Grace: To feel the pain of those who are eternally separated from God, so that if I should forget God’s love for me, the fear of eternal separation from Him would keep me from sinning.
Reflection: Just as we have meditated upon the moment of death and its inevitability for us, now we turn to meditate upon a second kind of death: an eternal one. Those who have rejected God’s love have issued their own punishment. That punishment is an eternal separation from God, an eternity of being alone.
The thought of Hell makes us uneasy—and for good reason. It is what we ultimately want to avoid, what eats away at our hopes, and what seems to be creeping into this world every day. In this meditation perhaps we could choose to consider and weigh two kinds of Hells.
The first is the Hell of this world. We all carry with us different burdens for different reasons, but they all have the same effect. They all produce suffering, either in us or in others. We have our own personal Hells that seem to rear their ugly heads when we are most vulnerable, weak, and defenseless. They torment us. They drive us from God. They remind us of our powerlessness. They jeer at us and at our seemingly superstitious hope in God.
We must turn to our own personal Hell. Only he or she who has descended to the depths of their Hell can feel the immensity of the love of God for them. Even though this Hell seems limitless and insurmountable, we must remember the central part of the grace we asked for in the beginning of this prayer: if I should forget God’s love for me. In other words, the grace we are asking for is not to forget the love of God.
Our Hells express themselves through our bodies: the incapacity in our hearts to love others or to love ourselves, the incapacity in our eyes to see others as brothers and sisters or to see ourselves as God sees us, the incapacity of my entire body to do what is asked of me, an incapacity that results in spiritual paralysis. As St. Paul says in his Letter to the Romans, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:19).
The second kind of Hell is the one that people tend not to think about. It is the Hell of eternal separation. The suffering that I feel in my own Hell, the suffering that I see others enduring—that is the suffering that is multiplied and endless for those who are eternally separated from God.
Perhaps we could imagine being brought to Hell and descending to its depths. It would be helpful to use our senses and imagine the sights, smells, tastes, touches, and sounds. If Heaven is living forever as glorified bodies in full unity and love with the Trinity, then Hell must be its opposite: the degradation, enslavement, and destruction of the body and soul for all eternity.
At this point in our Lenten journey we might feel that we are at an impasse. We have been meditating upon the reality of sin for some time, and it seems like there is no escape. Are we destined to never overcome the odds and break the shackles of sin that bind us? Is this our lot? Let us not forget the love of God!
Questions: What is my Hell? What does it look like? If it were a place, what would be its length, depth, and breadth? Where is it that I feel most hopeless and alone? What would the pain and suffering of those who are eternally separated from God be like? What would their pain and suffering consist in? Can God’s love be overcome by sin? Who has the final word?