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Heaven_and_Hell1Someone once asked the famous mystic Padre Pio, what he thought of modern people who didn’t believe in hell. His blunt reply was, “They will believe in hell when they get there.”

Must we believe in hell? Surely, when faced with Auschwitz, Hiroshima, the Boko Haram, and the barbarians of ISIS, the question should be, “Is it possible not to believe in hell?” I don’t simply refer to the fact that concentration camps were a kind of hell on earth. Instead I wonder how one can deny the existence of a place of severe and eternal punishment when faced with Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, murderous jihadists, and African soldiers who chop off little girls’ hands for fun.

When faced with such monsters can we really cry with our suburban good conscience, “God would not send anyone to burn forever in the fires of everlasting torment!” If it were true that there is no hell I, for one, would be howling with rage at the insanity and unfairness of it all. Yet those who deny the existence of hell calmly assume that their denial shows how enlightened and humane (and therefore fair) they are.

I would like to think that the people who deny the existence of hell are good people. They dismiss the possibility of hell not because they deny the wickedness of human beings, but because they affirm the goodness of God. They believe in a God who is so very good that he would not send anyone to hell.

heavenIt would certainly be pleasant if there were a heaven but not a hell. But can you believe in one without the other? How can someone believe in heaven, which must after all, be a place of goodness (and if goodness, then justice), while denying the fact of hell which makes justice possible? Therefore it seems to me, that if you believe in heaven you must also believe in hell. Hell is somehow written into the constitution of heaven.

Nevertheless, good-hearted people insist that a good God would not possibly send anyone to be tormented in hell for all eternity. This is a laudable sentiment, but I worry that it is only sentimental. Nevertheless, the conviction that God would could not send anyone to hell is a feeling I myself incline to—especially after a warm day in May followed by a very good dinner with three glasses of claret and a snifter of Bourbon in my hand. Furthermore, at that moment I am not usually thinking about Pol Pot or Stalin. I am thinking that God would not send an ordinary, decent fellow like myself to hell.

This is exactly the point where the possibility of hell is meant to knock me down and shake me up. We are told that the road to hell is a wide, smooth, downhill highway, while the road to heaven is a narrow and hard, mountainous climb. What if hell were populated with hordes of overweight, complacent people just like me who never really did anything magnificently evil, but also never bothered to do anything spectacularly good?

When I look at it this way I have the dreadful suspicion that perhaps those who deny hell because God is too good to send anyone there are really proposing that God is too good to send them there. It is ironic that people who believe in heaven are sometimes blamed for wishful thinking. Isn’t it more likely that it is those who disbelieve in hell who are the wishful thinkers? In other words the man who disbelieves in hell hopes he will get away with it after all, and this, it seems to me, is real wishful thinking.

Others protest that the concept of eternal punishment makes God out to be an angry, short-tempered disciplinarian of the worst sort. But is God such a nice. polite deity that he would not be angry enough to send anyone to hell? What if God were more like a passionate and hot-tempered Mediterranean papa? That is not to say that God is petulant and petty. He isn’t angry with wickedness the same way a fifteen-year-old is angry, who refuses to tidy her room. God does not slam the door and stamp his foot. Neither is God angry the way we are when we don’t get our own way. He does not sulk, dish the ice, and then pretend nothing is wrong.

What if, instead, God’s anger is the sort we feel when we hear of a young boy being abducted, raped, killed and chucked into a ditch? What if God’s anger is the sort of anger and revulsion you feel when you see a young African woman whose hands have been cut off by rampaging soldiers, and who cannot cuddle the child those same soldiers gave her when they raped her? What if God’s anger is the disgust you feel when you hear of a middle-aged Barbie clone who has paid thousands for plastic surgery in a world of starving children? When you hear such news don’t you respond with an element of rage as well as disbelief, horror, and grief? Aren’t you righteous to do so? Perhaps God is angry at the wicked in the same way. He sees the everlasting beauty of goodness, the vibrant potential of each human being, and the stunning radiance of his creation, and when it is soiled, trampled, raped, and thrown onto the trash heap by humanity’s folly, greed, stupidity, and violence, he is full of fury, frustration, sorrow, and compassion.

hell-burningDoes that mean God would cast someone down into hell to be tortured forever? Perhaps this too, can be seen the other way around. Is God too good to send someone to hell? It could be that God is so good that he gives everyone exactly what he or she wants. If we have spent our whole lives pursuing love, goodness, beauty and truth, then after death we may get exactly what we always wanted and find ourselves in a land where love, goodness, beauty and truth are as natural and abundant as light.

