Religion Magazine

The Particular Judgment

By Stjohnpa @faith_explorer

The Particular Judgmentby Regis J Flaherty

Preparing for the life to come and the true meaning of “fear of the Lord.”

At the death of each person his salvation is sealed. Life on this earth is the time to get right with God. If the individual accepts Christ and the salvation He offers, and lives the commands He entrusted to the Church, he will be saved. If a person has rejected God and instead lived for self, he has, in effect, chosen a life in hell.

Each person will receive his reward “immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith” (Catechism, no. 1021). This teaching of the Church is affirmed in the letter to the Hebrews: “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). This is called the particular judgment—the judgment rendered for each individual, as opposed to the general judgment at the end of time when all will be judged.

At this judgment there are three possible results: entrance into blessedness of heaven through a purification; entrance into the blessedness of heaven immediately; or immediate and everlasting damnation (Catechism, no. 1022).

This should give everyone a certain urgency to live life according to God’s call and with an eye to the eternal—with an eternal perspective. The prophet Isaiah gives us an encouragement: “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Is. 55:6–7). To be found “in Christ” at the day of our death is to be prepared for one’s particular judgment. This is not a position that should be taken for granted. A Catholic’s life should be marked by a deep love for Christ, His Church, and for one’s neighbors. Nevertheless there is healthy “selfishness” that should drive us to live for and love God—we want to live in God’s kingdom fully experiencing the life to which we are called as men and women created “to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.” [1]

Another virtue that develops in a person with an eternal perspective is “fear of the Lord.” This fear is identified as a gift of the Spirit (cf. Is. 11:2). The book of Sirach identifies it as “the beginning of wisdom.” This fear is far different from a fear of heights or of tight places. Fear of God comes from an understanding of who God is and of His relationship to man.

It is “a fear in which the element of reverence is uppermost” and it includes “the desire not to offend.” [2] God is God, and we are creatures. It is not healthy to confuse the two. Unfortunately too many live this life as if they are God—an approach that can only have eternal negative repercussions.

God is perfect. He is merciful and just. His justice is perfect and His mercy is perfect. We have difficulty with the two concepts co-existing. We tend to believe that justice rules out mercy and that the reciprocal is also true.

Fear of the Lord recognizes both the mercy of God and the justice of God. Fr. John Hardon gives an excellent definition that is worth quoting at length:

Fear of the Lord . . . confirms the virtue of hope and impels a man to a more profound respect for the majesty of God. Its correlative effects are protection from sin through dread of offending the Lord, and a strong confidence in the power of his help.

Unlike worldly or servile fear, the gift of fear is filial because [it is] based on the selfless love of God, whom it dreads to offend. In servile fear, the evil dreaded is punishment; in filial, it is the fear of offending God. Both kinds may proceed from the love of God, but filial fear is par excellence inspired by perfect charity and, in that sense, inseparable from divine love. When I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, my fear, though servile, is basically motivated by the love of God, whom I am afraid of losing by my sins, since heaven is the possession of God, and hell is the loss of him for eternity. To that extent, even servile fear cannot be separated from supernatural charity. On a higher plane, however, when the object of my fear is not personal loss, though it be heaven, but injury to the divine majesty, then the motive is not only an implicit love of God, but also love to a sublime degree. And this is the scope of the infused gift of the fear of the Lord.

Consequently, the gift of fear gives us the power to sublimate all lesser fears, including the salutary and much-needed dread of God’s justice. In the measure that this gift becomes active through generous co-operation, a person comes closer to realizing the ideal of the Christian life, that charity casts out fear. His love of God becomes so intense that gradually the dominant disposition is to fear losing the least spark of God’s friendship; and as he grows in charity, the dread of God’s punishment flows into a calm assurance of ultimate salvation, and even a strong desire, like Saint Paul’s, to be dissolved and to be with Christ. [3]

God extends to each person the grace to know, love, and serve Him. In fact, it is only by the action of God that this is possible. But the free gift of grace requires a response from us since God is always a perfect gentleman. He knocks but always waits for us to open our door. But when we do open to Him, He is most gracious. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).

Excerpted from Last Things First (Our Sunday Visitor, 2005) by Regis J. Flaherty. Contact Emmaus Road Publishing to order ( or 800-398-5470).

[1] Baltimore Catechism #1, question 6.
[2] “Fear,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI, 1909. It can be found at
[3] John A. Hardon, The Catholic Catechism (New York: Doubleday, 1981), 205.

Regis Flaherty is the Director of Gilmary Catholic Retreat Center located near 

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