From the Pastor: Learning about Hell to Prepare for Heaven
Last week was, according to the Traditional Latin Mass calendar, Septuagesima Sunday, which means that we only have 70 days left until Easter! It also means that Lent, the preparation time for Easter, is coming even sooner. It is a blessing to have this pre-Lenten season, complete with violet vestments, to wake us up to the fact that Lent is coming. Catholics are often caught off guard by Lent, much like our afternoon summer thunderstorms catch foreign visitors off guard at the beach. Having the earlier change of vestment colors and Mass themes should help us avoid the sudden shock of realizing that we missed both Ash Wednesday and the Friday Stations of the Cross, haven’t given up anything, or done any penance. Of course, some Catholics, even with three weeks advanced notice, still react to Lent as the typical husband does to St. Valentine’s Day. No matter how many jewelry commercials he has heard, no matter how many newspaper inserts sport red and pink hearts, no matter how many hints his wife has dropped, he somehow still is shocked when he hears a coworker wish everyone a “Happy Valentine’s Day!” as they all walk to their cars at the end of the day. Don’t be that Catholic!
I suggested, and suggest once again, that getting a book on “hell” would be a great way to prepare for Lent, and then, rather than thinking that simply buying the book was enough, that you actually read that book during Lent. “Why ‘hell’?” several people asked, “and not ‘Heaven’?” Does the word, “snowflake”, ring a bell? It is not just the seculars who are snowflakes today. We have plenty of Catholic snowflakes, as well. Toughen up, buttercup, and read about what hell really is. Hell is not like having a headache, a sore tooth or bad knee. The pains of hell do not go away with an aspirin or even with a handful of OxyContin. There is no surgical procedure to remove the unremitting agony, no caress to sooth the hate, no vacation during which to recuperate. Hell is terrifying beyond any fear you have ever had. Hell is a place you would not wish even your worst enemy to go. But snowflake Catholics, being afraid of being afraid, don’t often spend any time thinking about or learning about hell, therefore--and this is the whole point--they do very little (or nothing!) to avoid it. And, if they are not actively trying to avoid hell, they are also not actively trying to obtain Heaven! Snowflakes’ penances during Lent are, at best, a form of physical betterment, i.e., a time to diet and exercise for health reasons. Or they might just be a social exercise rather than a spiritual exercise if the penances are simply items to either complain about or brag about.
When Catholics buck the system, so to speak, and open their eyes to the reality of hell and all of the eternal torments endured by the humans who go there, then, and, often, only then, do they begin to understand just what Our Lord was saving us from when He took on our human nature, when He underwent His Passion, when He suffered even death on a cross. That is when our own suffering, willfully undertaken and/or offered up in union with the suffering of Christ, begins to make sense. Looking only at Heaven as our goal without knowing what are the consequences of not reaching it, leads us to think it is not worth it to strive for Sainthood. Think about what the Hebrew people did in the desert when their scouting party entered into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land rich and fertile, a land beyond anything they had ever experience or even dreamt of. They reasoned that it was too hard to enter it, so they decided to “take the easy way out” and say, “Thanks, but no thanks!”. It cost them, not just 40 years of hardship in the desert, but their very lives. Only two adults, Caleb and Joshua, who had tried to convince the rest of the “people of God” to trust Him and conquer the land, lived to finally enter it. All the others perished. How few today, even if reading about the splendor of Heaven, the true Promised Land, are willing to fight to conquer the enemy, a very difficult and life-long battle, indeed. Most, sadly, will turn back, looking fondly to slavery to sin, or seeing a life of desert-wandering as “good enough”, without a thought to the eternal consequences of such a decision. Fearing hell will help you fight for Heaven.
I will leave you with three suggested readings. Father F.X. Schouppe, S.J., “Hell: The Dogma of Hell”; Dante’s “Inferno”; Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement, Question 97, “The Punishment of the Damned”. These are not “fun” reads. But they are each eye-openers. Read them and weep. Read them and repent. Read them and do penance. Read them and resolve to become a Saint and to help others to do the same.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka