Let me explain: According to the Gospel, there are winners and losers in eternity. The winners go to heaven and losers go to hell. Angels, Saints and the elect are the winners. And Satan, demons and reprobate souls are the losers. The former class will be rewarded; the latter class will be punished. Such is the Christian belief about the great inequality between heaven and hell.
It just so happens that the Gospel reading in Sunday’s Mass [August 25, 2013], we hear the words of Jesus reminding us that there are winners and losers. There are some who will be first while many others who will be last. In Jerusalem, he warned his critics that not everyone wins; not everyone will be first. He said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough... And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
Now, I have to tell you that protective parents who can’t stand the thought of their children losing a game and socialists who dream of perfect equality are not the only ones who suffer from the illusion that everybody should win. There are several people within the Church who would rather not hear that there are eternal losers. But since they have little control over what gets read during the Mass, the next best thing to do is to just ignore any reference to hell. To be sure, that is what some do.
Nevertheless, in the vast reservoir of the Catholic Church’s spiritual literature, there is a great deal of exploration on this topic. In fact, the mercy of God and the redemptive work of Christ are unintelligible without the belief in hell. Perhaps, this is why our Lord mentioned it several times in the Gospels. And perhaps this is why the Saint, throughout the ages, did not shy away from teaching about it.
For instance, in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s book, The Spiritual Exercises, has served as the template for countless retreats for five centuries. It is a series of meditations on God’s revelation. Interestingly, he wastes no time in presenting the theme of hell for the Christian to meditate on. This meditation was not placed at the end of the book, it is treated in detail at the beginning.
The founder of the Jesuits begins by asking, “What is hell?” He answers this by saying that “the Holy Spirit calls it the place of torments (LK 16:28). A prison, where the condemned shall be imprisoned by the justice of God, to be tormented through the ages of ages.” Furthermore, St. Ignatius refers to hell as a society of devils. It is a place where their hatred of God continues unabated. Since they cannot harm God in any way, St. Ignatius says they take out their revenge on him torturing man, who is made in his image.
In order to aid the imagination, The Spiritual Exercises details various torments. For one, he says that the faculties of the human soul such as the imagination, the memory, the will, and the understanding will be subject to the pains of hell. The body too, with all five senses, will suffer likewise. As for the memory, St. Ignatius tells us what it will recall to mind with great regret and remorse:
“It recalls the graces received- the faith; a Christian education, the example of so many virtuous persons, the instructions of the ministers of Jesus Christ and the Sacraments of the Church…It recalls the warnings that were given on earth. How often has he heard that it is terrible to fall into the hands of the living God, that there is no mercy in hell.”
The value and necessity of meditating on hell is that presents to our mind what we can ultimately choose; and that is an eternity without God. Pope Leo XIII said that the greatest of all misfortunes is to never have known Jesus Christ. But believe it or not, there is a greater misfortune: to forfeit Jesus Christ for an eternity. As Peter Kreeft once said, to reject Infinite Love is to become infinitely loveless. This is hell.
Before closing, it is important to note that hell is not something that happens to us like a natural disaster. Rather, it is a choice or a series of choices. When people die and go there, they know chose to be a loser. The strength to enter the narrow gate is not analogous to physical strength. The strength that our Lord refers to a human attribute that everyone enjoys, and that is free will. Indeed, failing to love God and our neighbor through the gift of free will weakens the soul; so much so that it cannot muster the strength that is needed to enter through the narrow gate. This is how losers are made. This is why hell exists.
Today, sometimes it seems that hell is prevailing over heaven. But I would like to propose something for your consideration. Sometimes the most unlikely sources can be prophetic. In the book of Numbers, Balaam, a gentile uttered a prophecy about the Messiah. He said, “I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel…” Likewise, Hollywood, for all of its worldly ways, can be an instrument in God’s hands too. For instance, at the end of the 1940 movie Fantasia, we are treated to the final chapter of world history where the darkness gives way to light. I ask you, could these last two parts of Fantasia be on to something?
Make sure you watch “both” YouTube video clips below of Fantasia. Also, for your reading pleasure, scroll down and you can read what God told St. Catherine about hell and what hell looked like to the three Fatima seers.
God tells St. Catherine of Sienna about hell:
God the Father said to St. Catherine of Sienna, “I tell you, in hell there are four principal torments and all the others are offspring of these.
The first is that these souls are deprived of seeing me. This is so painful for them that if they could they would choose the sight of me along with the fire and excruciating torments, rather than the freedom from their pains without seeing me.
The first suffering revives the worm of conscience, and this is their second torment. For when they see that their sinfulness has deprived them of me and of the company of the angels and made them worthy instead of seeing the demons and sharing their fellowship, conscience gnaws away at them constantly.
The sight of the devil is their third suffering, and it doubles every other torment. At the sight of me the saints are in constant exaltation, joyfully refreshed in reward for the labors they bore for me with such overflowing love and to their own cost. But it is just the opposite for these wretched little souls. Their only refreshment is the torment of seeing the devil, for in seeing them they know themselves better: that is, they recognize that their sinfulness has made them worthy of him. And so the worm gnaws on and the fire of conscience never stops burning.
Their suffering is even worse because they see the devil as he really is- more horrible than the human heart can imagine. You will recall that when I once let you see him for a tiny while, hardly a moment, as he really is, you said (after coming to your senses again) that you would rather walk on a road of fire even till the final judgment day than see him again. But even with all you have seen you do not know how horrible he really is. For my divine justice makes him look more horrible than still to those who have lost me, and this is in proportion to the depth of their sinfulness.
The fourth torment is fire. This fire burns without consuming, for the soul cannot be consumed, since it is not material (such as fire could consume) but spiritual. But in my divine justice I allow my fire to burn these souls mightily, tormenting them without consuming them. And the tremendous pain of this tortuous burning has as many forms as the forms of their sins and is more or less severe in proportion to their sins.”
Our Lady of Fatima shows Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco hell. Lucia recalls the vision:
"She opened Her hands once more, as She had done the two previous months. The rays [of light] appeared to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a vast sea of fire. Plunged in this fire, we saw the demons and the souls [of the damned]. The latter were like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, having human forms. They were floating about in that conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames which issued from within themselves, together with great clouds of smoke. Now they fell back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fright (it must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me). The demons were distinguished [from the souls of the damned] by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. That vision only lasted for a moment, thanks to our good Heavenly Mother, Who at the first apparition had promised to take us to Heaven. Without that, I think that we would have died of terror and fear."