Detail of the right wing of Fra Angelico’s Last Judgement. It shows the seven hells, one for each sin, in line with the description in Dante’s Inferno. The monster in the center may be a reference to the Leviathan in the Old Testament.
Collect of the Day:
Father help us to seek the values that will bring us eternal joy in this changing world. In our desire for what you promise make us one in heart and mind.
We make our prayer through Jesus Christ your Son Our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, ever One God world without end. Amen.
The First Reading: Acts of the Apostles: 14:5-18: We have come with Good News to make you turn from these vain things to the living God.
The Gospel John: 14-21-26: The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send will teach you all things.
Today we conclude our series on the ‘Four Last Things’, With a discussion on: Hell: Most people have some difficulty with the doctrine of Hell, a place of everlasting punishment. Primarily because it is hard to reconcile with a God of goodness and love. It has become quite unfashionable to talk about, let alone preach on the subject of Hell in the present age.
As we said the other day in our talk on Judgement: Christianity is not a lucky dip, we cannot choose to agree with Jesus when he pleases our sensibilities and ignore what He says when it is challenging or does not fall within the thought patterns of popular thinking.
Some argue that Hell does not exist on the basis of their belief that Jesus is a teacher of mercy, love, peace, and forgiveness, and that He did not teach about a place of eternal punishment. However, the exact opposite is true. Jesus taught more about Hell than anyone else in the Word of God. In fact if it was not for Jesus’s teaching on Hell, we would know very little about it. Jesus described Hell as an unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12), a place of eternal fire, (Matthew 25:41) eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46), and as a place of torment, fire, and agony (Luke 16:23-24). Jesus taught specifically about Hell many times in His ministry (Matthew 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43-47; Luke 12:6; 16:23).
Therefore Jesus is the prime, if not the sole source of our knowledge about Hell. We should ask ourselves if we trust Him enough to believe that what He says is the truth. And if we cannot trust Him on this matter can we trust His teachings on the love, forgiveness and mercy of God or anything else He had to say? It brings us back to the Apostles with Jesus on the road to Caesarea Philippi:
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” (Matthew 16:13-15).
So who do we say Jesus is, can we answer with Peter:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
If we can, we have no right to reject this teaching of Christ simply because we regard it as too fierce or too unpleasant. So while the Church follows Christ in teaching that Hell exists, there is no Church teaching that any person is certainly in Hell. God is not cruel, He is infinitely more loving than the best of Human Parents. But God does respect our freedom of choice: therefore He is powerless before a Human refusal to repent and must deliver justice as it is due.
While Jesus told of the eternal fires of Hell. Others have described it as total separation from God and the ‘Beatfic Vision’, absence of meaning, loneliness and terror. The doctrine of Hell should never be used to bully or cajole people into following Christ or be used as a threat to the young. Its reality should be taught, as to be forewarned is to be forearmed. And ultimately we are not the final judges, we must leave that to Our loving, forgiving and just God, remembering the words of the old hymn:
”There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, which is wider than the sea.”
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy. (Fatima Prayer)