St. Thomas More
More once challenged his brilliant 17 year old daughter to a writing competition. The topic was the Four Last Things: (1) Death (2) Judgment (3) Heaven (4) Hell. The year was 1522 and he was a private counselor for King Henry VIII. This was 12 years prior to the Act of Supremacy that would start the English Reformation, and 27 years before the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. A statue of More stands on the Epistle side of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham, a testament to the English Catholic Faith, and a martyr who died that England and all who speak the tongue might turn their allegiance to the true King, Christ.
The Daily Office
St. More begins his essay The Four Last Things by citing Sirach 7:36, "Remember the last things, and you will never sin" (Sirach 7:36). If you pray the Daily Office of the Ordinariate then you heard a similar line tonight from the same book:
"Remember the end of your life, and cease from enmity"
-Ecclesiasticus 29:6 (RSV-CE)
or if you read the Douay Rheims:
"Remember thy last things and let enmity cease"
-Sirach, a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus 29:6
In this final week of Trinitytide XXV (Ordinary Time 33), our hearts and minds are exhorted by the Holy Writ to dwell upon The End. There is a long Catholic tradition of preaching on Last Things for all four Sundays in Advent. Imagine going to Mass in December and hearing little to nothing about Christ's First Coming, but only about his Second Coming!
Christ the King
Christ the King was added to the Church Kalendar in 1925, and moved to the last Sunday in Trinitytide (Ordinary Time) in 1970. Since The King's Return ushers in Final Judgment, it is fitting to dwell then on Final Judgment not just in Advent, but now, as we approach Christ the King Sunday.
St. Thomas More reads this Scripture, "Remember the last things, and you will never sin" to suggest that frequent meditation on The Four Last Things is a most righteous cure for our sickness. What sickness? Original Sin first and foremost, and even after this St. Augustine reminds us of concupiscence, that constant ridiculous tendency we all have to will the will itself. Instead of praying "Thy will be done" we act in a way, even after Baptism, as if to say "My will be done." We set ourselves up as the standard, even above God, which is why the height of our sickness is Pride.
The Seven Deadly Sins
Thus St. Thomas More lays out The Seven Deadly Sins as the seven things, which if we are not cured of before death, will make an "end" of us. Our personality, our characteristics, our virtues or vices will send us to Heaven or Hell, for Christ will return to 'judge both the quick and the dead according to their deeds' (2 Timothy 4:1, Romans 2:6, Revelation 20:12). For this reason a mature fear of death, judgment, hell, and a hope of heaven is a most beneficial thing to engage in. At least, according to St. Thomas More this is the case, but what's he know? He's only a saint.
Which path goes from Death to Hell though? Why, the one with The Seven Deadly Sins. These are Mortal Sins turned habit. They are the dispositions that leave us outside friendship with God upon dying. They are the wide and easy path to destruction and that which leaves us in the eternal loneliness of darkness.
These are not spoken of much anymore. Once upon a time they were standard for English Catholic Catechesis, another item to be memorized and recited along with the Our Father, Hail Mary, and The Creed. They were once standard for Examinations of Conscience. I have used many other examinations, but none make it so easy to identify my sins, none pierces my heart so, none makes me understand the words of St. Paul's so well, "If we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged" (1 Cor 11:31).
St. Augustine Prayerbook
For this reason I turned back to my old St. Augustine Prayerbook from my days as an Episcopalian. This book was typically only used by Anglo-Catholics who believed in auricular confession and I must say it's still quite good. I still use it. It gives definitions of The Seven Deadly Sins as follows, which thought not authoritative, are quite on the mark. I haven't detected any contradictions in it to Catholic Doctrine, though I am not the authority on the matter. Nevertheless, here they are:
1) PRIDE: puts self at the center and is not willing to trust or obey God; it holds oneself above or away from others and refuses to see oneself within the larger human family.
Sub-Vices: Irreverence, Presumption, Distrust, Disobedience, Impenitence, Arrogance
2) AVARICE: is the refusal to respect the integrity of other creatures and the desire or the actual misuse of things or people. It is expressed in the inordinate accumulation of material things in the use of other persons for personal advantage, or in the quest for status, power, or security.