On the other hand, if our whole lives are spent in an insane flight from all that is good, beautiful and true, then perhaps God in his goodness will also give us exactly what we always wanted… and that would be existence in a madhouse with no exit where love, beauty, goodness, and truth were unknown: an existence in the outer darkness with gibbering maniacs like ourselves.

Life pans out, and despite our greatest efforts, we almost always end up getting what we really want. In fact, this sort of justice is built into the system. We will get what we want just as naturally and certainly as an acorn becomes an oak tree. Giving people what they really want is natural justice. To do otherwise would be cruel.

We think everyone ought to go to heaven, but can we imagine that a person who hated God, goodness, truth and beauty all his life would actually enjoy heaven? If they could visit that place of eternal beauty and laughter, they would howl with serious terror and run with all their being in the other direction. We know this is true because there are people in this life who hate truth, beauty, and goodness and do everything in their power to flee from the light.

Does God send them to hell? I think he watches them flee to “their own place,” and that he does so with a broken heart, for as Mother Julian of Norwich says, “He looks on us with pity not with blame.”

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This is an edited version of chapter nine of Dwight Longenecker’s book The Quest for the Creed.

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37 replies to this post
  1. From nothing to nothing, with suffering between the day of mortal death and the general ressurection at which time suffering souls hear those dreadful words that have echoed in their souls, ‘depart from me for I know you not’. A loving God would not sustain hell for eternity, but simply withdraws His sustaining power to those he knows not.

  2. Except that contradicts Scripture and the teaching of the Church. Besides, if we are created in God’s image then each one of us has a tiny bit of immortality within us. We are eternal souls. We live forever.

  3. Clearly the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways given that this subject, and this article, is perfect for July 11.

    Today, I’m wondering whether people like President Poroshenko, President Obama and many others will be tossed into Hell or not.

    It’s another July 11th with not one word from any American – not even the US Ambassador in Poland – to commemorate the beginning of the genocide of 200,000 Polish people by Ukranians fighting alongside Hitler’s SS Galicia.

    If it was just a matter of them covering it up – that would be one thing – after all – hiding sin signifies SHAME- and shame means that in the secret space of their consciousness – these people know that they are doing something wrong.

    But the genocide is not hidden – it is not a matter of shame. It is elevated by the Ukranian government to the level of a Founding Act of the Ukranian State. The Ukranian President calls it the “Volyn tragedy” – as in – they had to break some eggs in order to creat their nation-state.

    It disturbs me that in 1943, it was the Gestapo who reported to Hitler that the Ukranians were acting like barbarians – cutting up Poles into small pieces with axes, raping women by the boat loads, tossing people out of windows, burning them in barns.

    It disturbs me even more that the very same people in Ukraine who think that this is perfectly acceptable and a proper “Founding” for their state perpetuated a similar massacre in Odessa.

    And it disturbs me that the American government gives billions of dollars to this criminal government, calling it “democratic” – when it clearly came to power through violent revolution and is holding power through violent war.

    Finally – it is insanely disturbing that the Polish government is silent on the subject – that no one in authority dares speak out in public to comemorate the memory of those murdered because the Polish government hates Russia more than they love Poland.

    So – the question arises: are these people all going to Hell? And will they go of their own volition, or will God toss them in?

    Normally, I agree with Benedict XVI that Hell is a personal dimmension where men go of their own accord when they decide to be alone – because to be with God is to be with the Other.

    Somehow though, I think God has a special place in Hell for bandits who perpetuate a massacre that makes the Gestapo look civilized and for the cowardly politicians in the West who fret and moan about Srebrenica while giving billions of dollars in aid to a government that glorifies one of the worst genocides of the second world war – and I am quite certain God will chuck them into this Hell with vengeful wrath.

    At least until they repent and begin to acknowledge the genocide for what it was.

    Till then – those of us who wish to remember are stuck having to rely on the Russian press to spread the word internationally.

    That is a special Hell in and of itself.

