Hell Has to Be

If God is Love, why is there Hell? And  why is it eternal? In a word there is Hell because of respect. God has made us free and respects that freedom. Our freedom is absolutely necessary if we are to love. Now suppose a young man wanted a young lady to love him. Suppose again he found a magic potion with which to lace her drink. So she drinks and suddenly, presto., she “loves” him! Is it love? No, it’s chemicals. Love, to be love,  has to be free. The yes of love is only meaningful if we were free to say no. God invites us to love him. Love has to be free. There has to be a hell. Ther has to be a real alternative, a real choice. God will not force us to love him or to come to heaven with him.

But wait a minute, doesn’t everyone want to go to heaven? Yes, but it often a heaven as they define it, not the real heaven. Many people’s understanding of heaven is a very egocentric thing where they will be happy on their terms,  where what pleases merely them will be available in abundance. But the real heaven is the Kingdom of God in all its fullness. Truth be told, while everyone wants to go to a heaven as they define it, NOT everyone wants to live in the Kingdom of God in all its fullness. Consider some of the following examples:

  1. The Kingdom of God is about mercy and forgiveness. But not everyone wants to show mercy or forgive. Some prefer revenge. Some prefer severe justice. Some prefer to cling to their anger and nurse resentments or bigotry. Further, not everyone want to receive mercy and forgiveness. They cannot possibly fathom why anyone would need to forgive them since they are rightand the other person or nation is wrong.
  2. The Kingdom of God is about chastity. God is very clear with us that his Kingdom values chastity. For the unmarried this means no gential sexual contact. For the married this means complete fidelity to one another. Further, things like pornography, lewd conduct, immodesty and so forth are excluded from the Kingdom. But many today do not prefer chastity. They would rather be unchaste and immodest. They like pornography and do not want to limit their sexual conduct.
  3. The Kingdom of God is about Liturgy – all the descriptions of heaven emphasize liturgy. There are hymns being sung, there is the praise of God, standing, sitting, prostrating. There is incense, candles, long robes. There is a scroll or book that is opened, read and appreciated. There is the Lamb on a throne-like altar. It’s all very much like the Mass! But many are not interested in things like the Mass. They stay away from Church because it is “boring.” Perhaps they don’t like hymns and all the praise. Perhaps the scroll (the Lectionary) and its contents do not interest them. Having God at the center rather than themselves or their agenda is also unappealing.

Now my point is this: If heaven isn’t just of our own design but things like these are features of the real heaven, the real Kingdom of God, then doesn’t it seem clear that there actually are many who don’t want to go to heaven? You see everyone wants to go to heaven (the heaven of their own design), but NOT everyone wants to live in the Kingdom, which is what heaven really is. Now God will not force any one to live where they do not want to live. He will not force anyone to love Him or what he loves. We are free to choose his kingdom or not.

Perhaps a brief story will illustrate my point. I once knew a woman in one of my parishes who in many way was very devout. She went to daily Mass and prayed the rosary most days. But there was one thing about her that was very troubling, she couldn’t stand African Americans. She often told me, “I can’t stand Black People! They’re moving into this neighborhood and ruining everything! I wish they’d go away.” I remember scolding her a number of times for this sort of talk. But one day I thought I’d make it plain. I said, “You know you don’t really want to go to heaven.” She said, “Of course I do Father.  God and the Blessed Mother are there. I want to go.” “No you won’t be happy there,” I said. “Why? Want are you talking about Father?” “Well you see there are Black people in heaven and you’ve said you can’t stand to be around them. So I’m afraid you wouldn’t be happy there. And God won’t make you live some place where you are not happy. So I don’t think you want to go to heaven.” I think she go the message because I noticed she started to improve.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? God will not force us to live in the Kingdom if we really don’t want or like what that kingdom is. We can’t just invent our own heaven. Heaven is a real place and has contours and realities of its own that we can’t just brush aside. Either we accept heaven as it is or we ipso facto choose to live apart from it and God. So Hell has to be. It is not a pleasant place but I suppose the saddest thing about the souls in that are there is that they wouldn’t be happy in heaven anyway. A pretty sad and tragic plight, not to be happy anywhere. But understand this too. God has not utterly rejected even the souls in Hell. Somehow he still provides for their basic needs. They continue to exist and thus God continues to sustain them with what ever is required to provide for that existence. He does not anihilate them or snuff them out. He respects their wishes to live apart from the kingdom and its values. He loves them but respects their choice.

