"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would
be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were
thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is
better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the
unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is
better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to
enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into
hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Matthew
Pretty heavy words. Words many of us don't want to hear or see. After all, as
some say, God is a loving God, He would never condemn anyone to hell. And
so, the notion of sin is downplayed, responsibility is sidestepped. To even
mention them is seen as foolish or as a means of intimidating people to
But again, Christ said:
"For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to
have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment,
because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming
when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth, those who
have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to
the resurrection of judgment" (John 5: 26-29).
A resurrection of judgment? If God is so loving as not to judge, what is
this judgment? If there are no consequences for doing evil, why even have a
Many today have differing views of hell. Most of us grew up with
visions of hell. A literal fire burning us for eternity. But many today
feel there is nothing to this; that it's akin to telling children that if
they don't do good that the boogey man will get them. Others feel that hell
is simply oblivion, that is nothingness; that they will be alone with
themselves for eternity (admittedly, not a pleasant thought or existence).
Yet this has never been the Church's teaching. Not only do we have
Christ's words on the existence and nature of hell we also have the early
Church Father's writings on it.
"...the Fathers clearly asserted the eternity of the pains of hell.
Ignatius of Antioch, Justin, Ireneus, and Hippolytus are explicit. We read in
St. Ignatius that anyone who corrupts the faith of a Christian believer 'will
go into inextinguishable fire.' (Letter to the Ephesians; 16,1) According to
Ireneus, "the pains of those who do not believe the Word of God and contemn
his coming and revert to their former way of life are increased, not only
temporally but eternally.'' (Adversus Haereses [Against Heresies]; IV, 28,2)
Origen then came on the scene. He had been misled by Platonic philosophy,
especially regarding the pre-existence of souls. He therefore held the theory
that all the angels, except perhaps satan, and mankind would finally return
to God after suffering their lot of punishment.
The fact is there is no way of waiving or weakening the words which the
Lord has told us He will pronounce at the last judgment: "Depart from Me,
accursed ones, into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and
his angels." In this way he showed plainly that it is an eternal fire in
which the devil and his angels are to burn." (The Catholic Catechism by Fr.
John Hardon, S.J.; Part One: Doctrines of the Faith - VIII. Human Destiny;
The Catholic Tradition)
So to think that hell doesn't exist, or is simply an inconvenience would be
Imagine, if you will, a person so obstinate, that he refuses to attend a
party they were invited to. Let's say the invitation states that you had to
wear a specific thing, but they refused to wear it so they couldn't enter.
"But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who
had no wedding garment; and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here
without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the
attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness;
there men will weep and gnash their teeth' " (Matthew 22: 11-13).
The person here had no excuse, no reason why he was not dressed
appropriately. He chose not to dress for the banquet.
But what of hell, is it really a place of eternal fire and brimstone?
Is it a place of lonely desolation? The Church doesn't have a picture of
hell, except to say that it's a lace of eternal torment. But we may have
clues. Here, we go into the realm of speculation.
God's love has often been described as a fire. When we love something
or someone, isn't like a fire within ourselves? Don't we 'burn' to be with
them or possess it? When we cannot possess what or who we love, are we not
in torment? And if we do, doesn't that 'fire' warm and console us?
Christ said, "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were
already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am
constrained until it is accomplished!" (Luke 12:49-50).
The fire was the fire of God, His love. His 'baptism' was His passion
and death on the cross to let that love fire the earth. He commands us to
love the Lord with our whole heart, soul and mind. To separate from us that
which separates us from loving God. This is what was meant by " And if your
hand causes you to sin, cut it off". Not to literally cut if off, but to
figuratively cut it off. To deny oneself, to die to oneself in order to
follow Him. What of those who essentially say "I cannot or will not deny
myself, cut off my hand, etc."? Is the fire of God's love with them or do
they burn with a love of themselves?
Now, what occurs when that person dies and comes before the Lord? Are
they going to be able to talk their way out of it? No. Instead, they will
be consumed with the fire of God's love, they will, at that point, be
immersed in the love of God and 'burn' with the love of God. However, from
their own choice, they will not be dressed appropriately, they will have
refused to die to themselves to live for Him. Rather, they will see and
admit that they have, instead, died to Him to live for themselves. Having
sought the glory of men, they rejected the glory of God.
"I do not receive glory from men. But I know that you have not the love
of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive
me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you
believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that
comes from the only God?" (John 5: 41-44).
So, enflamed with this fire, they enter into hell since God loves them
too much to force them to live eternally with He whom they have rejected.
And now 'burning' with this love, they are separated from God. And this fire
burns without consuming, it torments without end. But to those who have
entered into Heaven, this same fire warms and consoles.
But what of those in Purgatory?
St. Paul said it best. "For no other foundation can any one lay than
that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the
foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- each man's
work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be
revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has
done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he
will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss,
though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
We either have faith and love of God, or we don't. No other foundation
will do. Based on that faith, we live our lives, struggling against sin,
denying ourselves, etc. The person who has set a foundation on himself
has doomed himself, but the person who has set his foundation on Christ
builds on that faith, that foundation. The 'fire' of God's love reveals how
well he has lived his life. Has he followed the Lord perfectly? Is what he
has built made of gold, silver, or precious stones? Or has he lived it
imperfectly, building with wood, straw or hay? These will be burned up, we
will admit how unworthy we are to enter into Heaven. But our faith is what
keeps us. We 'suffer' as through fire - as our weakness and imperfections are
'burned' up in His love.
So, we see how God's love 'burns' some in eternal torment. We see how it
'purifies' some in Purgatory and how it warms and brightens those in Heaven.
All from the fire of God's love.
As St. Francis writes: "See, then, you who are blind, deceived by your
enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, our fallen nature loves to
commit sin and hates to serve God; this is because vice and sin come from the
heart of man, as the Gospel says. You have no good in this world and nothing
to look forward to in the next. You imagine that you will enjoy the
worthless pleasures of this life indefinitely, but you are wrong. The day
and the hour will come, the day and the hour for which you have no thought
and of which you have no knowledge whatever. First sickness, then death,
draws near..." (Letter to all the Faithful)
Or as Christ said it very simply: "he who does not take his cross and
follow Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he
who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10: 38-39).
Pax Christi, Pat