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So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.—2 Thessalonians 2:15

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hell.No. A Spiritual Exercise

Cpl. Walter 'Radar' O'Reilly: Oh - hell!
Captain B.J. Hunnicut: What?
Cpl. Walter 'Radar' O'Reilly: You heard me! H-e-double toothpicks!
—M.A.S.H., Episode 107, The Colonel's Horse.
Perhaps the motivation for this post is ubiquitous injustice. There is little need to list the tragedies and evil enterprises going on in the world for anyone with a TV, radio or computer.

The target market of this meditation, if you will, is not the faithful believer but the obstinate, wrathful sinner who should know that he, even if he makes himself our enemy, is loved and that he needs to realize his evil actions are putting his soul in peril. Indeed, the very topic of this post should shock him, like a defibrillator that is used to restart a heart that has ceased to beat in sympathy for others, a heart that is indifferent to suffering, a heart in the chest of a man whose actions cause others intense suffering. Can you think of such a heart these days?

In the event such a deadened heart can not be restarted, it may be that evil's grasp is so complete that hell for that person has already begun. The hell that begins after death should come as little surprise, then, for that person who has made life on earth a living hell for others. We can only hope that in that moment preceding his final judgement, he will repent and avoid the torments of an everlasting hell. May God have mercy on such a man.

A reading from an ancient health manual, so-to-speak, begins this meditation on one of the four last things (CCC 1020-1041).

The Didache, the Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles (or Nations) by the Twelve Apostles, states: "There are two ways, one of life and one of death! And there is a great difference between the two ways."
The way of death,... is this: It is evil and accursed—murders, adulteries, lust, illicit sex, thefts, idolatries, magical arts, sorceries, robberies, false testimonies, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness—those who do not fear God.

The way of death is the way of those who persecute the good, hate the truth, love lies, and do not understand the reward for righteousness. They do not cleave to good or righteous judgment; they do not watch for what is good, but for what is evil. They are strangers to meekness and patience, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, without pity for the needy and oppressed. They do not know their Creator; they are murderers of children, destroyers of God's image. They turn away from those who are in need, making matters worse for those who are distressed. They are advocates for the rich, unjust judges of the poor. In a word, the way of death is full of those who are steeped in sin. Be delivered, children, from all of this!
First & Lasting Moment
For we must all be manifested before the judgement seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil.—2 Corinthians 5:10
Represent to yourself a dark city all burning and stinking with fire and brimstone. The damned are in the depth of hell within this woeful city, where they suffer unspeakable torments in all their senses and members. Consider above all the eternity of their pains, which above all things makes hell intolerable.—St. Francis de Sales.
Imagine, if you dare, the first moments in hell for the damned soul. Consider the shock then horror in that instant realization of where you are, and what you are. Then, in a instant shorter than any moment imaginable this side of the afterlife, utter despair breathes you like you formerly breathed air, a despair that fills every recess of what's left of your fractured soul upon awakening to the nightmare that you have entered for all eternity.
Totus tremo atque horreo; ad memoriam istius regionis concussa sunt omnla ossa me.
I am filled with fear and trembling, and all my bones are shaken at the thought of that unhappy country of the damned.—St. Bernard.
Knowing completely the choices which led you to this hell, you fill with rage, first at yourself for not listening to the voice of God given to you through other people more concerned for your soul that you ever were yourself, and then rage at every one else living and dead, especially those who dare pollute and defile your misery with their own misery and contempt for you. Your rage extends in every direction and in no direction because there is no time and space in hell, only immediate absence. Your rage, too, is immediate, limitless and unrestrainable, an unending fury that you now inhabit, or rather, that inhabits you.
I saw the torments of hell and those of purgatory; no words can describe them. Had poor mortals the faintest idea of them, they would suffer a thousand deaths rather than undergo the least of their torments during a single day.—St. Catherine of Siena.
But the wicked are like the raging sea, which cannot rest, and the waves thereof cast up dirt and mire. There is no peace to the wicked, saith the Lord God.—Isaiah 57:20-21
Your education is complete, though it has only just begun. This education of unending death becomes an introduction to enslavement to the tyrant who is the author of enslavement, the beast who fuels your despair and rage by judging you for eternity. He is the accuser, and you stand accused. Lucifer mocks and derides you. Your presence disgusts him and fuels his anger at God for, in Satan's opinion, creating such a miserable, pathetic, cowering, weak and whining creature.
Before I go, and return no more, to a land that is dark and covered with the mist of death: a land of misery and darkness, where the shadow of death, and no order, but everlasting horror dwelleth.—Job 10:21-22
In the judgement that follows death, the soul that recognizes and clings to its consuming opposition to truth is stripped of the last vestiges of its humanity and, deprived of its light, descends into shadow, for the damned soul is all shadow. Hell is of our making, but it is not ours to own. Hell is owned by Satan and all damned souls are owned by the first-fallen, the demon whose real estate is the third of heaven that fell with him, an abyss of cruelty which now consumes hollow souls, a raging fire of hatred, jealousy, envy and loss.
Why do we believe there's a hell? Not because we're vindictive. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Why, then? Simply because we've been told, by Christ himself. There's a popular fallacy that Jesus spoke only comforting words and that the fear of hell began with Saint Paul. The textual truth is the opposite: Jesus uttered many "hell fire and damnation" sermons, while nearly all the passages that offer any hope to the universalist (who believe all men will be saved in the end) are from Paul.

