Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hell

1. In whatever you do, remember your last days, and you will never sin (Ecclus. 7:36).

The meditation considered by the masters of the spiritual life to be the most useful for rousing the soul from sin, or from a state of torpor, is that on the last things, in other words, on what will happen to us at the end of life. Amongst these last things, hell is the most terrifying. Yet, if the mercy of God did not sustain us, we could fall into hell at any moment. St. John Chrysostom meditated on hell every day. All the Saints have found in this meditation the first steps on the way to perfection. Remember that a single mortal sin would merit hell for us. In that moment the sinner could have been already hurled into that abyss of torments. Let us imagine that we are there...and that the goodness and mercy of God has released us from those everlasting, all-devouring flames. If this should happen, all the sacrifices which virtue demands would seem so easy and pleasant. How ready we should be to do anything sooner than retrun to that chasm of eternal sorrow!


2. In that place of never-ending suffering there will be three punishments to torture us. There will be the worm of conscience which does not die: Their worm dies not (Mark 9:43). This is the awful realisation that we could have saved ourselves, but are lost for all eternity; that God gave us so many graces and we damned ourselves by abusing them. Now there is no longer any remedy, because the mercy of God has been succeeded once and for all by His justice.

In the second place, there is fire. This is a real fire, but altogether different from the material fire we know in this world, which was created by God for our benefit and service. The fire of hell, on the other hand, was created by Divine Justice purely to punish us. It is a special kind of fire which tortures body and soul, and the rebel angels as well as damned human beings. It could be called discerning in so far as it torments more or less mercilessly according to the gravity of the sin. These flames embrace every evil and exclude every good. They are flames which will never be exstinguished, flames which burn, but do not consume, flames without light, dark and accompanied by the shrieking of eternal despair. The very thought of this horrible dungeon of torments should spur us on to begin immediately a life of virtue and Christian perfection.

3. The greatest punishment, however, will be that of loss. This is the knowledge that we have lost for ever our one, true, and highest good, God Himself. The soul will now understand fully what it means to have lost God for ever. It will feel irresistibly the need to be united with Him, and to see, enjoy and love Him. But at the same time it will know that God has cast it away from Himself for all eternity. "Go, accursed soul, into everlasting fire!" Then the irresistible need for God will turn to hate and eternal malediction.

The terrifying reality of hell should not leave us amazed, as if it were an act of implacable severity. Rather should it be a warning to us. God should not seem to us to be a pitiless judge, but a judge who is infinitely just and infinitely good. Rather than send us to hell, God gave us His only-begotten Son, Who died on the cross for our sins. Just as the Redemption is a work of infinite love and goodness, so hell is a work of infinite justice.

If we reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation, on the Redemption and on the death of the Son of God, it will appear that, omnipotent though He is, He could not have done more to save us. The divine work of Redemption explains the mystery of the eternity of hell. It is not God Who is relentless. It is the damned soul which was relentlessly ungrateful towards the infinitely good and merciful God.

1 comment:

annabenedetti said...

Thank you very much and may God bless you and your endeavors.