  4. I just finished Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Dare We Hope that All Men be Saved? and I found it convincing. But then again I’ve always been sympathetic to universal salvation. It also had a great introduction by Fr. Robert Baron. Scripture suggests universalism in a number of places and some early fathers and a good number of saints have all sympathized with it. A complex understanding of the universal salvation does not deny hell. It questions whether people are in it or whether it is eternal. At the fundamental root of it is this incongruence of the nature of Christ. While we are alive He is all forgiving, having a sacred heart of infinite compassion, love, and mercy. Once we’re dead, all of a sudden He’s an ogre of mercilessness where we are tortured for infinity and there’s no hope. How could that be? The Christian God is a God of justice and mercy and somehow He finds the means to measure out both. The fact that there is no hope in the current conception of the afterlife is problematic. In Christ there always has to be hope, and so can hell be eternal? In the end Christ “will draw all men to Himself” (Jn 12:32) and “that He have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32).

    • I am glad that you DESIRE all men to be saved. In that you are like God who desires that none be lost but that all come to repentance. I also desire that all men be saved.

      Here’s my understanding. Desiring something does not make it true. Jesus said about His Church: “He who hears you, hears Me. And He who rejects you, rejects Me and rejects Him who sent Me.”

      Why do people think they are wiser than the Church?

      Answer: Original sin. Actually, the EFFECTS of original sin. One of the effects of original sin is that our ability to REASON (including our ability to think logically) is wounded. Not destroyed. But, severely wounded.

      This is why Proverbs 3:5-7 says:

      “Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
      In all your ways be mindful of him,
      and He will make straight your paths.
      fear the Lord and turn away from evil…”
      (emphasis mine)

      Jesus speaks through HIS Church. He said so Himself. (“He who hear you(i.e., the Church) hears Me…”)

      What does Jesus teach about Hell through His Church?

      1) “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.” Catechism of the Catholic Church par. 1033

      2) Hell is a “state of definitive SELF-EXCLUSION from communion with God and the blessed…” (emphasis mine) Ibid, par. 1033

      3) “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.” (emphasis mine) Ibid.

      4) “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.” Catechism, par. 1035

      5) “God…does not want ‘any to perish, but all to come to repentance” Ibid 1037; 2 Peter 3:9

      Your two Biblical quotes: 1) Christ “will draw all men to Himself” and “that He will have mercy upon all” are both taken out of context (a classic Biblical interpretation mistake; see Catechism 112-114) and completely ignores all of the other quotes about the reality of Hell and its eternity. Do we just ignore Jesus saying:

      “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the ETERNAL fire.” (emphasis mine) Matthew 25:41

      Jesus proclaims He “will send His angels, and they will gather…all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire” Matthew 13:41-42

      Jesus said: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard , that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14

      Jesus warned us more than all other Biblical figures combined about the reality and eternity of Hell.

      Now, to your two quotes.

      “Christ ‘will draw all men to Himself'”

      This does not mean that ALL will be saved. It means that:

      “God never ceases to draw man to Himself. This INVITATION to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being.” (emphasis mine) Catechism, par. 27

      Like any INVITATION, man can reject this invitation. Especially because God has given man “free will” to love God or reject God. This is because love has to be a free response–or its not love. Its coercion.

      Your second quote:

      “that he will have mercy on all” is true but this does not mean all will be saved.

      God will have mercy on the damned but the damned will reject His mercy. Again from the Catechism:

      “To die in mortal sin without repenting and ACCEPTING GOD’S MERCIFUL LOVE means remaining separated from Him forever by our own free choice.” (emphasis mine) par. 1033

      Again, that is my understanding. I welcome your thoughts on my understanding.

      • Where did I say it was a desire? You’re putting words in my mouth. I don’t deny what the Catechism teaches, and neither does von Balthasar. Yes, i heard that one that men choose to be in hell, but that too would be going against scripture. There are a number of places where it says people are cast into the fire. Either Christ is merciless in his justice or there’s more than we understand of what’s behind the veil of revelation. Where does it say it has all been revealed to us? Christ wasn’t revealed until thousands of years after Abraham.

      • “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.”

        A man lives 80 years as a devout Catholic. He loves God and neighbor; he follows the precepts of the Church; he is a true disciple of Christ.

