PRODIGALEvery now and then we need to be reminded that God really loves us. Some of us struggle with this notion especially when we have sinned or experienced a shortcoming.

Recently the readings at Mass have had the heavy theme of warning us about death, judgment, heaven and hell. But of course these warnings are given by a God who loves us and wants to save us.

Whatever the reason that perhaps at times we don’t feel very lovable, consider this:

  1. Before you were ever formed in you mother’s womb God knew you and loved you (Jer. 1:4)
  2. God knit you together in your mother’s womb (Ps 139:13)
  3. You are fearfully wonderfully made (Ps 139:14)
  4. Every one of your days and deeds were written in God’s book before one of them ever came to be. (Ps. 139:16)

So God knew you and planned for you. You cannot earn his love you already have it. In fact you had it before you were born, before you had done anything. As for your sins God knew all about them too.

Sin does not cancel God’s love but it does limit and ultimately sever our acceptance of that love. “Ah but what about Hell?” you might say. Yes as we have seen recently, a great tragedy, but do you suppose that God’s love does not extend there also? After all God does not destroy the souls in hell. He still sustains and provides for them. He loves them still. It is they who do not love him or His kingdom and he will not force it on them. But at least consider this fact that God does not annihilate them. I once had a reader write and tell me that God was cruel for not killing the souls in hell and putting them out of their misery. But their objection points to two common oddities of the modern era:

1.  That death is therapy, or escape. It is an odd modern notion, rooted in our obsession with comfort I suspect, that to not exist is preferable that existing. Yet, the desire to survive is common to all living things, except it would seem, certain post-modern men.

2. A second modern confusion is that the freedom to choose ought to be free of any real responsibilities or results. This immature conclusion is common to teenagers, but not to adults who ought to accept that the freedom to choose brings both responsibility and consequences that we ought to accept if we want to claim to be free and mature.

And thus, whatever objections we want to raise about God’s love, they are more about us and our distorted notions of love, than about God.

So face it God loves you, he even likes you. He does not love you because you deserve it. He loves you for “no good reason.” His love cannot be explained in any human terms. He loves you simply because he does, because he is Love. If you have never experienced this love, get on your knees and ask for this necessary gift.

Maybe these videos will help. The first one is a beautiful musical reflection by Don Francisco “I’ll Never Let Go of Your Hand” (available at iTunes). The Second one I have posted before about a young firefighter who powerfully experiences the unmerited love that God has for him.

16 Responses

  1. Vikkij says:

    Your posts always deepen my understanding of our relationship with God and our Faith. Speaking of love, I was wondering about today’s Gospel reading in regard’s to this post. I know God does not force his love on us, but it sounds like these women were “repentant” after the fact and still were not allowed in. This is the opposite of what I am hearing preached these days. Maybe I have a distortion of the understanding of this Gospel passage?

    “Then the door was locked.
    Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
    ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’
    But he said in reply,
    ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’
    Therefore, stay awake,
    for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

    Thank you and God Bless you for all you do.

    • Heidi Keene says:

      Hi Vikkij:

      You are not distorting the Gospel from today. It is a tough text.
      Read 4 lines before and 4 lines after so that you may know you are IN CONTEXT. The previous chapter was an exhortation for church hierarchy to do their job.

      In today’s reading our Lord turns to the all the faithful (thus virgins) who are going to be held accountable for their works.
      The reason that the 5 foolish “repent” is that on judgement day all will know the full truth of everything. Therefore, even the reprobate will understand the gospel. It is not that their hearts will repent, because a soul can only merit hell based on full understanding and perfect free will (chosing hell is not a mistake or an error of judgement). It is simply that they will KNOW what they have forgone in their foolish lack of preparation.
      Merciful God ‘locks the doors’…. Why?
      At some point in time/space God MUST end the decision making process one and for all. To let this process go on infinitely would be HELL to those already dead and waiting for the resurrection of their bodies to be unified with their souls (everyone in heaven save our Lord and our Lady)! Thus the metaphor of the ‘doors being locked’.
      The hyperbole of the 5 foolish begging entry after the doors are shut is a pedagogical tool. For example, a good father may say to his son who stubbonly refuses to do his homework, “you are going to regret that tomorrow!” The son may never regret his decision to not be studious, but the father knows what joy the son could have merited had he done the work!

      Here is some insight from the Fathers:

      Jerome: virtues of one cannot atone for the vices of another in the day of judgment.

      Augustine. (ubi sup.) When they have been taken in who have been changed into angelic being (1 Cor. 15:51), all entrance into the kingdom of heaven is closed; after the judgment, there is no more place for prayers or merit.

  2. Larry Peterson says:

    Love this post–thank you. The video of the young fiefighter sharing with his dad was awesome. Thanks again.

  3. Ed Hamilton says:

    I get it, and I think Jesus would like me. But if he had friends like Mary Magdelane and the beloved disciple, that means there was some exclusiveness when he was on earth. But in human terms I guess you can only have so many friends. I have always wondered about him liking me. In the end maybe its not important, and maybe I’m jealous. After all, wouldn’t you want to be the beloved disciple? Makes me think.

