The Eschatological traditions of the Catholic faith can seem overwhelming at first glance; however, a fantastic place to begin to understand what Catholics believe is found in an explanation of the faith by Michael Pennock in his book This is Our Faith. Pennock goes over every single element of the end times and explains it in a manner that can be understood by the laity.
Heaven, as described by Pennock, is the reward of “eternal life spent in union with God and all those who share in God’s life. (p.156) Those who die in God’s friendship, grace, and purified will share in this eternal life. Pennock explains that “Heaven is the name for this superabundant life in communion with the loving Triune God, the Blessed Mother, the angels, and saints. It is the community of all who fully incorporated into Christ.” As Pennock illustrates it is best described by the book of Revelation 21:4 RSV:
4 he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”
In Heaven, Christians will have the opportunity to experience what is known in Christian theology as beatific vision, a vision that will allow us to view God finally face-to-face. (p.157) Christians are reminded of this opportunity by Moses’ relationship with God in Exodus 34:29-35:
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 And afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone; and Moses would put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
The common belief of fire and brimstone of Hell is a false description of the actual place. However, it does describe the pain of what is truly Hell. Hell is the eternal separation from God, a reward for one who chooses themselves and rejects God’s love. A result that God allows not because he a malevolent dictator as New Atheism would like to portray him, but instead because he “respects human freedom, a freedom that can pridefully refuse God’s grace, love, and mercy…a person is free to reject that invitation through living a selfish, heartless, and unloving life. God respects that choice.” (p.159) In the parable of Lazarus is a very telling explanation of those who have chosen to reject God’s love, Lk 16:29-31 RSV
29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’”
Church Doctrine teaches of the existence of Purgatory, which is the final purification and cleansing of our sins so that we can enter Heaven. Pennock explains, “We pass through the fire of God’s love which enables us to embrace completely the all-holy God with open hearts. Purgatory is necessary because, as the book of Revelation teaches, only a clean person can enter heaven.” (p. 157) The process of purification, or purgatory, is a process that is painful; however, the pain is rooted in a pain of letting go of our selfish attachments when passing into Heaven. (p.158) Furthermore, as explained by Pennock, it may be explained that “persons ‘burn’ with remorse because they are not yet one with God who is infinite goodness and love. This temporary separation from God due to our own actions on earth does bring suffering.” (p. 158)
The best scriptural evidence for purgatory is found in 2 Maccabees 12:41-45, a passage that encourages the living to pray for the dead, so they can be released from their sin. 2 Maccabees is a book that was ripped from the Canon of the Bible by the Protestant reformers due to its evidence of purgatory. In 1st century Judea, all books that were part of the deuterocanonical would have been considered canonical, even by Christ and the Apostles, as those during the era would use the Septuagint, which included the text.
41 So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; 42 and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. 43 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.