But why is Hell eternal? Here I think we encounter a mystery about ourselves. God seems to be teaching us that there comes a day when our decisions are fixed forever. For now we always have the possibility of changing our mind so the idea of a permanent decision seems strange to us. But I think that those of us who are a bit older can testify that as we get older we get a little more set in our ways and it’s harder to change. Perhaps this is a little foretaste of a time when our decisions will be forever fixed and we will never change. The Fathers of the Church used an image of pottery to teach on this. Think of wet clay on a potters wheel. As long as the clay is moist and still on the wheel it can be shaped and reshaped. But once it is put in the kiln, in the fire, its shape is fixed forever. And so it is with us that when we appear before God who is a Holy Fire, our fundamental shape will be forever fixed, our decisions final. For now this is mysterious to us and we only sense it vaguely but since heaven and hell are eternal, it seems this forever fixed state is in our future.

So here is the best I can do on a difficult topic. But Hell has to be. It’s about God’s respect for us. It’s about our freedom and summons to love. It’s about the real heaven. It’s about what we really want in the end. The following video is Fr. Robert Barron’s take on the matter.

What is Eternal Life?

I often think  we haven’t done a very good job in setting forth the doctrine of Eternal Life. For most people the concept seems a rather flat one, namely, that we shall live for ever and ever and ever…. And frankly for many such a concept seems rather unappealing even if the place of it is heaven. Heaven too is often poorly understood. It is reduced to a rather egocentric notion of a place where I will be happy. I’ll have a mansion, I’ll see my mother again, I won’t suffer…. But most moderns in their description never get around to mentioning God. If God is mentioned at all he’s down on the list somewhere, not at the top where he belongs. This is sad for the heart of heaven is to be with God!

Pope Benedict in his Encyclical Spe Salvi also ponders the problem of the poor understanding of eternal life:

Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living for ever —endlessly—appears more like a curse than a gift. Death, admittedly, one would wish to postpone for as long as possible. But to live always, without end—this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable….The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown”. Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it. (Spe Salvi, 10, 12).

My own pondering and experience of the concept of eternal life is that ultimately eternal life is not about the length of life, it is about the fullness of life. To enter eternal life mean to become fully alive. For now we are not fully alive. We experience much of death in these lowly bodies of ours. However, most of us do get glimpses of eternal life and can experience aspects of it even now. For example, have you ever had a day when you had all the energy in the world. Not only did you feel energetic but your mind was sharp and your day was efficient and effective. Everything seemed to click and there was joy and contentment. Most of us have days like that from time to time but they don’t last. 🙁  But it is a glimpse of what eternal life might be like multiplied by a factor of 10 Trillion.

Another experience I have of eternal life I hope you share too. At age 48 my body is not in prime condition. It is aging to be sure and death will one day come to it. But my soul is more alive than ever. I am more joyful, more serene, more confident, more prayerful, more content. Many sins that used to plague me are gone or greatly diminished. In effect, I am more alive at 48 than I was at 28. And wait to you see me at 68 and 88! As I get older I become more alive. What I am saying is that eternal life doesn’t just begin after we die. It begins now and should grow in us more and more. It’s fulfillment will only be heaven but I am witness (and hope you are too) that eternal life has already set deep roots in me.

So again, the main point here is that with eternal life the word “eternal” refers not so much to the length of life as to the fullness of life. To enter eternal life is to become fully alive with God forever, to experience untold joy, serenity and peace in an eternal embrace with God forever. And having our communion with God perfected we will also have our communion with one another perfected. Who really needs a mansion when you can live in the heart of God? That is our true dwelling place that the Father is preparing. It’s not about houses and seats of honor its about a place in the heart of the God who made us and loves us. It is to become fully alive and perfect as the Father is perfect.