  4. Harry Piper says:

    Thanks for this, especially the bit about hell (it’s a bit easy to have a mental image of it as something like God’s own torture chamber). Always good to remind ourselves of the basic truths about our faith.

  5. RichardGTC says:

    I think this true: the opposite of hell is not heaven. There is no suffering in hell that isn’t imaginable or understandable. Heaven, on the other hand, beyond all of our imagining or understanding. I think the opposite of hell is understood in the concept of limbo, as the joy and happiness in limbo is both understandable and imaginable. This comment is not meant either to claim or to contradict that there is a place of limbo. Also, if I have spoken falsely in the comment, I am happy to be corrected.

  6. Maria says:

    Is it definitive that souls in hell aren’t annihilated? I know that some Patristic Fathers (e.g., St. Athanasius) held that unrepentant sinners returned to the nothing from which we all came. Does the Church have an infallible position on this?

  7. bobster says:

    The fatal mistake of modern man is to measure the love of another by how closely he/she does what WE want.
    By this standard, God cannot help but seem unloving because He CAN’T follow our every whim.
    Doing so would be contrary to the order of existence (and really bad for us!!!!!!!).

  8. Shamrock says:

    I have never heard a priest say God was present in Hell. How could it be Hell then which I always thought
    to be void of love, especially God’s love. One is not sent to Hell, but chooses it by rejecting God. However,
    one could not exist without God, even in Hell, so in that way I quess one still has some relationship
    with God. If that is so, how can Hell be a place without hope? If I had even just a tiny, smallest atom of
    God’s love I would have hope?

  9. Candida Eittreim says:

    Msgr. Pope, your reflections often pierce my heart. This one certainly did. Being taught from the earliest age that i was unloveable, the love of Christ is often overwhelming to me. It’s a gift so huge my mind cannot grasp it all. Just think, to be loved by our God, just cause..If we surrender to Him, He will take all those bad sore places and smooth them over with the balm of His mercy and compassion. Why do we fight Him so hard?

  10. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    I had a highschool friend who later in life developed liver cancer and rather than face the suffering end stage chose to end his life with a shotgun to the head. He wasn’t annihilated nor did the suffering cease but rather was exacerbated in effect to all those around him. He had two daughters from two marriages and parents, a brother and many who were his friends right up to his demise. His spiritual soul, the substance of his being, still has the responsibility of living with his actions and the impact it had on those around him. Life and relationships on earth are tough but the only real choices one has is would you rather walk to school or carry your lunch. You can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat.

  11. dianne says:

    I would prefer annihilation to intense pain forever. I don’t understand how anyone could feel differently. When I am in a LOT of pain I just want it to stop, Now, I have moderate pain every day. That’s a different thing. A certain amount of pain can even bring us closer to God, but intense pain, forever, I can’t help think you are kidding yourself. Even Jesus was frightened at the prospect of the cross, and he knew that was temporary. Thanks for your excellent blog. If I didn’t disagree with you now and then it wouldn’t be as interesting. In the love of Jesus, Dianne

    • Of course annihilation ( you and Catherine (?) probably mean non-existence really), is a theoretical and you cannot really say what you prefer in this matter. Further, I am not sure on what you based your notion that Hell is like being tortured at every instance. The Lord speaks metaphorically and it is possible that he does not convey the full extent of what Hell is like for reasons of his own. But you and I ought not sit in judgment on God in matters we know not of. For it seems you regard God as a torturer by your argument. It is likely Hell is not a pleasant place, yet, it would seem as well that we ought not base our argument on things we know not. Do you mean to imply that God keeps people alive merely to torture them? If God is love, (and not thus not into sadism) then he has a loving reason to keep them alive. I think you ought to reconsider your annihilation argument and what it really implies.

  12. dianne says:

    Dear Msgr, I was replying to your reply to a previous comment which was discussing hell as a place of intense, continuous pain. Of course, we don’t know exactly what hell will be like. One interesting idea is that people will have to spend eternity with people like themselves. I like that one. But of course we don’t know. We don’t need to know. The reason to do good and not evil is because we love Jesus. Love, Dianne

  13. I do think it is simplistic and you in effect reduce God to a sadistic punisher rather that what scripture says He is “Love” There is a mystery here and that is all we can say. But you seem to have it all figured out. I prefer the approach of all orthodoxy which is to hold the tension rather than try to resolve what is mysterious to us. IOW your brain is too small Catherine join the rest of us poor slobs and hold the mystery rather than make bold pronouncements. How can you know what you’d rather do in a future scenario you cannot imagine? I stand by my point that God’s love still reaches there, but the way this is so is mysterious. Obnoxious is your word, you said it but I will not dispute that you are trending in that direction by you insistence that you can resolve what scripture does not.

  14. TeaPot562 says:

    I think the problem is that God does NOT assign an individual soul to hell; the individual in question has deliberately chosen (in some manner) to reject the love and loving care that God offers.
    The individual carries that rejection through his/her death, and to the point of judgment.
    As I understand it, the greatest pain of hell is the absence of God.
    TeaPot562

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