Saturday, October 16, 2010

Didn't we do away with hell?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
The priest in my parish, Fr. Besserwurst, is going into the grade school, terrifying the children by telling them about hell. I think this is entirely inappropriate since the Vatican Council did away with both Hell and Purgatory. Should I call the Bishop and report Fr. Besserwurst?
Fleming N. Ferneau

Dear Fleming,

By all means, call the Bishop. I’m sure he will be amazed that someone is actually teaching what the Church teaches. Contrary to what you read in most religion books, we still believe that there is a heaven and a hell and you are going to end up in one or the other. Even purgatory is still on the books. Read the Catechism. Paragraph 1035
“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.”

Doubtless you will ask the great question, if God is so good and loving, how can He possibly send someone to hell? The answer is quite simple. He doesn’t send us there. He finds us there. When Jesus spoke about hell, He described it as the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Actually that sounds more like the cry room in the back of church. But I digress.) Hell is utter isolation. Imagine finding yourself alone in an unending darkness. Welcome to Hell.

Think about it. Human beings enter the world as perfect little narcissists. It doesn’t matter that you may have to be up at 5AM to get to work or that you are unwell. If that little tyrant in the nursery wants a bottle, or a change of clothes, or wants mommy to hold him, he notifies everyone in the house with a cry that can penetrate brick. He lives in a world of one. I’ve known men who are 50, 60, or 70 years old who, unless they have a bottle, a change of clothes and mommy to hold them...... So it is, that many of us never leave the fundament aloneness with which we enter the world. We call that state of narcissism original sin. Every human being is born with it and the challenge of life is to allow God to save us from it, to save us in effect from ourselves.

The world we live in is a nursery for narcissists. Every television commercial, every program, every self help book, every pop psychologist, every politician feeds our preoccupation with the self. “Get the credit you deserve.” “Thinner thighs in thirty days.” “Your wedding day when all eyes will be on you.” “Get more for less.” “Have you been injured in an accident?” Our culture has been reduced to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of ...”self gratification which is how we define happiness. If we live as the word tells us, we will end our life as perfect candidates for an eternity of me, mine and my.

In my line of work. I’ve met a lot of people who’ve died and lived to tell about it. You know, the tunnel, the light and all the rest. Quite a few have told me that the thing that most bothers them is that they know the answers before they hear the questions. I suspect that they are trying to describe timelessness in temporal categories. Remember that we are promised eternal life. “Eternal” simply means timeless. For God there is no time. It is all now, never then. It is all here and never there. I imagine that when we die all that really happens is that time and space cease to be and as God said to Moses about His own nature, “I am who I am.” We will say I am what I am. If we are self absorbed sons of our mothers, that is who we will be forever.

Is there fire in hell? Isn’t that just symbolic? Oh yes, it’s quite symbolic, but the fires of hell are the real fires. The fires of this temporary dimension are just a symbol of the fires of hell. Perhaps the fires of hell are the piercing anguish of eternally knowing what could have been and what now will always be, the bitterness of love rejected, infinitely amplified by eternity.

Why would God ever allow such a thing to happen? He allows it for love’s sake. LOVE?!? How can hell have anything to do with love? Simple: the only thing that love demands is freedom. You can’t be forced to love. God allows us to choose love, or to reject love. On the Cross, He defines love as sacrifice. We define love as self indulgence. If we choose narcissism and call it love, He gives us what we want. If we confess that we don’t know love, and ask Him to teach us love, He will do so.

We are not predestined to either heaven or hell. We are offered love and most of us choose self gratification instead. Voltaire said “God will forgive; it is His job.” It is also said that he died a terrible death. His nurse said: "For all the money in Europe I wouldn’t want to see another unbeliever die! All night long he cried for forgiveness."

Voltaire was right. If we ask, God will forgive. The problem is that we ask with our lips, but not with our hearts, which is not to ask at all. We spend a life indulging ourselves, and then hoping that God will wink and allow us to indulge ourselves eternally. We don’t really ask God to forgive. We ask him to permit. St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15 verse 19, “If only for this life we have hoped in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” In other words, if your eyes are glued to the ground, if you are aiming at this world alone, be afraid, be very afraid. By the way, have a lovely Halloween.

Rev. Know-it-all


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