        Then, one Sunday morning as he lies in bed, he simply decides he is going to skip Mass that day. No excuses; he just doesn’t feel like going. He thinks to himself, “I’ll go to confession Monday morning.” He makes this decision with full knowledge that it is wrong. He bears full moral culpability. He commits a mortal sin. He has separated himself from the grace of God.

        On his way to confession Monday morning, he’s still wondering to himself if he’s even sorry for skipping Mass, thinking he is probably not sorry. Bam! He gets hit by a bus and dies.

        Is he is going to hell forever? Seems harsh. But as I understand it, this is what the Church teaches.

        • I know it doesn’t add up. But that’s not even what I’m pointing out. My point is that even the worst sinner – Hitler for instance – would receive mercy. Not a free pass mind you, but justice and mercy. It’s the infinity of hell that is problematic.

        • In the hypothetical you posted, the man who is killed by a bus on his way to confession will be forgiven. He has, in effect, been remorseful for missing Mass of his own volition. My source for this statement is my priest-professor, probably in my class on dogma.

        • Dear Don,

          I find some contradictions in your hypothetical case. On one hand you say that this hypothetical man is a “devout Catholic who loves God,” but on the other hand you say that he deliberately committed a mortal sin. A man who truly loves God does not deliberately commit a mortal sin.

          As Fr. James Wathen once wrote: “Saints live in the same world we do, and they are just as able to violate God’s law as we are, but they do not do so in a serious way. They live with a constant attention to the morality of all their acts, so that they might avoid breaking His law in the smallest way. They stand guard upon themselves lest they do, and they exercise such discipline over their will and emotions that they do not often sin even indeliberately. Such is their love of God and His law that the avoidance of sin is the main effort of their lives.”

          I would have to say that the hypothetical man you invented would be condemned because he died without perfect contrition as evident by his questioning right before his death whether he was even sorry for missing Mass.

          To go to Heaven is to be with Jesus for all eternity. It would be rather akward for someone to be there who right before his death questioned whether he was even sorry or not for having gravely offending Him.

    • “No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish.” Luke 13:3

      “No, I say to you; but except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish.” Luke 13:5

      “And a certain man said to Him: Lord, are they few that are saved? But He said to them: Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able. But when the master of the house shall be gone in, and shall shut the door, you shall begin to stand without, and knock at the door, saying: Lord, open to us. And He answering, shall say to you: I know you not, whence you are. Then you shall begin to say: We have eaten and drunk in Thy presence, and Thou hast taught in our streets. And He shall say to you: I know you not, whence you are: depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And there shall come from the east and the west, and the north and the south; and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And behold, they are last that shall be first; and they are first that shall be last.” Luke 13:23-30

      Christ is clear. Nothing ambiguous about His warnings. Those who reject those warnings will have no one to blame but themselves once they reap what they have sown during their particular judgment..

  5. My own opinion on this (and it’s just that, my opinion) is that the idea there are only two options in the next life disturbs our human sense of justice. Shouldn’t there be gradations of both reward and punishment just like we have right here on Earth? Or, to put it another way, here’s an old, but very funny, joke that sort of gets across this idea:

    An old man dies and goes to Heaven, but first he has to get by St. Peter, who asks him one simple question.

    “Have you ever cheated on your wife?”

    “No, never” says the man.

    “That’s excellent!” replies Peter. “Here’s a brand new Rolls Royce for you to drive around in.”

    The next man in line is asked the same question “Did you cheat on your wife?”

    “Well, once”, he replies.

    “That’s pretty good. You get a BMW”

    The 3rd man admits to cheating 3 times and gets a Honda. The 4th a dozen times and gets a motorcycle, and the 5th a hundred times and gets a bicycle.

    A couple hours later the guy on the bicycle sees the guy in the Rolls, and he’s crying his eyes out.

    “What’s wrong?” says the guy on the bike, “You got a great car and I just have this stupid bike.”

    “I just saw my wife go by”


    “She was on roller skates!”

  6. Good joke! i’ll steal that one….Regarding your wish for gradation of reward. This is part of Catholic teaching: it’s called purgatory. In purgatory we will continue the purification process according to our own sins and weaknesses. Catholic teaching also suggests that heaven will be hierarchical–everyone enjoying the same beatific vision, but enjoying it each from our own place in in the delight of our own assigned place. I may be in a lower level of heaven than the great saints, but I will be just as delighted as they are because I will be in my right place.