Pope Benedict also has a very beautiful image of eternal life in Spe Salvi:

To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality—this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy. This is how Jesus expresses it in Saint John’s Gospel: “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (16:22). (Spe Salvi, 12)

In the following video Fr. Robert Barron makes an interesting point, one that I have made elsewhere in these pages, namely, that when the Church fails to teach her doctrine well or casts aside her traditions, the world often picks them up but distorts them. In this rather Halloweenesque video Fr. Barron notes that as we have struggled to present well the concept of eternal life the world has taken up the notion of those “who can never die” in the vampire craze. Obviously the fact that they live forever is a horrible curse to them and any biblical notion of eternal life is absent. They are merely the “un-dead.” When the Church drops the ball the world pick it up but flattens and distorts it.

 

Developing the Desire For All that Really Matters

We live in an age where our comforts are many: air conditioning, electricity, running water, cars,  many of us have large house compared to fifty years ago, consumer products are abundant, cheap and easy to find, medical advances have staved off many diseases and improved the quality of life.

But comfort can confuse us and rob from us the one thing most necessary, the desire for God and to be with Him in heaven. This desire is our most essential desire and should be the focus of our whole life. It is to direct us to our proper end which is God and the things waiting for us in heaven. Jesus rebuked Martha for her focus on worldly concerns and told her that Mary, who preferred communion with him had “chosen the better part” and the “one thing necessary.” (cf Luke 10:38-42)

Creature comforts, when available to us in abundance as they are here and now have a way of misdirecting us. We are fooled into thinking that they are the source of our happiness and so we are always looking for the next worldly trinket or charm instead of God.

Even the way Church going Catholics and other Christians pray is alarming. Very often verbal prayers are heavily steeped in requests for better health, better finances, a new and more lucrative job, a more cooperative spouse, the success of some project and so forth. It is not wrong to pray for these things but when they so dominate our prayer it is almost as though we were saying to God, “Make this world a better place for me. Give me enough health, friends, and creature comforts and I’ll just stay here forever.”  Pretty sad really, but even our prayers can become too focused on this world and manifest that we have become forgetful that the greatest gift is God himself.

Our more recent fore-bearers saw things differently. A little as the 1oo years ago, most people in this world experienced life as brutal and short. Long hard days of physical labor, food supplies that were less sure, disease and poor medicine all led to lives that were  far less comfortable and more suddenly brief that what we in the west usually experience today. Some of the prayers of that time expressed that life was a vale (or valley) of tears and longing for heaven was a more common focus of  prayer.

We understandably have a natural fear of death, but as Christians we should increasingly long to be with God. With strong faith we can come to see our approaching death not as something to loathe but as the fulfillment of all our longings, for death opens the door toward God. The early Christians had an expression as recorded in the Didache Let grace come and this world pass away. Maranatha (Lord come). Amen (Did, 10)

Getting There – There’s an old Gospel Song that says, “I heard my mother say, ‘Give me Jesus. You may have all this world; just give me Jesus.’”  In my own life I heard people get to the mature point in their life when they could really say those words without any simulation or exaggeration. In particular I have in mind those I’ve been privileged to accompany toward death. For many of them these words become very real. My own mother died suddenly so I did not have the privilege of making that journey with her along the way. But My Father died after a year-long illness and my Grandmother too. I was able to walk with them in their final stages and I heard them say these words. And I knew it was time because only God can get you ready to say those words in a true and authentic way. I knew they really meant it and God was getting them ready for the great journey over to the other shore.

In the end, we have to desire heaven more  than this world and only God can cause this change and purge us from the many attachments we have to this world. It usually takes the dying process to get us there, though I suppose it shouldn’t have to. But, painful though it is to see, there is something quite beautiful about the  approach to death. I often see a letting go in those who approach death;  perhaps it is of worldly glories, old grudges, preoccupations and many worries. Little by little these things fall away and the “one thing necessary” replaces them. It is merely this:  that we sit at the feet of Jesus and wait for him to bring us over. There comes a moment when those who are dying with faith can truly saying the words of Psalm 27 : There is only one thing I ask of the LORD; this alone I seek: That I  may dwell in the LORD’S house all the days of my life and gaze upon his  beauty.

