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  • Sarah Raad

Absence

“You must one day leave the country in which you now reside; you must one day go out from the house in which you now dwell to return to it no more. … gone into eternity.” (SaintAlphonsus Liguori).

The Nine Circles of Hell (La Carte de l'Enfer) (Sandro Botticelli)

Call me depressing, but over the last few days I have not been able to stop thinking about Hell and eternal damnation. While I have been praying and reflecting on one thing or another, somehow my thoughts return to Hell and my mind dwells on this.


These thoughts that I have are not thoughts of fear, rather, they are thoughts about what it is about Hell that makes it so terrible.


The other day, someone said to me that the Abrahamic religions (of which Catholicism is one) use the “stick” part of the “carrot and the stick” approach, because they seek to instil fear in non-believers by threatening them with eternal damnation. Obviously, this person understands NOTHING of the Love of God, and so I shall pray extra hard for him because of that. But his comment stayed with me, nonetheless.


This “stick” that he speaks of – it actually does not exist – at least not in our religion… For we are not SENT to Hell – we TAKE ourselves there…


When Saint Jacinta, Saint Francesco and Blessed Lucia saw visions of Our Blessed Mother, they were also afforded visions of Hell. They were three very very young children. And God – who is infinite LOVE and MERCY and COMPASSION – permitted His Blessed Mother to show these children a vision of the torments of Hell.


Afterwards, Saint Jacinta said, “I wish people could see Hell. Then they would be terrified to go there.”


It was such a terrible place to behold that by all accounts Saint Jacinta’s behaviour changed dramatically after she had seen it and she prayed unceasingly for the souls damned to Hell…


Saint Alphonsus Liguori described Hell very clearly when he expressed the paradox when he said, “In this life DEATH is of all things most DREADED, but in Hell it is of all things most DESIRED.” (emphasis added).

Interesting perspective this reversal of our desires depending on our experiences at the time... For in Hell, those poor sinners, long for death to end their torments, but they cannot die – the eternal rejoicing in their sufferings and torments “will last forever, without end of mitigation.” (Saint Alphonsus Liguori).


But why? Why is Hell such a torment? Why is it so bad, exactly?


Is it terrible because it is a place for the Evil One? Is it terrible because there is fire in that place and it burns and burns and burns? The answer is of course… YES. But Hell is a terrible place for reasons more than this… Hell should be feared for other reasons too.


Saint Therese of the Child Jesus wrote in her autobiography, “Story of a Soul” that she so loved God that it occurred to her once during her prayers that because nobody loved God from Hell, she would go to Hell so that she could love God from there. Of course, she immediately wrote that her prayer was nonsense and the result of her vivid love for her Lord and God, rather than any exercise in rationality, but she also knew that God would understand her love for Him. And though her intensity was startling – or perhaps because of it – I have remembered this beautiful outpouring of love ever since I first read those words many many years ago.


And so, now I return to my original reflection, as I seek to understand something of Hell. But to understand Hell, one must first understand evil and to understand evil, one must first understand good and to understand good, one must first understand God...

So, in my usual convoluted manner, I will start by explaining how God is related to the Good…


The Good is God and God is the Good. Good is all of God’s creation. Everything that God made He saw, and it was Good. You have only to look at the Book of Genesis to see all the creations of the Father were “Good”. The Good is a thing to be desired. It is moral and righteous, it is advantageous and to a high standard.


So, we know what GOOD is, and that is necessary for us to understand EVIL, because evil is the ABSENCE OF GOOD. Evil is the LACK…


This is a very, very important concept because it gives us great insight into Hell.


Hell is very very bad because it is an EVIL place, and EVIL is the ABSENCE of GOOD. This means that the reason that Hell is so terrible is because there is an ABSENCE of God, who if the GOOD there.


Perhaps that is why so many people do not fear Hell the way that they should these days? In a world where we use science to explain everything it is easy for so many people to think that there is no God here. And when people who refuse to acknowledge the presence of God, they refuse to acknowledge the presence of the GOOD and they think – because they are blinded by their own rationality – that they live their lives without GOD.

It is a paradox that the very part of our humanity that makes us most similar to God - our REASON and INTELLIGENCE - is the part that we USE to deny His very existence. That is for me a mystery as great – though far less holy – than the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity…

Because when we refuse to acknowledge God, we think He is not there. Therefore, people may reason that if Hell did exist, it is surely not such a terrible place… Because God is not there, and so – they reason – since they do not see that God is here either, Hell must not be a very terrible place – even if it did exist at all…


How wrong they are!


If we ever felt the horror of the ABSENCE of God – the ABSENCE of THE GOOD – we would surely die of terror and grief… Those poor sinners damned to Hell cannot die… Rather, they experience that terrible loss and horror and grief over and over and over again for all eternity in a place with no time and no space – their suffering is ad infinitum…


The horror of this realisation causes me to pray the prayer of Saint Alphonsus Liguori…


“Among these miserable beings, O Jesus! I have deserved to be numbered; but do Thou, who hast hitherto preserved me from falling into hell, preserve me for the future falling into sin, which alone condemn me to that place of woe. Ah! Never suffer me again to become Thy enemy. I love Thee O infinite goodness! and I am sorry for having offended Thee. Pardon me, and as I have deserved to burn forever in the fire of hell, grant me to burn forever with the fire of Thy holy love. O Mary, in thy powerful intercession do I confide.”


Because I am sure that I must one day leave this country in which I reside, and I will return to my house no more. On that day, when I go into eternity, I wish to go straight into the LOVING embrace of my God.


Oh, how I long for my Beloved…


For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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