Spe Salvi 47: Jesus, The Fire

Continuing the discussion on Judgement as a setting for learning and practicing hope. Pope Benedict XVI cites the encounter with Jesus as a purgation and judgment. Honestly. it sounds like something Pope Francis would teach. Here, you read and decide:

47. Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God.

So, pain. There are many kinds of pain, and for many people, it’s usually self-inflicted. But the notion of pain in this discussion on the Last Judgment strikes me as a curious thing. Is it an anthropomorphism, attributing the human indulgence for punishment and vengeance to God? I wonder. We are so sure hell has the pain of fire because when we’ve been wronged, do not many of us wish an equally painful suffering on an offender? On the other hand, there may well be severe psychological pain to see tax collectors and prostitutes enter into the gates of heaven before our Christian crew.

Here we have some godly thinking, that the impulse to union with God gives the believer a certain momentum toward grace:

In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion.

Yes; more burning. The Passion did not include any heated implements of torture, at least in the Gospel record.

At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ [Cf. Catechism, 1030-1032].

This was a key passage for me, explaining the connection between grace and justice. It makes sense to me. What about you?

The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 John 2:1).

It is good to know that the one on our case is the Son of God, and not the so-called deveil’s advocate, ready to trip us up with some surprise accusation.

This document is Copyright © 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the full document online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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