In the not too distant past, Catholics had a reputation for being preoccupied with sin. The typical Catholic, supposedly, was miserable, anxious and guilt-ridden.
Whether this reputation was deserved or not, the Creed is certainly not encouraging Catholics to develop a self-conscious preoccupation with neurotic guilt.
Rather it is simply stressing that genuine closeness to God can only be achieved through conversion—with an honest confrontation with one’s real soul.
That is actually Good News for us! For thank God—Our God is infinite Mercy! Hence we should not imagine judgement, repentance and conversion in exclusively negative terms. Must it necessarily be something we are to be afraid of? The great truth of our judgement has often been given a bad name by fundamentalists and Calvinist zealots like the Jansenists among us.
No. Judgement is what we Christians hope for; not what we fear! We even begin to experience such judgement in the here and now and not just after our death.
Consider the following lovely Zen story:
“A big, tough samurai once went to see a little monk. ‘Monk!’ he barked, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience. ‘Teach me about heaven and hell!’
“The monk looked up at the mighty warrior and replied with utter disdain: ‘Teach you about heaven and hell? I couldn’t teach you about anything. You’re dumb. You’re dirty. You’re a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight. I can’t stand you.’
“The samurai got furious. He shook, red in the face, speechless with rage. He pulled out his sword, and prepared to slay the monk.
“Looking straight into the samurai’s eyes, the monk said softly: ‘That’s hell.’
“The samurai froze, realising the compassion of the monk who had risked his life to show him hell! He put down his sword and fell to his knees, filled with gratitude. The monk said softly: ‘And that’s heaven.’”
So, yes, we are ‘judged’ during as well as at the end of our lives. But think of who our judge is!
Hence the beautiful statement of Cardinal Basil Hume OSB: “Judgement is whispering into the ear of a merciful and compassionate God the story of my life which I had never been able to tell.”
Cardinal Hume goes on to say:
“Many of us have a story, or part of one at any rate, about which we have never been able to speak to anyone. Fear of being misunderstood, inability to understand ourselves, ignorance of the darker side of our hidden lives, or just shame, make it very difficult for many people … What a relief it will be to be able to whisper freely and fully into that merciful and compassionate ear. After all that is what he has always wanted.”
Cardinal Hume’s stunningly beautiful insight makes our personal ‘judgement’ not something to fear but to look forward to!
When that day comes, most of us, I pray, will be very pleasantly surprised at how fond our judge is of us, his precious children!
This article is part of a series of reflections entitled ‘I Believe…Help My Unbelief’: Meditations on the Creed by Br Mark O’Connor FMS.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.