The Ultimate Question & Answer

News: Commentary
by Joe Sixpack — The Every Catholic Guy  •  •  July 22, 2022   

What will make you eternally happy?

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A young student named Francis came to St. Philip Neri one day and told him he was going to study law: "What a happy man I am! I'm going to study and become the best lawyer I can."

St. Philip Neri

"And then what?" asked Fr. Philip.

"I'll become a great lawyer and win fame for my ability to argue in court," replied Francis.

Saint Philip persisted, "And then what?"

"Then I'll become wealthy and build a beautiful mansion for myself," the student responded.

The saint continued, "And then what?"

"Then I'll marry and live a comfortable life to a ripe old age," was the response.

"Francis, then what?" the saintly priest asked again.

Francis didn't know what else to say. After some thought, he said, "Then I'll die like everybody else."

The wise Philip asked the ultimate question, "And then what, Francis?"

Francis was disturbed and far from feeling the elation he felt when he had first approached St. Philip. He couldn't answer the saint's final question. Thinking about this question made Francis change all his life's plans for the future. Thanks to St. Philip Neri's repeated question, Francis later became a priest.

Time Enough to Answer? 

Saint Philip's singular question, asked until there were no answers left to give, is a question we should all be asking ourselves. It's a question I've been asking myself a lot lately. At this writing, it's only been two weeks since my eldest son died quite unexpectedly, just before the boy was about to celebrate his 38th birthday. He didn't die in a car crash or of cancer or of anything expected by anyone. He simply didn't wake up one morning — a consequence of what happened to him in the Navy.

 I pray every single day for the state of my son's soul.

It's not natural for a man to outlive his son. You expect to die with all of your children surrounding your bed to tell you goodbye. That didn't happen for him. But you can be sure I pray every single day for the state of my son's soul. I've had the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated for him numerous times. He's always on my mind, and I ache when I think about the state of his soul when he died.

As you know, I'm a convert. My son was not a Catholic, but he was a Christian nonetheless. Despite the fact he was a Christian he, nevertheless, made a lot of choices that were bad, and many of them left me little to take pride in. He did, however, give me two wonderful grandchildren, one of whom in turn has made me a great grandfather just weeks before my son's death. Still, I pray daily for the repose of his soul. I suppose I will until the day when I have to be judged myself.

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All of this has made me very much afraid for the state of my own soul. My son's death reminded me of how precarious life is — that it can end without warning. I'm a great grandfather now, and great grandfathers know they're living on the backside of life. But my son was yet a young man.

Jesus suffered immensely for our sins

Do you feel young? I know I don't feel like an old man, but I am. I doubt you feel old either. Perhaps you think as my son did, and as I have, that there is all the time in the world.

Anticipate His Judgment

What will Jesus say to me when I stand before Him at the close of this life? As a man on the Cross, He suffered immensely for our sins. As God, He saw all of human history — past, present and future — in a simultaneous mode. Every sin any of us has ever committed made Christ in His humanity suffer even more.

Of course, all of our good acts eased His suffering. However, the evil of our lives outweighed the good, and we were unbearable for Him. After all, he died long before the two who were sentenced to die with Him, so it's reasonable to believe in one sense that our sins killed Him.

Christ's judgment of us will be very exacting. Each individual soul will be judged on the good and evil it has done. This judgment includes all of our thoughts, desires, words, actions and omissions from the time we were old enough to know right from wrong — all of them, from the beginning.

Once each of us is judged, our soul (which is really who we are, as the body is just the earthly home of our soul) will either be rewarded with eternal life in Heaven, punished in Purgatory until cleansed perfectly for Heaven, or condemned to an eternal damnation in Hell. The reward or punishment we deserve will be carried into effect immediately after our particular judgment.

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Most of us can honestly say we are not bad people. Most of us can honestly say we have attempted to give our life for Christ or given that process at least the old college try. Most of us perhaps even believe we'll go straight to Heaven when we die. Of course, the "most of us" who believe that are lying to ourselves. It doesn't work that way. You see, we have to obey Jesus in all things, not just when it is convenient or when it involves what we like.

 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

In order to go straight to Heaven, we have to be perfect. Yes, you can become perfect. Jesus said so: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Only those who are perfect may enter Heaven — "But nothing unclean will enter it [Heaven]" (Revelation 21:27). Even our tiniest sins and imperfections keep us out of Heaven immediately after death. That's why God gave us Purgatory, so we can be purified after death if we die in a state of grace but have yet to do penance in this life for our imperfections.

Purgatory cleanses us from sin

But how clean is your conscience? Do you obey all that Jesus commands through His Catholic Church, which He established to be His authority on earth? Or do you pick and choose what to obey as if you're walking through a cafeteria to pick and choose what you want for lunch?

For example:

  • Do you dress so as to intentionally attract the attention of the opposite sex?
  • Do you and your spouse participate in contraception?
  • Do you put "things" before God?
  • Do you support the Church from your resources?
  • Are you lax about attending Mass — arriving late, leaving early or simply not attending when there is something else you prefer to do?
  • Do you use God's name carelessly in any of its forms?
  • Do you obey all just laws? Do you criticize others?

This list of questions could go on and on ad infinitum

Aim Higher, Be Healed

Purgatory is not a place to strive for; it's a place to be avoided. A wise man once said that it's better to shoot for the moon so you will at least hit the top of the telephone pole. Because if you aim for the top of the telephone pole, you're likely to shoot a hole in your foot. So, it's infinitely better to obey Jesus' command to become perfect and fail that test with a very short time in Purgatory than to live the very least of what Jesus and His Church expect and find yourself in Purgatory until the end of time. You certainly don't want to miss the top of the telephone pole altogether and spend eternity in Hell.

Let's not forget Jesus also told us, "I know your works: You are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15–16).

Resolve to put sin behind you while you still have time. Doing so is the path to happiness in this life and the next. Christ is waiting to love and forgive you in the sacrament of reconciliation.

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