Grace: To feel intensely the pain of those who are eternally separated from God, so that the very thought of eternal separation from Him would cause me so much sorrow that I would cry out to the Lord for strength to avoid sin.
Text for Meditation: Lk 15.25-32
Reflection: A woman writhes and screams in pain as she goes into another excruciating hour of intensive labor. A man gazes helplessly into the alert, tearful eyes of his teenage daughter as she breathes her last breaths. A wounded soldier cowers in the trenches, clenching a photo of his pregnant wife. Parents sitting in the cold courtroom waiting for the verdict that will determine their only son’s future. Children shivering under their blankets as their parents fight through the night.
All of us have experienced hell in one way or another. Hell happens in daily life when love seems to be lacking or losing to a stronger force. Even an apparent lack of love gives us a glimpse of hell. It’s when we have a taste of hell do we realize that we need love like we need oxygen. In realizing how much we need love, we realize how much those around us need our love. Seeing that the fires of hell on earth are beyond the capacity of our love to extinguish, we turn to Christ to increase our capacity to love before we drag those fires with us into the next life.
When people say, “The hell with hell!” it’s probably because they think eternity in fire and sulfur is just a scam to get children to behave and congregations to give money. Understanding hell as drowning in apathy, burning in despair, and freezing in fear—as “life” without God!—makes roasting on a grill for eternity seem like cherry pie compared to hell.
“‘What is hell?’ I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”
-Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Think of the most hellish moment in your life. Bring to mind the emotions and people involved. If given the choice to sit in that agony forever, would you say “yes”? Perhaps it seems ridiculous for anyone to say “yes” to the ultimate “no” to joy and happiness, but we are equipped to do it.
Why would anyone choose hell anyway? In good Jesuit fashion, this question can be answered with another question: If holding a grudge can raise havoc in the spirit and mind and cause stress, high blood pressure, muscle tension, insomnia, and poor digestion, why not forgive? Paradise is an apology and an absolution away. To hold on to labor pains from this life to the next without ever giving birth to new life is bloody hell.
In The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, one of the ghosts considers crossing into heaven, but a vicious lizard on his shoulder impedes him. An angel offers to kill it, but the ghost finds every excuse to keep it there. “Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please-really-don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.” Even with all the strength and grace we need from God, sometimes we just don’t want to take that one last step into heaven. Some people choose to live and die with this choice for all eternity, making life and death a living hell.
“‘Eternal damnation’, therefore, is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to his love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice forever.”
-Bl. Pope John Paul II, General Audience, 28 July 1999
O my God, I am heartily sorry for
having offended you, and I detest
all my sins, because of Your just
punishments, but most of all because
they offend You, my God, who are
all-good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of
Your grace, to sin no more and to
avoid the near occasion of sin.