“God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1037)
Introduction: The Church gives us a sort of mini-Lent right now with the consecutive feasts of The Exaltation of the Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows. With this in mind I offer the following short meditation on the reality of Hell.
Meditation: It is a strange thing to know that we are going to live on after death – either in Heaven or Hell. We know it will eventually happen – our death and judgment – but still it is a strange thought and not a little bit unsettling. And yet all our life is being lived ultimately for this one moment – DEATH – when the decision of our eternal destiny will be made and we will either enter into the unimaginable joy of Heaven or the unthinkable despair of Hell. Under either scenario, God will receive praise that will never end (for we were made to praise Him): those in Heaven will praise Him for His mercy; those in Hell will render an involuntary praise of His justice – and so in the end the attributes of God’s Divine Mercy and perfect justice will both receive eternal praise and worship. There is no contradiction between the two.
Jesus died a terribly agonizing and horrific death to save us from going to Hell and to gain us entrance into the unspeakable joys of eternal life with our Blessed God in Heaven. Certainly, it is a great mercy to know that Hell exists, for many people disbelieve Hell and thus find mortal sin less offensive to their tastes than had they believed in Hell. But the merciful Jesus, the tender, loving Word proceeding from the eternal love of the Father, preached about Hell. Indeed, in The Spiritual Exercises Saint Ignatius makes the salient point that we know Hell exists precisely because Jesus told us so (Ignatius’ meditation on Hell is enough to scare the Hell out of you – which is precisely the point).
Jesus did not mince his words: he told us about the outer darkness, where the worm dieth not, and where there is wailing and grinding of teeth – horrible images, indeed, but probably far less horrible than what Hell will actually be like. Hell simply “cannot be an option” for us: what a “miserable eternity” it would make – to “waste away the ages” in Hell, and after ten million years in Hell – as Father Faber points out – you still have all of eternity to go. “Who could endure it?”
We certainly don’t need a weekly homily about Hell. But Oh how helpful an occasional sermon about Hell might have been for “Joe six-pack” in the pew who very well would have let go of mortal sin if he had better understood the consequences of his acts: but the sermon was never preached, and instead he heard multiple words about letting go of his inner hang-ups, a good word but not a very powerful one. Oh, how many souls are now in Hell – which might have been saved – if the doctrine of Hell had not been neglected (here I am not trying to be judgmental, but rather I am trying to make the point that faith in hell is a great deterrent to going there)? After all, the Church is in essence a soul-saving institution.
It is indeed a very merciful, loving God who warns us of Hell. For, in Jesus Christ, there is no need to go there. The great saints of our Church were adamant that meditation on the four last things – death, judgment, Heaven and Hell – is a very profitable exercise. Who could have talked us out of following their Holy Spirit filled advice?
In light of the above meditation, what could be more important than our devotion to the Sacrament of Reconciliation established by Jesus? When is the last time you went to Confession?
References: The first paragraph is drawn predominantly from the writings of Father Faber, and the third paragraph is essentially Faber (as I remember what he said); also, Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1861; The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola; and, All for Jesus and The Creator and the Creature by Father Faber. The source for this reflection, then, is essentially the awesome writings of Father Faber.
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Little is said about Hell in church. It is as if Hell no longer exists. We could all use a reminder of Hell’s finality and the promise of eternal life. Thanks.
If there is a parish under the care of the FSSP priests in your area, try them. Guarenteed you will hear about Heaven and Hell. And rediscover the beauty of the TLM mass. The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter goes into dioceses parishes at the invitation of the local diocesan bishop.