In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen
My dearly beloved in Our Lord,
Each Sunday now Holy Church prays in the Offertory antiphon: “De profundis… – Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord.” (Ps 129,1-2)
Psalm 129 is the typical prayer for the dead. It directs our minds towards divine Hope, and towards divine mercy.
We rely on God’s mercy in order that our souls may escape Hell. The virtue of Hope directs the eyes of our souls towards Heaven and “keeps us going” on the way to get there.
A married person recently remarked how frightening it is to think of the future, and to give new life in the present times. Yes and no. Yes, because the days are evil since we live in a pagan world that almost totally refuses God and the means given by Him so that we may save our souls – and the social consequences of this state of affairs are enormous. No, because essentially things do not change, and each soul is being created by God in order to attain eternal bliss; and His means are always at hand for the souls of good will.
So please allow me to take you on a brief tour through Hell, in order that you may better understand what is at stake; that this is the one thing to avoid, and that every means given by God is good and useful in order to escape the eternal punishment. And we must make good use of these means given by God for our salvation, rather than whinge and whine about that which is lacking…
St John Bosco – who died in 1888, not all that long ago – was taken on a guided tour to Hell in one of his “dreams”. Certainly he had most of these visions for the benefit of his task as an educator of many hundreds of boys, and he passed on their content to them in a wise and appropriate manner.
The first thing most frightening is the approach of Hell. It starts out with a road that slowly descends at first. Then the road is becoming ever more abrupt and difficult, with many occasions to stumble. He who falls down is carried away in an incredible rush towards the bottom of the abyss. Those who follow the downward road for a little while only, one moment too long, desperately try to get back upwards, but their fate is already sealed.
“Principiis obsta! – Withstand the beginnings!” is one of those precious proverbs we should always remember. With regards to following God’s commands, i.e. in the moral life, there is no “small” or “insignificant” matter. Not only must we avoid every single mortal sin. In order to succeed in doing so, we must put up a fence wide enough in order to keep away the enemy so he cannot even get close. If we let the threefold enemy of our salvation – the wicked world, the devil and our fallen ego – get anything like close to our own self, there is no insurance for being preserved from the most disastrous consequences.
So we must not allow ourselves to get onto that descending slope, for fear of it being the inception of a road with no return!
As the souls who had engaged on that slope and slid down towards the abyss were reaching the fiery gate of Hell, the gate opened and made them to disappear – forever.
St John Bosco was then made to enter this horrible place in order to pass on to us some impressions of it. He is not the only Saint to whom Hell has been shown. St Theresa of Avila was once shown “her place” in Hell, i.e. the horrible niche, as she describes it, reserved for her if she did not change and lead a truly fervent life.
It is best if you read up the whole description given by St John Bosco yourself and in all detail. What he describes are foremost the pains endured by the human senses – the odor, the flames… – as a just punishment for the sins committed with the help of our five senses. It is a great mystery that the souls – now separated from the human body until the resurrection of the dead – can nevertheless endure pain through the senses. But it cannot be otherwise.
The very flames of Hell which are real flames, according to the Church’s teaching, burn the soul, and will also torment the horrendous resurrection bodies of those condemned in Hell. They are made of a fire which burns without enlightening: Hell is the place of utmost darkness. In other words, only the detrimental and excruciating effects of fire as we now it come with the flames of Hell, but none of its benefits.
The Saint’s guide insisted that at the end of this guided tour through Hell he must touch the most outward wall of Hell, far away from the furnace in its center. St John Bosco refused – he was not stupid! – but the guide insisted. He took his arm and made him to touch that wall. At that moment St John Bosco woke up from his dream, and his arm was physically swollen and hurt for several days!
What has been said about the fire of Hell and its devastating effects, is also true for the flames of Purgatory. But it is only “peanuts” when compared to “the Hell of Hell”: Its eternity and the unbearable remorse of conscience.
At the moment of judgment the soul will have seen God, and heard His infinitely just sentence: “Go away from me…” At that moment – the beginning of the immutable instant of eternity – no more ambiguity, no more fussing around with the truth. The soul knows and eternally suffers from that knowledge: By my fault I am condemned. It would have been so relatively easy to save my soul, at that moment of temptation, when I made that decision… But now it is all over, and it is forever… forever… forever and ever.
And then, without any change being possible anymore, the soul is cast away from the sight of her Judge. Forever she is excluded from the beatific vision of her Creator. She is excluded from that which she has been created for: from seeing God and, through this vision, being granted eternal happiness, rest, bliss. The physical pains of the fires of Hell only accidentally add to this essential unhappiness of damnation, poena damni.
My dear Catholics, dear children of God. Who would want to be excluded from happiness when it is so easy to obtain? “His commandments are not heavy”, says St John (1Jn 5,3) if only we are committed to “walk in the truth” (2Jn 4; 3Jn 3). Let us take courage, let us be strong to continue what God has so luckily begun in our soul. Let us change for the better, and God will provide the rest.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
If you would like a copy for yourself please find it here:sermon-161113en