Photo: Felix Carroll
Is There a 'One Last Chance' to be Saved?
Dr. Robert Stackpole Answers Your Questions on Divine Mercy
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (May 30, 2007)
Have you ever wondered if the unrepentant get one last chance after death?
A lady named Meg wrote to us: "This question came up in our study group: Does a person get a second chance when they die and come before God? If they didn't believe and came before God, would He give them a second chance to believe? Someone said this was in St. Faustina's Diary."
Thanks, Meg. It's something a lot of people wonder about. And they often ask about it in terms of a possible "second chance" after death. Phrased that way I think the question is confusing. It implies that people have only a "first chance" in this life, and that God would somehow be very strict if He did not give them a "second chance" after they die.
The truth is, however, that in this life God gives people almost innumerable chances to draw near to Him through repentance and faith. God is present even in the depths of the hearts of people who have never heard the gospel message, through no fault of their own, calling them to respond to their conscience and follow His Way. To the extent that they do respond positively to the call and help of His grace — even if they do not know Him by name — they can still be saved.
The Catechism tells us in entry #847: "Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — these too may achieve eternal salvation.
If you know the Christian fantasy books by C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia, you may recall in the last book of the series, The Last Battle, the story of a pagan knight (so to speak) named Emeth and how he is finally welcomed into Aslan's heavenly country. It's a beautiful illustration of this doctrine of the Church.
In short, everyone has had plenty of opportunities to turn to God in their hearts before they die. What St. Faustina teaches is that God continues calling the lost soul and reaching out to the lost soul with His grace, even to the very last moment of the person's life.
She writes in Diary entry 1507:
All grace flows from mercy, and the last hour abounds with mercy for us. Let no one doubt concerning the goodness of God; even if a person's sins were as dark as night, God's mercy is stronger than our misery. One thing alone is necessary: that the sinner set ajar the door of his heart, be it ever so little, to let in a ray of God's merciful grace, and then God will do the rest. But poor is the soul who has shut the door on God's mercy, even at the last hour. It was just such souls who plunged Jesus into deadly sorrow in the Garden of Olives; indeed, it was from His Most Merciful Heart that divine mercy flowed out.
So, the Good Shepherd keeps seeking out His lost sheep, right until they draw their very last breath. Even if they are unconscious at the end, then in the very depths of their souls He searches them out. That is why we can never be sure if some soul was truly lost or not, even if they never showed any outward sign of repentance and faith at all; the Lord searches them out in the depths of their hearts in ways we cannot see. Their "one last chance" is at the moment of death. All we can do is pray for them and entrust them to God's mercy and know He will do everything He can for them — other than compelling them to repent and believe, which He would never do, for He gives to all the dignity to freely choose their own destiny.
The Church urges its members to call a priest to administer the Sacraments to help bring the dying person into union with the Lord. Also, the Church has, from the beginning, urged its members to pray at the bedside of the dying.
The Lord, Himself, encouraged praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy for the dying. He told St. Faustina: "At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for a dying person, the indulgence is the same. When this chaplet is said by the bedside of a dying person, God's anger is placated, unfathomable mercy envelops the soul, and the very depths of My tender mercy are moved for the sake of the sorrowful Passion of My Son" (Diary, 811).
Beyond this, there is really no more that our Lord can do for a soul. The "chances" ultimately have to come to an end because at some point the soul is either irrevocably hardened to His appeal or truly open to repentance and faith. Besides, if we all had endless chances, there would be no urgency in responding to any of them. Original sin makes us chronic procrastinators, I'm afraid! Jesus talks about such people in the "Parable of the Rich Fool" (Lk 12:16-20):
The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, "What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?" Then he said, "This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.' " But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?"
Thus, the Scriptures and the Catechism clearly imply that this life is the time for decision, and there is no other.
The Catechism, in entry 1013, states:
Death is the end of man's earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny.
Got a Question? E-mail me at email@example.com.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is the director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.