Sub-vices: Inordinate Ambition, Domination, Favoritism, [Greed], Prodigality, Miserliness
3) ENVY: is dissatisfaction with our place in God's order of creation, manifested in begrudging the gifts and vocation of others.
Sub-Vices: Jealousy, Malice, Contempt
4) WRATH or ANGER: is open rebellion against God or our fellow creatures, the disregard of the other, and the desire to eliminate any obstacle to our self-seeking. Anger prompts us to retaliate against any perceived threat and creates a desire to avenge anything that seems an insult or injury. Anger finds satisfaction or release in striking out at others.
Sub-Vices: Resentment, Pugnacity, Retaliation
5) LUST: is the misuse of sex or any action that debases it from the holy purpose for which God has given it to us.
Sub-Vices: Unchastity, Immodesty, Prudery
6) GLUTTONY: Overindulgence of natural appetites for food and drink, and by extension, the inordinate quest for pleasure and comfort.
Sub-Vices: Intemperance, Lack of Discipline
7) SLOTH or ACEDIA: is the refusal to respond to our opportunities for growth, service, or sacrifice.
Sub-vices: Laziness, Indifference
So when we say in the Creed, "He will come to judge the quick and the dead," this is the kind of criteria The LORD will judge us by. Recall, the Seven Deadly Sins were not conjured up by The Church out of thin air, but came out of deep reflection Proverbs 6, "There are six things which the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to him."
The Four Last Things
Upon (1) Death, when my soul and body are put asunder, I will be immediately judged with whatever sins remain in my soul. At The End there will be a General Judgment of Mankind. If my particular soul was in (4) Hell, then I go back, but with my body, to complete my sufferings. (God forbid!) If I were in Purgatory, then by General Judgment I'm saintly and ready to inherit the New Heavens and the New Earth. If I were in Heaven then my regain my body, am judged righteous, and inherit the New Heavens and the New Earth, with my body, to complete my happiness.
Wonderful. But when is Christ returning? How much time do I have to get my act together? Again I hear The Holy Writ, "No man knoweth the hour." Will I have time when Christ returns? Will he come riding slowly and humbly on a donkey leaving me a plentitude of time to decide who to be? Hardly. We heard in Mattins this morning, "As the lightning cometh out of the east, * and shineth even unto the west: so shall the coming of the Son of Man be." Death is certain, yet its arrival is unknown, "like a thief in the night," and when it does come, it shall be at lightning speed.
Thus we want to be ready before it comes. Thus, The Church has given us three instruments to aid us:
1) Examination of Conscience to identify the symptoms and mortal sicknesses unto death
2) Confession for the removal of the mortal sicknesses
3) Eucharist for the removal of lesser ills and for the renewing of the soul
The early Christians described Christianity as a preparation for Death. Figures like St. Macrina exhibit this perfectly. The early Christian greeting "Remember your death" was a pun and reminder between Christians that dying in Christ in Baptism meant death at the end of life was no longer to be feared. The sacraments made purification and a good life possible. Death is thus not a terminal point, it is a checkpoint to (3) Heaven or (4) Hell. This we are all preparing for, and praying all enter into the first. While these are the "Four Last Things," we do well to remember The Final Thing is the New Heavens and the New Earth with resurrected bodies. We will not be bubbly souls in the clouds, but flesh and blood on the ground, able to see Christ with our eyeballs. This is what the sacraments are for.
St. Gregory Prayerbook?
Rumour has it a St. Gregory Prayerbook may come out soon for The Ordinariate as a Catholic version of the St. Augustine's Prayerbook. Let's hope such a rumour is true. My own spiritual life would benefit greatly from a such a solid devotional book. Until then, if you're looking for the examen from St. Augustine's Prayerbook an online portion of the Examen can be found here.
St. Aelred Mass
Christ the King returns next Sunday. St. Aelred will have a Mass at 3:30pm for members, visitors, and folks interesting in the Ordinariate Form of the Mass. For any returning home from the Thanksgiving week looking for an evening Mass that's 3:30pm in the St. Joseph Chapel. Until then:
"God save The King!"
-1 Kings 1:34