1. HELL: ORIGIN AND MEANING 2. THE EXISTENCE OF HELL IN THE SACRED SCRIPTURES 3. HOW MUST THESE IMAGES OF HELL IN THE NEW TESTAMENT BE INTERPRETED? 4. A CALL TO RESPONSIBILITY AND CONVERSION 5. OTHER POINTS OF THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH REGARDING HELL:
In the previous posts, we have discussed the existence of Purgatory, explained the reason why souls end there, the existence of Heaven and the eternal happiness which God has reserved for those who lovingly lived their lives for Him on earth and die with a purified soul.
We cannot, however, end our meditation on the last things for this month of November without discussing the existence of hell. Hell is a topic too much ignored nowadays (to the amusement of the devil). People live as if neither God, Heaven, nor Hell existed.
WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT, WHETHER WE BELIEVE IT OR NOT, HELL, AS A REALITY INDEPENDENT FROM US, EXISTS.
1. HELL: ORIGIN AND MEANING
“Hell”, literally “Gehenna” or Ge-hinnorn, was a little valley south of Jerusalem, outside the walls and below the city, used as the city dump for centuries. Garbage, city wastes and debris were burned there to avoid it being a focus of infection. Gehenna was, proverbially, an unclean and unhealthy place: our Lord used this (cfr. Mk 9:43; 45; 47. Mt 5:22; Lk 12:5; etc.) to explain in a graphic way the unquenchable fire of hell.
Nevertheless, more than a place, the Church teaches us that HELL is “the STATE of DEFINITIVE SELF-EXCLUSION FROM COMMUNION WITH GOD (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1033).”
It is a state where Love can never exist: only hatred, despair, sadness, remorse, emptiness, suffering, all of which are eternal, without rest nor end.
2. THE EXISTENCE OF HELL IN THE SACRED SCRIPTURES
The existence of Hell was already described in the Old Testament. It speaks of:
a “PLACE OF NO RETURN, to the LAND OF DARKNESS and shadow dark as death, where dimness and disorder hold sway, and light itself is like dead of night (Job 10: 21-22)”;
a DAY OF WRATH when God’s “anger will blaze against them [those who break His Covenant]; I shall desert them and hide my face from them. A HOST OF DISASTERS AND MISFORTUNES WILL OVERTAKE THEM TO DEVOUR THEM, and when that day comes they will say, ‘If such disasters overtake me, surely YAHWEH MY GOD CANNOT BE WITH ME?’ (Deut 31:17).”
“Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some unto life everlasting, and OTHERS UNTO REPROACH, TO SEE IT ALWAYS. (Daniel 12:1-2)” The Old Testament declares for the first time that sinners will resurrect and some of them will meet a judgment of damnation.
In the New Testament, Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us of hell as a punishment prepared for the devil, his angels and for the evil servants who did not fulfill their master’s will: ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…(Mt 25, 41).”
If Hell never existed at all, Jesus would not have revealed its existence employing various images in the New Testament:
as a STATE destined for evildoers as a FIERY FURNACE, where people will “weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt 13:42; cf. 25:30, 41), or like GEHENNA with its “UNQUENCHABLE FIRE” (Mk 9:43), or as an “abyss” (Luke 8:31), or “PLACE OF TORMENTS” (Luke 16:28), or “EVERLASTING FIRE” (Matthew 18:8; 25:41).
The parable of the rich man also explains that hell is a condition OF ETERNAL SUFFERING, WITH NO POSSIBILITY OF RETURN, NOR OF THE ALLEVIATION OF PAIN (cf. Lk 16:19-31).
And the Book of Revelation speaks of a “LAKE THAT BURNS WITH FIRE AND BRIM STONE” for “THE COWARDLY, THE FAITHLESS, THE POLLUTED, FOR MURDERERS, FORNICATORS, SORCERERS, IDOLATERS, and all LIARS (Rev 21:8).” See also Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 1034.
3. HOW MUST THESE IMAGES BE INTERPRETED?
“The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the COMPLETE FRUSTRATION AND EMPTINESS OF LIFE WITHOUT GOD. RATHER THAN A PLACE, HELL INDICATES THE STATE OF THOSE WHO FREELY AND DEFINITIVELY SEPARATE THEMSELVES FROM GOD, the source of all life and joy.
This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: “TO DIE IN MORTAL SIN WITHOUT REPENTING AND ACCEPTING GOD’S MERCIFUL LOVE means remaining separated from him forever BY OUR OWN FREE CHOICE. This state of DEFINITIVE SELF-EXCLUSION FROM COMMUNION WITH GOD AND THE BLESSED IS CALLED ‘HELL’ (n. 1033) (St. John Paul II, General Audience, July 29, 1999).”
