Too many make light of judgment today. Too many announce the immediate arrival of the deceased into heaven. They usher Jesus away from the Judgment Seat, take the seat themselves, and pronounce that, “Joe is in heaven!” They usually follow this “canonization” with some triviality such as “He’s probably playing poker with Jesus and Noah right now!” (For presumably “Joe” liked poker here, and thus heaven must include poker (of all things)).
The complete ignoring of the judgement that follows death is emblematic of our age which answers to no one. Even among Christians, there is a widespread trivializing of the notion of judgment. Yet Jesus in ways too countless to set forth here, commands a sobriety about judgment and says, But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken (Matt 12:36). If even our words will be judged, how much more so our deeds which many make light of.
Further God is Truth Himself and he will not simply call good in us what is defective or sinful. Judgement is a moment of truth where the divine physician makes a true diagnosis, not a flattering one. And whatever remains unfinished he, by his grace and power will bring it to completion. This too is part of his mercy as well as his justice. Some purgation is surely a likely reality for most adults who die. St. Paul speaks of us as unfinished works when he says, And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6). Do we really think that “Joe” is just going to walk into heaven just as he died, with a pack of cards in his hands, no less? Perhaps some saints have been fully perfected by their death, but it seems more likely most of us will need purgation and to pass through purifying fire as St. Paul describes.
So, we are back to fire. And fire must be respected. Back-slapping at funerals ought to be replaced with a little more knee-bending and confident but sober prayer for our beloved who have died. They would probably appreciate a little more prayer from us, for they have encountered Truth, unlike a lot of us who still like to entertain fanciful notions, contrary to Scripture that judgment is either non-existent or “no big deal.”
~ Msgr. Charles Pope; excerpts from here ~