What do you want? What do you long for? Maybe it’s God! I know, its probably a lot of other things too. But if you’re faithful God can get you to the point where you can truly say: Give me Jesus. You may have all this world. Just Give me Jesus.

Pray to desire God above every thing and everyone. Pray along with this beautiful rendition of the Old Song: Give Me Jesus

The Four Last Things

Traditional Catholic theology has distinguished the “Four Last Things” : Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. We are admonished to meditate upon these things frequently. We WILL die, be judged, and spend eternity either in Hell, or in Heaven (likely after some time in purgatory). All men are appointed to die once, and after that face The judgment (Hebrews 9:27) The video posted below is  of a song by Johnny Cash on the topic of judgment. Here are some of the words:

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time, run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Go tell that long tongue liar,
go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down.

We will all one day die, or as the song puts it, be cut down. We will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (cf 2 Cor 5:10;  Heb 4:13; 1 Peter 4:5).

The reality of judgment and the possibility of Hell bothers a lot of modern Christians who have had God’s love emphasized to the exclusion of just about everything else about God. For example that He is Truth, and utterly Holy, that nothing unholy can tolerate His presence and so forth.

How to explain the possibility of Hell to a generation with a rather simplified notion of God? Perhaps the word “respect” can help. God want to save us all and have us live with him forever. This is clear in Scripture. But God has made us free and wants us to freely love Him and accept His invitation. This is His respect for our freedom. Now everyone want to go to heaven as they describe it. But NOT EVERYONE wants to go to real heaven which is God’s Kingdom in perfection. You see, in heaven, God’s Kingdom,  there is love for the truth, love for chastity, love for the poor, love for justice, love for one another, mercy and forgiveness are esteemed and God is at the center. But NOT EVERYONE wants these things. Not everyone wants the truth, wants to be chaste, not everyone wants to forgive and love everyone. Not everyone wants God to be at the center, they prefer that spot for themselves or some other idol. As we discussed a couple of days ago many people can’t stand to go to Church at all, or if they do they want it to be as short as possible. If we don’t want to spend time with God here what makes us think we will want to do so after death? If the liturgy is boring or loathsome to someone now what makes them think they will enjoy the liturgy of heaven? And The Scriptures clearly describe heaven as primarily a liturgy of praise (cf esp. Rev 4-8) centered on God. So God invites, but not all accept or are interested in the real heaven to which God invites them. In the end, God respects our choice and this is why there is Hell, it is for those who do not want what the Kingdom of God is. God still sustains the souls in Hell but he ultimately respects their choice to reject the Kingdom and its values.

So we ought to pray for a deepening desire for heaven. Death is on the way, sooner or later we will all be cut down. And the Lord Jesus will judge us among other things with this question: “What is it that you want??”  Do not think that we will magically change at that moment. By that time our choice for the Lord and his Kingdom or for something else will be firmly fixed. Behaviors become habits, habits become character, character becomes destiny.

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years(Deut 30:19-20)

Ponder this video:

Purgatory – Biblical and Reasonable

Today is the Feast of All Souls. Today we pray for the souls of all the faithful departed in purgatory. It makes sense for us to reflect on the Doctrine of Purgatory and its roots. Please note that the following reflection on Purgatory is also in PDF form if you’d care to print out and share copies. You can get it here: Purgatory – Biblical and Reasonable

The Catholic teaching of Purgatory is one of the teachings of the Church that today many struggle to understand. Non-Catholics have generally rejected this teaching, calling it unbiblical. Actually, it is quite biblical and the biblical roots of the teaching will be shown in this reflection. Many Catholics too, influenced and embarrassed by the protests of non-Catholics have been led to downplay, question or even reject this teaching. The task of this reflection is to set forth the Catholic teaching on Purgatory as both biblical and reasonable. It is perhaps best to begin with a description of the teaching on Purgatory, then show it’s biblical roots. Finally it will be good to show why the teaching makes sense based on what God has said to us about holiness and heaven.