GOD IS NOT THE ONE WHO “CONDEMNS” THE SOUL INTO ETERNAL DAMNATION: it is not God’s initiative since He has always wanted the salvation of everyone. SO WHOSE INITIATIVE IS IT THEN? It is the CREATURE’S CHOICE. It is the person who “auto-condemns” himself.
In this life, a person can freely say “yes” or “no” to good, to evil, to anything…including God. HE CAN FREELY AND STUBBORNLY CLOSE HIMSELF FROM GOD’S LOVE AND REJECT HIS CONSTANT INVITATION FOR CONVERSION. If a person freely chooses to persevere in this proud, unmovable attitude till the end, DEATH WILL SEAL HIS CHOICE FOREVER such that in his particular judgment, God will only “RATIFY” the ultimate consequence of the free and PARTICULAR actions made during his life. HELL IS THE END RESULT OF THE EVIL, UNREPENTED AND PERSISTENT PARTICULAR CHOICES MADE IN THIS LIFE.
One may say: “Nobody wants to go to hell!” or “I don’t want to go to hell!” Well, if one doesn’t like to go to hell, he must show it with his works, he must act coherently with his good desire, for the road to Hell is paved with mere good intentions not materialized into particular choices and actions. Hence, one must CHOOSE ACTIONS WHICH LEAD TO HEAVEN AND PERFORM THEM OUT OF LOVE FOR GOD.
4. A CALL TO RESPONSIBILITY AND CONVERSION:
The teachings of Sacred Scripture and of the Church on the existence of hell are “A CALL TO THE RESPONSIBILITY INCUMBENT UPON MAN TO MAKE USE OF HIS FREEDOM IN VIEW OF HIS ETERNAL DESTINY. THEY ARE AT THE SAME TIME AN URGENT CALL TO CONVERSION: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Mt 7:13-14)’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1036)
HELL. ETERNAL DAMNATION. COMPLETE FRUSTRATION. NEVER-ENDING SUFFERING, SADNESS, ANGUISH, TORMENT… IT’S MAN’S CHOICE… IT’S YOUR CHOICE. LET US REACT NOW AND RECTIFY OUR WAYS, CHOOSING THOSE ACTIONS AND LIVING OUR LIFE IN A WAY WHICH LEAD US TO HEAVEN.
“O my Jesus, forgive us of our sins, save us from the fires of Hell and bring all souls into Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy Mercy!”
Dear friends, let us choose to live our life for love of God and for others till the end, always disposed to rectify our ways and begin again daily to make use of the means which God gave us to walk along this path towards heaven. Our time here on earth is the “money” which God gave us to “buy” heaven. Let us then live for God, love God above all things in every choice and action of ours, “for If I love, there will be no hell for me (St. Josemaria, Forge, n. 1047).”
-Fr. Rolly Arjonillo, priest of Opus Dei, CATHOLICS STRIVING FOR HOLINESS. We are also in Facebook: www.facebook.com/CatholicsstrivingforHoliness. Hope you like our page and invite your friends as well to do so in order to help more people.
5. OTHER POINTS OF THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH REGARDING HELL:
1033 WE CANNOT BE UNITED WITH GOD UNLESS WE FREELY CHOOSE TO LOVE HIM. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”(Jn 3:14-15). Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren (Mt 25:31-46). TO DIE IN MORTAL SIN WITHOUT REPENTING AND ACCEPTING GOD’S MERCIFUL LOVE MEANS REMAINING SEPARATED FROM HIM FOR EVER BY OUR OWN FREE CHOICE. THIS STATE OF DEFINITIVE SELF-EXCLUSION FROM COMMUNION WITH GOD AND THE BLESSED IS CALLED “HELL.”
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. IMMEDIATELY AFTER DEATH the souls of THOSE WHO DIE IN A STATE OF MORTAL SIN DESCEND INTO HELL, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” (Cf. DS 76; 409; 411; 801; 858; 1002; 1351; 1575; Paul VI, CPG # 12). The chief punishment of hell is ETERNAL SEPARATION FROM GOD, IN WHOM ALONE MAN CAN POSSESS THE LIFE AND HAPPINESS FOR WHICH HE WAS CREATED AND FOR WHICH HE LONGS.
1037 GOD PREDESTINES NO ONE TO GO TO HELL (Cf. Council of Orange II (529): DS 397; Council of Trent (1547):1567); for this, A WILLFUL TURNING AWAY FROM GOD (A MORTAL SIN) IS NECESSARY, AND PERSISTENCE IN IT UNTIL THE END.
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