Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Reality of Hell, Part 1
The Lord’s teachings with regard to the reality of Hell certainly are difficult, especially given today’s cultural and social climate. The most difficult questions that arise seem to relate to its eternal nature and how to reconcile its existence with the reality that God is loving and rich in mercy.
The Pastor’s Column for the next four Sundays will present teachings about this uncomfortable yet necessary aspect of what we believe as Catholic Christians. They borrow considerably from a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC: Msgr. Charles Pope
1. Does God love the souls in Hell?
How could they continue to exist if God did not love them, sustain them, and continue to provide for them? God loves because He
might fail to be able to encounter or accept His love, God loves every being He has made, human or angelic.
The souls in Hell may have refused to empty their arms so as to receive His embrace, but God has not withdrawn His love for them. He does permit those who have rejected Him to live apart from Him. God honors their freedom to say no, even respecting it when it becomes permanent, as it has for fallen angels and the souls in Hell.
God is not tormenting the damned. The fire and other miseries are largely expressions of the sad condition of those who have rejected the one thing for which they were made: to be caught up into the love and perfection of God and the joy of all the saints.
2. Is there any good at all in Hell?
Are all the damned punished equally?
While Heaven is perfection and pure goodness, Hell is
pure evil. The reason for this is that evil is the privation (the absence) of something good that
be there. If goodness were completely absent, there simply would be nothing there. Therefore, there must be at least
goodness there in Hell, or else there would be nothing at all. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches,
It is impossible for evil to be pure and without the admixture of good…. [So]those who will be thrust into hell will not be free from all good…those who are in hell can receive the reward of their goods, in so far as their past goods avail for the mitigation of their punishment
(Summa Theologica, Supplement 69.7, reply ad 9).
This can help us understand that God’s punishments are just and that the damned are neither devoid of
experience of good. Even though a soul does not wish to live in God’s Kingdom (demonstrated by that soul’s rejection of God and the values of His Kingdom), the nature of suffering in Hell is commensurate with the sin(s) that caused exclusion from Heaven.
This seems to be true even of demons. In the Rite of Exorcism, the exorcist warns the possessing demons, “The longer you delay your departure, the worse your punishment shall be.” This suggest levels of punishment in Hell based on the degree of unrepented wickedness.
, Dante described levels within Hell and wrote that not all the damned experience identical sufferings. Thus, an unrepentant adulterer may not experience the same kind or degree of suffering as would a genocidal, atheistic head of state responsible for the death of millions; both have rejected key values of the Kingdom: one rejected chastity, while the other rejected the worship due to God and the sacredness of human life. The magnitude of those sins is very different; so, too, would the consequences be different.
Heaven is a place of absolute perfection, a work accomplished by God for those who say yes. Hell, though a place of
evil, is not one of
evil. It cannot be because God continues to sustain human and angelic beings in existence there, and existence in and of itself is good. God also judges them according to their deeds (Rom 2:6). Their good deeds may ameliorate their sufferings. This, too, is good and allows for good in varying degrees there. Hell is not in any way pleasant, but it is not equally bad for all. And so, God’s justice, which is good, reaches even Hell.
~ Fr. Lewis
on Saturday, October 10 at 2:00PM