Here is a translation of the full text of the address Pope Francis gave today during the general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Today I would like to begin the last series of catecheses on our profession of faith, addressing the affirmation “I believe in life everlasting.” In particular, I will reflect on the Final Judgment. However, we must not be afraid: let us hear what the Word of God says. In this regard, we read in Matthew’s Gospel: then Christ “will come in his glory, and all the angels with him … Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left …. And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-33.46). When we think of Christ’s return and his Last Judgment, which will manifest to its ultimate consequences the good that each one did or did not do during his earthly life, we find ourselves before a mystery that overcomes us, which we are not even able to imagine. It is a mystery that almost instinctively arouses in us a sense of fear and perhaps also of trepidation. However, if we reflect well on this reality, it cannot but widen a Christian’s heart and be a great motive for consolation and trust.
In this connection, the testimony of the first Christian communities is all the more thought-provoking. They, in fact, usually accompanied their celebrations and prayers with the acclamation Maranatha, an expression made up of two Aramaic words that, according to how they are articulated, can be understood as a supplication: “Come, Lord!” or as a certainty nourished by faith: “Yes, the Lord comes, the Lord is close.” It is an exclamation in which the whole of Christian Revelation culminates, at the end of the wonderful contemplation offered to us in John’s Apocalypse (cf. Revelation 22:20). In that case, it is the Church-Bride that, in the name of the whole of humanity and as its first fruits, turns to Christ, her Spouse, impatient for the hour she will be enveloped by his embrace: Jesus’ embrace, which is fullness of life and fullness of love. That is how Jesus embraces us. If we think of the Judgment in this perspective, every fear and hesitation comes to naught and leaves room for expectation and profound joy: it will be in fact the moment in which we are finally judged and ready to be clothed in the glory of Christ, as in a nuptial garment, and to be led to the banquet, image of the full and definitive communion with God.
A second motive for trust is given us by the certainty that, at the moment of the Judgment, we will not be left alone. In Matthew’s Gospel, it is Jesus himself who announces beforehand how at the end of times those who followed him will take up their place in his glory, to judge together with him (cf. Matthew 19:28). Then the Apostle Paul, writing to the community of Corinth, affirms: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? …. How much more, matters pertaining to this life!” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3). How lovely it is to know that in that difficult situation, in addition to Christ, our Paraclete, our Advocate with the Father (cf. 1 John 2:1), we will be able to count on the intercession and the benevolence of so many of our older brothers and sisters who have preceded us on the path of faith, who offered their life for us and who continue to love us in an unspeakable way! The saints already live in the presence of God, in the splendor of his glory praying for us who still live on earth. How much consolation this certainty arouses in our heart! The Church is truly a Mother and, as a Mother, she seeks the good of her children, especially those most far away and afflicted, so that they will find their fullness in the glorious body of Christ with all its members.
A further suggestion is given to us in John’s Gospel, where he affirms explicitly that “God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe, is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:17-18). This means, therefore, that that final judgment is already in progress, it begins now in the course of our existence. This judgment is pronounced every instant of our life, as a check on our acceptance with faith of the salvation present and operating in Christ, or on our incredulity, with the consequent closing-in on ourselves. However, if we close ourselves to the love of Jesus, it is we ourselves who condemn ourselves. Salvation is to open ourselves to Jesus, and He saves us; if we are sinners — and we are all so – we ask Him to forgive us and if we go to Him with the desire to be good, the Lord forgives us. But for this we must open ourselves to the love of Jesus, which is stronger than all other things. The love of Jesus is great, the love of Jesus is merciful, the love of Jesus forgives; but one must open oneself and to open oneself means to repent, to accuse oneself of things that are not good and that one has done. The Lord Jesus gave himself and continues to give himself to us, to fill us with all the mercy and grace of the Father. Hence it is we who, in a certain sense, can become judges of ourselves, condemning ourselves to exclusion from communion with God and with brothers. Therefore, let us not tire of watching our thoughts and attitudes, to look forward, henceforth, to the warmth and splendor of the face of God – and this will be very beautiful –, which in eternal life we will contemplate in all its fullness. Forward, thinking of this Judgment that begins now, which has already begun. Forward, in such a way that our heart opens to Jesus and to his salvation; forward without fear, because the love of Jesus is greater and if we ask forgiveness for our sins He forgives us. Jesus is like that. Forward then with this certainty, which will lead us to the glory of Heaven![Translation by ZENIT]