  7. This article is great. I often bring this subject up to everyone that leads an unfaithful life; a sinfull path and denies God’s existance to me. And one needs to start studying this from life’s origin, from the begining of creation, from the start. Because the world didn’t begin when I was born.

    God doesn’t send anyone anywhere.

    He gave us “Free Will” and we choose our own future whether it be hear in this material world or in our later spiritual life, if we believe in the spiritual life herein after this materialistic world.

    Jesus was crucified between two thieves. To One, He promised entrance into the kingdom of heaven, His father’s house. What happened to the other thief? Where did he go? Bible never says.

    One needs to ask and seek the following basic issues; for I belive that ignorance itself is a sin.
    Is there such ideals as good and evil?
    Do God and Satan really exists?
    Is there a God, creator, and a Satan, destroyer of all good?
    Do we really have a soul, that God gave us?
    Are we the only matter God created that he gave a spirit?
    Is there really another life after this material one?
    So, is there a heaven and hell, where we choose through our own doings and actions in this life?

    But God has a dialogue with Satan in the biblical book of Job where Job chooses, by his own will and actions, his future. Neither one pupeted Job into doing what he did.

    God bless us.

  8. Forgive me Father for I may have sinned. I have freely stolen from your articles on several occasions for my homilies. So I find myself in the unusual situation of thanking you for that which I have stolen from you. In light of what I just read, I felt the need to confess.

  9. Just a thought, but it makes sense to me…No one knows exactly when death occurs. Presumably it is when the brain can no longer process information or respond to any stimulus. Is it not possible that in the moments between apparent death and true death, Jesus appears to the person and shows him/her who He is in all His glory? He then shows the person the sum total of his life with all the sins he has committed and asks one question: Are you sorry (do you repent?) for your sins and do you accept my atonement for them?…You might ask who could say no to such an offer, but PRIDE is perhaps the one factor that could cause such a person to turn his back on the Lord and reject Him completely. I believe that if hell exists and is populated, it is with these kinds of people who cannot let go of their pride and narcissism. What say you, Father?

  10. A man once went to confession with Padre Pio.
    – “Father, I don’t believe that Hell truly exists”
    St Pio replied: “Don’t worry my son, you will believe in Hell when you will be in it”

  11. ‘The number of the elect is so small – so small – that were we to know how small it is, we should faint away with grief. The number of the elect is so small that were God to assemble them together, He would cry to them, as He did of old, by the mouth of His prophet, “Gather yourselves together, one by one” – one from this province, one from that kingdom.’ – St. Louis Marie de Montfort

    ‘A multitude of souls fall into the depths of Hell, and it is of the faith that all who die in mortal sin are condemned for ever and ever. According to statistics, approximately 80,000 persons die every day. How many of these will die in mortal sin, and how many will be condemned! For, as their lives have been, so also will be their end.’ – St. Anthony Mary Claret

    ‘Our chronicles relate an even more dreadful happening. One of our brothers, well-known for his doctrine and holiness, was preaching in Germany. He represented the ugliness of the sin of impurity so forceful that a woman fell dead of sorrow in front of everyone. Then, coming back to life, she said, “When I was presented before the Tribunal of God, sixty thousand people arrived at the same time from all parts of the world; out of that number, three were saved by going to Purgatory, and all the rest were damned.’
    – St. Leonard of Port Maurice

    ‘Meditate on the horrors of Hell which will last for eternity because of one easily-committed mortal sin. Try hard to be among the few who are chosen. Think of the eternal flames of Hell, and how few there are that are saved.’ – St. Benedict Joseph Labre

    ‘In the Great Deluge in the days of Noah, nearly all mankind perished, eight persons alone being saved in the Ark. In our days a deluge, not of water but of sins, continually inundates the earth, and out of this deluge very few escape. Scarcely anyone is saved.’
    – St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Doctor of the Church


  12. Hell, being the eternal awareness of absence from God’s presence, does exist. The fallen angels sent themselves there. If God allowed these superior beings to disown themselves, why would He hesitate to allow us to do the same if that was our wish?

  13. Believing in heaven is easy, believing in hell is difficult. I have and will always believe in the destruction of the soul for the very bad. But it makes for some great movies.