What is Purgatory? The Catechism says the following on purgation and Purgatory: All who die in God’s grace and friendship but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification so as to attain the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name “Purgatory” to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. (Catechism 1030-1031). Jesus declared that we must be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48, Rev 3:2). Other Scriptures also teach that we are called to ultimate perfection (e.g. 2 Cor 7:1; James 1:4) Further heaven is described in the Bible as a place of those who have been made perfect (Heb 12:23; Rev 21:27). The Church takes these promises of ultimate perfection and of heaven as the place of that perfection very seriously. If that perfection is not attained by the time of death then, before entering heaven, the Church understands from the Word of God that we must undergo a final purification that brings to completion the good work that God has begun in us (cf Phil 1:6). The need for purgation thus flows from the promises of God that we shall one day be perfect.

Exactly how this purgation (or purification) is carried out is not revealed explicitly. Some have used the image of fire based on certain scripture texts (e.g. 1 Cor 3:13-15, Isaiah 6:5-7; Malachi 3:2-3). However, as can be seen in the quote already supplied, the Catechism is careful to point out that the purification of Purgatory is entirely different from the experiences of Hell. Thus to summarize, Purgatory is a place and a process of final purification which the elect undergo after death, if necessary, before entering heaven.

A Biblical Teaching – Some have dismissed the Catholic teaching on Purgatory calling it unbiblical. It is true, the word “Purgatory” does not appear in the Bible, but neither does the word “Trinity.” Despite the fact that the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible every Christian still accepts the teaching since the Scriptures contain the truth of the teaching the word conveys. It is the same with Purgatory. Though the word does not appear in the Bible, the teaching does. We do well then to examine some Bible texts and thereby learn that Purgatory is a Biblical teaching.

Consider the following passage from the Gospel of Luke:

You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Settle with your opponent on the way to court, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will not get out till you have paid the very last penny.” (Luke 12:56-59)

The context of this passage seems clearly to be one of judgement, and in particular the judgement we will one day face. We may ask who is the judge? It is Jesus for Scripture says, The Father judges no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son (John 5:22). We may also ask, what is the “prison” referred to in this passage? We may instinctively think of Hell. But that could not be correct in this instance for the text clearly indicates that one will emerge from the prison after the last penny is paid. Hell is a place from which no one emerges (cf Mk 9:48, Lk 16:26 etc). Thus the “prison” cannot be Hell, surely it is not heaven. There must then be some place, after judgement, wherein an individual may be detained for a time and then released, after “paying the last penny.” Our Catholic tradition calls this place Purgatory. Though the Lord in this passage clearly urges us to settle our accounts before facing the judge, there does seem to be a chance to settle accounts later if this be deemed necessary.

Consider another passage from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:

Each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation [of Christ] survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.(1 Cor. 3:13-15).

This is surely a complicated passage but again there seems to be a judgment scene described here. Each person’s work will be judged, his or her works will be tested by fire. Some shall receive reward. Others will suffer loss. Ultimately they are saved but “only as through fire” according to the text. Thus there seems to be a sort of purification accomplished for some. On the day of judgement what is imperfect or unbecoming will be burned away. Now this entry unto salvation “through fire” cannot be in heaven since there is no pain and loss is not suffered there. Nor can it be Hell since that is an eternal fire from which there is no escape (cf Matt 25:41). Hence there must be some place of purifying fire through which some pass in the life to come. Our Catholic tradition calls this Purgatory.

Consider yet another passage. In Matthew 12:32 our Lord says Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. This text implies that there is the forgiveness of some sins to be had in the world to come. But where could this place be? It cannot be heaven since there is no sin to be forgiven there (cf Rev 21:27). It cannot be hell since forgiveness is not granted there and there is no escape (Lk 16:26). Hence there must be some third place in the “age to come” where the forgiveness of sin can be experienced. Catholic Tradition and teaching calls this Purgatory. Here individuals in a state of friendship with God and faith in Him may receive forgiveness for certain sins committed in life and be purged of the injustices and effects of those sins.

