.