  14. A very thoughtful and persuasive essay. I add one thought, however–Years ago, an old Episcopalian priest told me “Heaven and Hell should always be capitalized, as they are real, like Toledo or Disneyland.”

  15. I fear that many of these comments are fuel for the flames of scrupulosity…If we go through the day being fearful that the smallest step of sin will condemn us to hell should we die in that moment, then we become obsessed, self-centered, and cannot effectively carry out our God-given mission to evangelize and care for each other…How can one not become scrupulous if he believes as many do, that only an infinitesimal number of souls will make it to heaven?…

  16. I think part of the problem is that society presumes upon the mercy of God while conveniently forgetting that God is also just. Relying on God’s mercy means that one can do whatever one wants secure in the knowledge that God will forgive it in the end. This attitude is why I’m a little concerned about the Holy Father’s declaration of a Year of Mercy next year. Without true contrition and at least an effort to “go and sin no more,” mercy is mere indifference.

  17. Thanks for your excellent post Fr. Longenecker! Always enjoy your articles! Since St. Leonard of Port Maurice was mentioned in the comments, I think all should read his sermon entitled “The Little Number of Those Who are Saved”. St. Leonard authored the Divine Praises and founded 600 Stations of the Cross throughout Europe. He is the patron saint of parish missions.

  18. Experiences from those who have died and come back, the so-called Near Death Experience, reveal what may be perfect afterlife justice, summarized here by one man’s experience of being subjected to just the sort of torment he inflicted upon others in life. This did not last for eternity (especially since he was apparently not finished with this life), and there was mercy and compassion offered to him as this process continued. Is this what utimately happens? Eternity seems simply absurdly beyond being proper punishment, excessive beyond even what seems the worst crimes humans can commit, and reflects an attitude that seems to think once we are dead we are through evolving spiritually. Cannot someone repent from Hell? I don’t think this is traditionally Christian, but then, Christianity offers but one perpective on the afterlife.

  19. My mother and father are good people who are Catholic and thus are said to likely go to heaven. Meanwhile, although I am a good person, I no longer believe in God. That is a mortal sin. Thus, according to the catechism, I am said to be headed to hell.

    If heaven is a “good” place, how can my parents spend a happy eternity while their son is in hell?

    And if hell is indeed a place full of torture, I do not understand how heavenly people could exist with the knowledge that their non-believing but kind friends and family are suffering from eternal abuse.

    • Dear Gee,

      You say that “although I am a good person…,” I think this could be your problem that is keeping you away from the faith. God resists the proud and reveals Himself to the humble. Heaven is not for those who think they are “good people.” Heaven is for those who have the humility to recognize that we are wretched sinners in need of a Savior. Have you never disrespected your parents, never been mean to anyone else, never gossiped, never injured another’s reputation, always exercised patience and meekness towards your neighbors, even your enemies?

      “Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican. I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner. I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather than the other: because every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.” (St. Luke 18:10-14)

    • “If heaven is a “good” place, how can my parents spend a happy eternity while their son is in hell?”
      That is an interesting wrinkle that I have never seen anyone else make. But I’ll shall also pray for your soul. I hope someday you can see the beauty and joy of believing.

    • It is a valid question and one that I, as a lay person, have pondered too.

      I would suggest the answer may be in the same way that we come to terms with death here on earth. Do we not go about our lives after a period of mourning, never forgetting and always feeling the loss, but somehow managing to let the goodness of what is around you comfort you, the family and friends you have and the new friends and family that are to come?

      If you were to die today, your parent’s would have to come to terms, here on earth, with the thought that you are more likely not heaven bound based on what you say and the presumption that they are aware of your belief (or lack thereof).

      I do not imagine for one second that anyone would be blowing raspberries from Heaven in the direction of Hell, there has to be some coming to terms period knowing that not all made it, however, I would wonder that in the case of already deceased family and friends, as above, a greater part of mourning has already occurred, and for those who are to come, well, this may give a good explanation for the communion of saints, in that situation, you would most likely start praying for them in earnest, just like those that can would presently be praying for you.