Fear of hell is not a base motive. As George MacDonald says, "As long as there are wild beasts about, it is better to be afraid than secure." God's graciousness accepts even the "low" motive of fear of hell for salvation if that's the best we can muster. His arms are open to all prodigals. He is not high-minded, like some of his detractors. All's fair in love and war. And life is both.

Hell follows from two other doctrines: heaven and free will. If there is a heaven, there can be a not-heaven. And if there is free will, we can act on it and abuse it. Those who deny hell must also deny either heaven (as does Western secularism) or free will (as does Eastern pantheism).

Hell and heaven make life serious. Heaven without hell removes the bite from life's drama. C. S. Lewis once said that he never met a single person who had a lively faith in heaven without a similar belief in hell. The height of the mountain is measured by the depth of the valley, the greatness of salvation by the awfulness of the thing we're saved from.
—Dr. Peter Kreeft. Hell.
End. Note.

The Church does not say who dwells in hell. She does, however, teach with zeal how to avoid it, and by the authority given the Church by God she offers the grace of God, i.e., the sacraments (especially Penance) to help us remain on the path of life. The farther someone walks along the path of death, however, the more probable hell becomes the inevitable conclusion for a soul accustomed to the way of death.

The way to avoid hell is to walk the path of life, to strive each day to be in communion with Jesus Christ and His Church, to pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit that helps one cooperate with God's grace and enables one to conform one's soul to the saving truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We, all of us, are called to a personal intimate communion with the Holy Trinity. Let us enter into this communion through the door Who is Jesus Christ, the one Saviour of all mankind, for it is through Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, that we draw closer to the Father. Amen.
The way of life is this: First, you shall love God who made you. And second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you.
The meaning of these sayings is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the heathens do the same? But you should love those who hate you, and then you shall have no enemies.
Abstain from fleshly and bodily lusts: If someone strikes your right cheek, turn the other also, and be perfect. If someone forces you to go one mile, go two. If someone takes your cloak, give also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, don't ask for it back.—Didache, Chapter 1.

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We are not just material beings, but spiritual persons with a need for meaning, purpose, and fulfillment that transcends the visible confines of this world. This longing for transcendence is a longing for truth, goodness, and beauty. Truth, goodness, and beauty are called the transcendentals of being, because they are aspects of being. Everything in existence has these transcendentals to some extent. God, of course, as the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty, has these transcendentals to an infinite degree. Oftentimes, He draws us to Himself primarily through one of these transcendentals. St. Augustine, who was drawn to beauty in all its creaturely forms, found the ultimate beauty he was seeking in God, his creator, the beauty “ever ancient, ever new.”―Sister Gabriella Yi, O.P.