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HELL

Father Francis's picture
Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Mk. 9: 38-43, 47-48

It was during a parish Mission that I remember visiting a particular home. The moment I entered I sensed a very unhappy and cold atmosphere. When the husband saw me to the door he said that if I ever preached on Hell, in future, I should use the example of him and his wife who had no love for each other. 'Living like this is really like living in Hell.'

I have heard some Catholics say there is no Hell – but Jesus Himself refers to its existence. "Fear Him, (meaning God,) Who has power to cast body and soul into Hell." It is the home of Satan and his fallen angels and, in His parable of the Sheep and Goats, Jesus warns us that we could find ourselves in Hell - if we do not love God and our neighbour. The consequence of these failings, He warned, would be to hear the words, "Depart from Me into the fire of Hell prepared for the Devil and His angels."

What is Hell like? No one knows. But to be thrown into fire causes extreme pain and fire is mentioned in the Scriptures to indicate the extreme suffering to be experienced in Hell. The real excruciating pain would be that of loss caused by the eternal separation from God, being fully aware that we can never be with Him through our own fault - because we have rejected Him.

There has to be a tremendous loneliness in Hell … hating God, hating everyone and hating yourself. It is no good thinking if your friend goes to Hell that you will be able to enjoy each other’s company and console each other. You will be hating each other, wishing you could just turn back the clock and be given another chance to love God and your neighbour. My Mum used to tell us of a clock in Hell which ticks and says, 'Forever and ever! Forever and ever!' May God give us the grace to live a life that means we will not be going there!

To deserve Hell we must have broken our relationship completely with God. Let us take an example. The Church, knowing the tremendous worth and God's wish to be adored by all Catholics through Sunday Mass, teaches that deliberately, and without good reason, to miss Mass on Sunday or the Saturday Vigil Mass is a mortal sin, and you cannot go to Holy Communion again unless you first confess that sin in Confession and receive absolution. To commit any mortal sin requires three conditions to be present. These are, one, that the sin must be of grave matter. The Church considers that missing Mass on Sundays is a grave sin because it breaks one of God's Ten Commandments - “Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day”- and turning down God's invitation to worship Him with His children as He wants. The second condition is that you know it is a serious offence against God, and the third condition is you deliberately commit the sin.

According to moral theologians a person who dies in mortal sin will go to Hell for all eternity. My own personal thought is that this would be unlikely to happen for missing Mass once on Sunday – because it does not necessarily entail a complete breakdown in our relationship with God. However, the danger is that having missed Mass without good reason once, it will be easier to miss again and then again, until not going to Mass becomes a 'normal' part of life and God’s Commandment is forgotten, leading in time to a complete breakdown in the relationship. That is why a Catholic should not miss Sunday Mass even on the odd occasion.

I think of a life as a tree. If a tree leans in one direction it will fall in that direction when it dies. It cannot fall in the opposite direction! So, too, with our lives. If all the time we are leaning towards God, then with God's grace, it is likely that we shall fall into His arms when we die. But if our lives never point to God then it follows that we will almost certainly die in enmity with God.

In fact I would advocate that you try to attend daily Mass as the best way of expressing love for God. If you want to avoid Hell make sure you love God and your neighbour! Each of us is one of God's children. He never wants to lose anyone and He never sends anyone to Hell – any individual who is there has chosen it for himself or herself.

Lord Jesus, if I go to Hell it will be because of the life I have chosen to live, even though You love me so much it will break Your heart. Encourage me to say this prayer very often: "Heavenly Father, do not consider what we truly deserve, but forgive us our sins and lead us all to Heaven to be happy with You forever."

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