The Church has always professed in what is known as the Four Last Things. This includes the eschatological realities of what are known as 1) Death 2) Judgment 3) Heaven and 4) Hell. Many Saints have always stated that we ought to constantly meditate on these 4 realities, in order to prepare for a Holy Death.
1) Because of original sin, we live in a fallen nature, in which death is one of the consequences of this. This means that death is unavoidable and we will all have to embrace it. The proper Christian way of doing so, is by dying a Holy Death (Receiving the Last Rites such Confession and Communion and thus dying in a state of Sanctifying Grace)
2) We will also be judged, there are two judgments. There is what is known as a particular judgment, which happens right upon death. Right when we die, we are judged by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We either go to Heaven, Hell, or purgatory if we need cleansing and purification before we get to Heaven. Then there is the Last Judgment, which is simply a publication of our particular judgment, meaning that our actions whether they are good or bad, are made publicly known. People will know specifically why someone is in Heaven or Hell.
3) Thus the third and last of the Four Last Things is Heaven and Hell. This is the reality of those that are saved or those that are damned.
Thus many saints would constantly meditate on these realities. Saint Jerome was a saint who really strove to get himself to Heaven, that he would take various means to remind himself to make sure he was living as a Good Christian. Saint Jerome for example would keep a replica of a skull in his study room as a reminder of death and the need for preparedness. He knew that, that skull would soon be him.
As we approach the end of the Liturgical year, it is a good and pious practice to meditate on the Four Last Things. This is precisely what the readings for both the Tridentine Mass and the Novus Ordo prepare us for. It prepares us for the closing of the liturgical calendar, and furthermore for a preparation towards the Four Last Things.
Saint Paul in writing to the Thessalonians clearly tells us about the need for preparing for a Holy death by telling us to constantly be prepared. Saint Paul states:
But of the times and moments, brethren, you need not, that we should write to you; For yourselves know perfectly, that the day of the Lord shall so come, as a thief in the night. (1 Thess 5:1-2)
These two verses are talking about the fact that we don’t know when the Second coming is going to occur, for the end of the world will come like a thief at night. This is true not only of the Second coming, but about our death in general, which likewise comes like a thief at night. For this reason Saint Paul tells us that we need to watch and be alert.
Saint Paul further states:
“For when they shall say, peace and security; then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon her that is with child, and they shall not escape.” (1 Thess 5:3)
This is true for those who lose sight of the reality of the 4 last things, and who focus only on temporal matters.
Saint Paul finishes by telling us that because we have Christ, we don’t live in darkness but in the light, and he thus states “Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do; but let us watch, and be sober” (1 Thess 5:6)
While Saint Paul specifically talks about the Second coming, the end of the world, and our death in general, the Gospel of Saint Matthew Chapter 25, in regards to the parable of the Talents talks about the Last Judgment (including our particular judgment), and of the need of co-operation with God’s grace by doing the will of God and using the gifts he has given us.
It was necessary for Jesus Christ to write the instructive parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, so that the apostles and all men might know that they ought to watch and prepare themselves for the last day.
Fr George Haydock mentions in his Haydock commentary regarding the parable that “The Master is God, who gives us talents, and graces. It, appears from this parable that we can do no good of ourselves, but only by the means of God’s grace” which he requires us to cooperate with.
St Gregory comments that the man who hid this one talent, “represents all those who, having received any good quality, whether mental or corporal, employ it only in earthy things. Origen himself stated that “if you see anyone who has received from God the gift of teaching and instructing others to salvation, yet will not exercise himself in this function, he buries his talent on the ground”
Saint Jerome states that “at the last judgment, He will come at the last day, and reckon with all men, commending those who have employed their talents well, and punishing such as have made a bad use of them”
For this reason it is good to meditate on the Four Last Things. May we meditate on the way we have been living our lives, and on how we have employed the graces and gifts which God has given us, and lastly in the ways in which we have failed to use them. This meditation should naturally incline us to constantly do examinations of consciences, which will itself beget meditation on the 4 Last things including our Death, our Judgment (both the particular and Last Judgment), and on the realities of Heaven and Hell. This meditation should also incline us to constantly frequent the sacraments of Confession and Communion, as well as make frequent acts of contrition.
Many people generally get frightened at the thought of meditating on these realities. This meditation should not be one of mere fright, for the sake of fright, but an admonition to doing good so that we can perfectly love God. This is why various popes have called for the New Evangelization. Meditations such as these, ought to move us to Love God perfectly and similarly to love our neighbor through perfect charity by wishing and praying for the salvation of their soul.