There is also a teaching in Scripture from the Book of Maccabees: It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins.(2 Mac 12:43-46) Although most non-Catholics do not accept Maccabees as a Book of the Bible it does give us historical evidence that praying for the dead was a Jewish practice. Christ nowhere condemns such prayers nor does any New Testament text dismiss such practices.

These scriptural texts have been reviewed to show that the Catholic teaching on Purgatory does have Biblical basis. The claim that Catholic teaching on this matter is “unbiblical” is thus unfounded. There is a biblical basis and foundation for the Church to teach that after death a purification is both available and in many cases necessary.

A Reasonable Teaching. – Not only is there a Biblical basis for the teaching on Purgatory, there is a an argument for the fittingness of this teaching based on Biblical teaching. In other words, the teaching makes sense based on the promises contained in scripture to those who have been called to be saints.

  1. Scripture teaches that Heaven is a place of perfect happiness where there is no more sorrow or pain, no more death, no more tears (cf Rev 21:23-24). The saints in heaven are perfectly holy and we are thus exhorted here on earth to Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). And regarding heaven Scripture says, But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev 21:27) Christ also teaches us very solemnly, You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mat 5:48).
  2. Now this raises a question: What happens to those who die in a state of grace and friendship with God but are not yet perfect? Most of us will admit, if we were to die at this very moment, we could not honestly say that we are perfect. Even assuming that we are in a state of grace and friendship with God, we can likely see there are still some rough edges to our personality and that we still struggle with certain habitual sins and shortcomings. Likewise, most of us carry within us certain sorrows, regrets or misunderstandings from the past. Despite effort, we may have not been able to fully let go of these things. It is clear that we cannot take any of this with us to heaven. If we did, it would not be a place of perfect joy and total sinlessness.
  3. Obviously we must be purged of any final imperfections, sins, and sorrows before entering heaven. Every tear must be wiped from our eyes (Rev 21:4), every sorrow left behind, every wound healed. Only then will we be able to experience heaven. Ideally this takes place here on earth as we read in James 1:4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Yet many of us know that this process is seldom complete at death. Thus, presuming that we die in a state of grace and friendship with God, Christ will surely complete his work in us (for he is faithful to his promises) by purging us of whatever imperfections, venial sins, or sorrowful effects of sins that still remain. Further, all punishments due to sin are completed.

Thus, the teaching on Purgatory seems quite fitting based on the promise of Jesus that we would one day be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect, lacking in nothing. If we die before this process is complete, then something must happen after death to transform us into the glory which we have been promised and to which we have been called. Catholic teaching and tradition assigns the term “Purgatory” to this process of completion and transformation.

Perhaps, in this light, it is good to conclude with a prayer and blessing from St. Paul: In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion at the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:4-6)

I’m in the Holy Land this week until November 8th. I have scheduled blogs that will appear each day while I’m away so stay tuned! My participation in the comments however may be a little light since my time with the internet will be sporadic. Comments will be moderated by someone else on the team and I’ll participate when I can. – Msgr Pope.

Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell

st-francis-with-skullTraditional Catholic theology has distinguished the “Four Last Things” : Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. We are admonished to meditate upon these things frequently. We WILL die, be judged, and spend eternity either in Hell, or in Heaven (likely after some time in purgatory). All men are appointed to die once, and after that face The judgment (Hebrews 9:27) A remarkable video was just posted  of a song by Johnny Cash on the topic of judgment. Here are some of the words:

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time, run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Go tell that long tongue liar, go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down.

We will all one day die, or as the song puts it, be cut down. We will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (cf 2 Cor 5:10;  Heb 4:13; 1 Peter 4:5).

The reality of judgment and the possibility of Hell bothers a lot of modern Christians who have had God’s love emphasized to the exclusion of just about everything else about God. For example that He is Truth, and utterly Holy, that nothing unholy can tolerate His presence and so forth.

