In his homily on the Last Judgment, St. Gregory of Nyssa asks “why would God set standards of charity for entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven?” We need to know the answer. Why have conditions at all? Isn’t God’s love for us unconditional? Hasn’t He taught us that forgiveness and mercy are expressions of His will? How can there be a Judgment at all if it really is God’s will that “all men be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4)?
A few facts to make sure that no one is deceived:
There will be a Judgment. The God-man Jesus Christ is telling us this in today’s Gospel. If we have created another Gospel in our hearts and minds that disputes this, then we have created a new and false Christ. And while we can build a new religion around such a fantasy, it is not true and it cannot save.
There are standards for this Judgment, and those who fail to meet those standards will be condemned. Again, there is no way around this – God says it with His own lips, and He has no lies in Him.
The Judgment will not be a pop-quiz that covers material that has not been taught. In fact, He has given us the answers that will allow us to pass this test ahead of time and done everything in His power to make sure that we receive a passing grade. [In fact, He will even take this test for us. To be sure, having Him living within us is the only way this test can be passed at all.]
So what is the criterion for Judgment? We have heard it so many times before! In order to be saved, Christ tells us that we have to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and “love thy neighbour as thyself.” (St. Matthew 22:35-37)
Sounds easy, right? But we don’t do it. So Christ has to explain it again to us, telling us that when we do not take care of “the least of these” that we do not take care of Him. In other words, the conditions He gives us today: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, give clothes to the naked… are things that the person who has been transformed by Christ into a vessel of His infinite love DOES NATURALLY, WITHOUT HESITATION, AND WITHOUT RESERVATION. Is is the way of Christ for Him to sacrifice for the good of others… it is our fallen instinct to sacrifice only for the good of ourselves, or perhaps of those we feel close to. This is why it is so important that we repent, let go of our feelings and opinions about what is right, and allow Christ to grow within our hearts.
Because without Christ, what we call “love” is likely to be self-serving and muddle-headed. We think of “love” as a feeling, but it isn’t. It is a way of life that is lived in complete fellowship with God and is given to the service of others and our union with them. Christ gave us some examples of what such a life looks like; let me give you more.
Love in a Family
What should love in a family look like? We know from experience that it is not enough for someone to be born into (or marry into) a family for them to love the other members of that family. It is a logical contradiction that can only survive in the mind of fallen man to believe that children can be disrespectful to their parents, break their rules, dishonor their family name – and still claim to love them. Such a child may have feelings for their parents, but surely you will agree that this child’s love is of a very fallen nature; and that the heart of such a child needs to be recreated in a mature, self-sacrificing, and respectful way.
Nor do parents get off easy. How can I claim to love my children if I do not provide for them, nurture them, and protect them? I am sure you know people – quite often they are men – who claim to love their children, but do not respect the mother of those children, or who have to be forced by the courts to support those children, or who are unwilling to sacrifice their own vices to give those children a good home! What does it mean when such a parent claims to “love” his children? Surely we must admit that such a love is fallen and in need of serious transformation!
If we could look into the hearts of children, fathers, mothers, husbands, and wives, then we could know if their love for their children was true. But only God can do that – we are awful at it. We think our own hearts are so pure and are far too quick to condemn the hearts of others. So we need indicators. If you know parents who drive simple cars, live in smaller houses, and live modest lives so that they can provide for their children, you have a strong indicator that their love is sincere. If you know parents that are so concerned about getting bigger houses and bigger cars and the best of everything that they work all hours of the day and night and do not spend any time with their children, you have a strong indicator that their love is something less than pure. I could go on, but you get the idea.
First commandment: Love God. The parish is the place where that love is expressed most strongly. Participation in the Mysteries. Regular attendance. Sacrificial giving. Why do we have requirements for membership? Isn’t it enough to love God? Can’t we just feel his love on the golf course or on the beach? One can no more be in love with God and eschew the parish life than a man can love his wife and live in an apartment down the street from her. We have indicators because we cannot trust our own feelings about whether we are doing “enough”. We let ourselves off too easy.
It’s not really about the rules, it’s about a certain way of life. If you want to think of the judgement as a test, fine – but know this: the only way you can pass is to have Christ take it for you. Two things are going to happen at the Judgment Day: the deeds of all will be laid bare, and the heart of everyone will be revealed (illumined by the Sun of Righteousness). If we have a lived a life full of service, sacrifice, and emptiness before God, then He will have spent our whole lives growing within us and perfecting our hearts. He will be living within us, and our hearts will be pure because it will be His heart that beats within us.
If we have lived a life of self-justification, if we have been reserved in our commitment to Him and to His people, then we have only cultivated our own pride. We will take the test on our own, and that thing we called “love that was good enough” will be revealed as nothing but smoke and ashes.