" "Neither earth nor rock could have held the Cross, nor could the Cross of nails have held God’s only-begotten Son, had not love held him fast.” – St. Catherine of Siena

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Of Hell and Other Things

Upon further reflection and prayer, I prefer this version to that post which I previously posted.  

After recently reading the familiar Gospel story about Lazarus and the rich man, I saw the following internet headline: “Pastor who does not believe in hell fired!”  God’s timing is impeccable, isn’t it?
My immediate thought after reading this headline was: “and this pastor was caught off guard by his dismissal?”  The sad reality is that it is not just this specific minister, but so many other Christians, including many Catholics (even some of their priests), who have abandoned the fundamental truth that there are eternal consequences to a life lived in unrepentant and unconfessed sin (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sections 1033-1041). 

“Our God is far too merciful,” these dissidents argue, “than to banish anyone to an eternity in hell.” What Scripture and what Catechism do they read?

How have we arrived at this state of confusion on such a crucial article of faith? When was the last time you heard a sermon on sin, death, hell, and the last judgment?  Chances are not too recently. Been encouraged to go to confession regularly? How many funerals have you attended where the decedent’s arrival in heaven has been happily and definitely announced?  - far too many, probably.

The only way you can subscribe to a theory of universal salvation is to assume that  God, His Church and the many individuals He has used over the centuries to teach and guide us never really meant what He or they said. You would have to conclude, for example, that the story of Lazarus and the poor man (Luke 16:19-31), the description of the Last Judgment (Matthew 26:31-46), and the Catechism references set forth above were never intended to be taken seriously. Maybe that is why verses 41-46 of Chapter 25 in Matthew are so often excluded when that Gospel is proclaimed in our Churches.

Of course, St. Augustine didn’t really mean it when he said: “God made you without yourself; God redeemed you without yourself; but God will not save you without yourself.”

I am equally as certain that St. Bernard was faking it when with tears he said that “there was hardly one ship out of ten lost on the sea, but on the ocean of life there is hardly one soul saved out of ten.”

What was Ven. Louis Granada, O.P. thinking when he opined that “Men have eyes as keen as those of an eagle in discerning the things of this world, but they are as blind as beetles to the things of eternity?”

Finally, I suspect that the late Father Winfrid Herbst, S.D.S. must have been hitting “the sauce” before he was foolish enough to write the following: “I am sure many lost souls in hell right now would cry out to preachers and writers if they could: Oh, why did you not tell us more about the horrors of hell? Why did you not strike such fear into our hearts by your realistic description of hell that we would have made greater efforts to avoid it?...Why did you spare our feelings in a matter of such eternal moment? Oh, why did you not make hell a thousand times hotter than you did, then perhaps we would not be here today? ”

Where is the zeal for the salvation of souls?

God made us to be with Him eternally. He gives us all the graces we will need to join Him there. We can believe what He teaches, respond to His graces, humble ourselves by confessing and seeking forgiveness for our sins and enjoy eternity in His Presence, or we can reject what He teaches and offers us here on earth and discover to our eternal regret that God never lies. The choice seems so obvious, doesn’t it?

St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that no one “is in hell who did not have, time after time, the chance of taking heaven in his grasp”.  Father Leo Rudloff, O.S.B. reinforces the Angelic Doctor, when he stresses “that hell is not a blind destiny into which the sinner plunges unawares, but is his self-chosen and fully deserved portion.”

We are entitled to the truth. Our priests and bishops must not hesitate to teach that truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may make them or us.

Oh, how our priests and bishops need our prayerful support and encouragement!

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