On the Solemnity of All Saints we turned our attention to heaven. And the next day on the Feast of All Souls, we recalled the souls in Purgatory. And now we must consider the doctrine of Hell. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Hell “consists in eternal condemnation of those who die, by free choice, in mortal sin. The principal pain of hell consists in eternal separation from God, in whom alone man finds life and the happiness for which he was created and for which he longs. Christ himself expressed this reality with the words: ‘Depart from me, you wicked ones into the eternal fire.” The Catechism of St. Pius X describes the punishment of Hell, which consists first of all in the perpetual deprivation of the beatific vision of God and secondly in the punishment of real fire, tormenting but not consuming, darkness, pain and anguish of conscience, and the company of the demons and the other damned.
Each one of us will make an account before God of our lives. If we persist in mortal sin we so change our character and deaden our consciences that we risk the very real possibility of refusing the loving mercy of God even with our last breath. Yes, hell is and remains a part of the revealed doctrines of the Catholic Church, revealed by God, specifically taught by Jesus himself. Notice that Daniel the prophet does not say that some will be in a place of everlasting horror and disgrace. He says that they shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. No joy, no remorse, no love: not for God, not for others, not even for themselves – not real love. The famous atheist and journalist Christopher Hitchens once remarked when asked what he thought when people warned him that he might go to hell, “It seems that all the people with the best sense of humor are headed there so I will at least be in good company.” But he misses the entire point. There is no humor, no laughter, and no delight – not even in the memories of joys or the craven pleasures of the flesh. There is no beauty, no goodness, and no truth. Everything and everyone is drab and dreary. There is only abandonment, boredom and suffering.
But not even Hell gets the last word. Daniel also says that some shall live forever. “The wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.” And Jesus tells us that the Son of Man will come in the clouds “with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” Jesus is the last word. Provided that we do not refuse him, his love will conquer all things in us. His mercy is more powerful than our sins – if we open our hearts to receive it. The habits of sin are overcome by the habit of repentance, by the habit of prayer, by the habit of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, and by the habits of faith, hope and love.
Jesus, in instituting the Eucharist gave us that great gift whereby we participate in his love even unto death, death on a Cross. Through his mercy we are absolved of our sins and washed clean in the blood of the Lamb – His blood. Whereas all the sacrifices before Jesus pointed to him and were signs of repentance and forgiveness, the true sacrifice of Jesus really is the source of mercy and grace. If we live day to day in our sins, we soon forget that they are sins and that we are in need of his mercy. But if we live through him, with him and in him we place all our troubles at the feet of his perfect love. When we partake of his sacrifice we bring him our sin and our dying, he in turn gives us from his death the promise of eternal life. He offers each of us to taste of his love in this life. When we respond with love, his love is powerful enough to overcome the eternal death. What we taste in the Eucharist is the love that can save us and make us live forever; shine like the stars; consecrate us in perfection and holiness, with joy, laughter, and eternal delights at his right hand forever.