  20. Gee, just because someone is Catholic and considered to be “good” by others does not mean they go to heaven. All must “work out their salvation with fear and trembling”, as St. Paul said. This means that striving for heaven is a lot of work! Jesus taught that in order to achieve salvation we have to keep the commandments and live the Gospel every day. This is why most don’t make it. We can’t just sit back and coast into heaven. We have to be actively finding ways to be in the world as the “body of Christ”, reaching out to others with love and compassion. Jesus came into the world to show us the way to eternal happiness with our Creator. Every day we each make the choice to follow His way or not. Once reaching heaven, there will be no tears or unhappiness. The soul will no longer worry about earthly things, such as where family members end up. Each of us is created by God in hopes we will freely choose to seek Him and love Him. God knows us before we enter our mothers’ wombs. Scripture says this. God puts infinite value on our freedom of choice. He does not send us to hell…we freely choose it by our words and actions. I’m sure it is agonizing for your parents that you are an atheist and that they pray for you every day. If they brought you up in the faith and taught you to love God but you have decided to ignore their teaching and their example you will have to face the consequences if you do not change. We have an opportunity to change up until the point of death. Jesus spoke at length about both heaven and hell. Each person has to decide whether or not to heed this teaching. There is an interesting account of a soldier who had a near death experience who also thought himself a good person. You can find it on YouTube. Do a search for “Sean Weed testimony on hell”. The first 20 minutes are pretty dull but after that it gets interesting. I think God tries to get through to us in many different ways. He is rooting for us to get to heaven as He loves us so much!

  21. “The soul will no longer worry about earthly things, such as where family members end up.”

    If that is true, then why do Catholic funeral liturgies and prayers mention reunification with the deceased in heaven?

  22. Gee, your question is a good one. It is true that today’s Catholic liturgies put a significant amount of emphasis on those left behind and their grief. It’s fine for those loved ones to hope for a time where they might be reunited with the deceased in heaven, and this is what the priest may be promoting- that hope. There’s no harm in that but it should be remembered that a funeral Mass is supposed to be about the soul of the one who has passed on. In the past, funerals focused primarily on this. The family was urged to pray for their loved one’s soul which would need assistance in getting out of Purgatory quicker than the required time of purification. Any regrets one might have about what he/she did or didn’t do in a relationship with the deceased can now be resolved by putting all one’s efforts into praying for the soul! I think the lack of focus on the reality of purgatory is one of the greatest reasons many people don’t believe in hell. Purgatory is one of God’s greatest graces! If it weren’t for the existence of purgatory almost everyone would go to hell. Souls must be completely purified before entering heaven. This purification is what purgatory accomplishes.

  23. To reconcile apparent Gospel contradictions is a challenge for all. Did St. Thomas Aquinas clarify St. Augustine or tackle unresolved questions St. Augustine admitted existed but were beyond his vision? How to reconcile the conflict between ‘ I know you not ‘ or ‘ he would have been better off had he never been born ‘ with the infinite mercy of God or the justice of God, a justice which we must admit we will never understand in its entirety? All we have is the Gospel and the Church as Pastor, a Church that is open to Gospel clarification. It seems the question, as pointed out above, is ‘ eternity ‘, with the question that forced meditation being, ‘Would a loving God sustain evil for eternity, evil being a separation from God ‘ ? So let’s see. Agreement on the fact that creation is sustained by the power of God is taken for granted. So, we are to believe that God is willing to sustain heaven and hell for eternity? Is there another way to resolve the question? If we look at the Gospel, it seems our Lord reserves a separate category of judgement for those who new better, those who should have known better, those who God knows who should have known better. Why didn’t you buy sufficient lamp oil? Why didn’t you give more after you received more. I knew your heart and how much you were given and you walked away.
    What is ‘ the fear and trembling ‘ if not the reduced sense of self-worth or the elevation of communion based on the more profound sense of humility? We believe the ‘ Cross ‘ covers a multitude of sins, but not all, the blaspheming of the Holy Spirit.

    A friend asked this rhetorical question, ‘ Of all the categories of sinners, which category will have the greatest percentage of those sent to hell ‘ ? His answer, Catholic Priests.

    Does God’s mercy include the withdrawing of His sustaining power to end the existence of hell thereby fulfilling the greatest commandment that is love?

    Does God eliminate human anxiety in heaven by overpowering a sense of loss?

    To be remembered, we are all members of the ‘ Royal Priesthood ‘.

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