How to explain the possibility of Hell to a generation with a rather simplified notion of God? Perhaps the word “respect” can help. God want to save us all and have us live with him forever. This is clear in Scripture. But God has made us free and wants us to freely love Him and accept His invitation. This is His respect for our freedom. Now everyone want to go to heaven as they describe it. But NOT EVERYONE wants to go to real heaven which is God’s Kingdom in perfection. You see, in heaven, God’s Kingdom,  there is love for the truth, love for chastity, love for the poor, love for justice, love for one another, mercy and forgiveness are esteemed and God is at the center. But NOT EVERYONE wants these things. Not everyone wants the truth, wants to be chaste, not everyone wants to forgive and love everyone. Not everyone wants God to be at the center, they prefer that spot for themselves or some other idol. So God invites. But not all accept. In the end, God respects our choice and this is why there is Hell, it is for those who do not want what the Kingdom of God is. God still sustains the souls in Hell but he ultimately respects their choice to reject the Kingdom and its values.

So death is on the way, sooner or later we will all be cut down. What is it that you want??

Ponder this video:

40 Reasons to Come Home – Reason # 23 – The Dress Rehearsal

Reason # 23 – The Dress Rehearsal– A few years ago I acted in a play. I spent many weeks learning my lines and many hours rehearsing sections of the play with the other actors. Then came the dress rehearsal when it all came together. The purpose of the dress rehearsal is for the actors to experience the final product. The dress rehearsal is as close to the actual play as possible. There is no goofing off, no retakes, this is as close to opening night as possible.

 

In a way, this is what the Mass is. Mass is like getting ready for heaven. But “How is this so?”  you might ask. Well, start with the biblical descriptions of heaven. There are many, but the most consistent image of heaven in the scriptures is that of a liturgy or Mass. In the Book of Revelation (cf 4,5,8, 21) for example the heavenly experience is described in terms that many Catholics should find very familiar. There are candles, incense, hymns of praise, elders (priests) in long white robes (albs), there is first a focus on a scroll (or book) in which are contained all the answers, then the focus shifts to the Lamb on a throne like altar. There are saints and angels all around and songs such as Holy, Holy, and Worthy is the Lamb being sung by the multitude. Does all this sound familiar? If you go to Mass it does! So, in an important way the Mass gets us ready for what we will do in heaven. I always have concerns when some one tells me they find Mass boring because heaven is like a Mass. Granted, not all our Masses are as well celebrated as they could be. But in the end we ought to find joy and peace in the Liturgy, the Mass, since by so doing we start to get used to heaven. Over the years I have started to like Mass more and more. And I am glad, because it means I am starting to like what heaven is, a glorious liturgy of prayer, praise, and communal celebration around the wonderful throne of God.

There is another way that the Mass is like a dress rehearsal. Heaven, you see, is not just some made up place of our design. It is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Here too we need to learn our lines and get adjusted and the Mass helps us to do this. Over the years as you attend Mass you are`instructed in the Word of God and thus in the values of the Kingdom of God. At Mass we learn our lines and parts. We learn things such as forgiveness, mercy, love for the truth, chastity, generosity, love for the poor, love for life from conception to natural death, love for God more than for the things of the world, and so forth. All this helps us to get adjusted to the kingdom. And if you like these things you’ll like heaven, if you do not like them you will not want to enter heaven. Here too I have grown used to the Kingdom through my faithful attendance at Mass. Over the years I have come to understand more what the Kingdom of God is really about and I have learned to love these kingdom values. You see, if I don’t know my lines and don’t attend the dress rehearsal to get used to the play when it opens, I won’t be ready. The Mass gets us used to what heaven is really like and to its values; the REAL heaven, not some made up heaven that doesn’t really exist.

So, here’s a good reason to come home – the dress rehearsal. You gotta get used to the REAL  heaven. It takes time to embrace the kingdom of heaven when all we know is the world and its ways. Come! Join the dress rehearsal for heaven, learn its songs, its praise, its values come to learn of and know God. Then when the curtain of this life falls you’ll be ready for opening night: the great feast of heaven. But be careful, if the dress rehearsal is missed, there are often casting changes! You gotta be ready, you gotta come to the dress rehearsal to make the final cut and be ready for opening night.

Here is a video which descibes details of heaven as described in the Book of the Revelation and how they relate to our Mass