Normally, I do Lectio Divina at about 2:30 a.m. as part of my old man bathroom ritual. It helps get me back to sleep. There was nothing normal about the Lectio Divina today. I was frightened and what frightened me might not be what you think. Normally (I know, I have not been normal for the past twenty years), my nightmares take the form of falling off a cliff, being in an unfamiliar house with no exits, or some variation on the vampires’ movies. Today was different.
I have come to the point in my Lectio of just letting the Holy Spirit do all the work. I don’t have any particular request or desire to think about some topic related to Philippians 2:5, my Lectio phrase. Some might think that is just laziness, while I prefer to think of it as growing in the capacity for God in how I move from my false self to my true self. I asked the Holy Spirit, “What do you want to talk about today?” and what came back was scary. Let me explain.
For the past three months, I have been toying with writing a book on what is the kingdom of heaven like. That grew into three distinct Lectio topics, or, as I like to think, discussions with the Holy Spirit about how all of this fits together. What is the kingdom of heaven like? What is Hell like? What is Purgatory like? These Lectio sessions are bits and pieces and I try to rush to the computer to write them down. Being a broken-down, old Lay Cistercian, I don’t always get to the computer in time or forget my train of thought. Here is what I received about Purgatory.
Everyone is destined for Heaven, everyone. But there is a caveat, you must choose to go there. In Baptism, Christ chooses us as adopted sons and daughters and then we must ratify that gift of Faith by our assent. Being in the condition of Original Sin, we must ratify our consent almost every day. That is part of prayer and why we don’t take God for granted. Recognizing who God is (we can only recognize to the extent that we have the capacity to be aware of how all of this fits together) is the first step of Humility in St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 7. This step is fear of the Lord. This is the Lord that is our DNA, into which all reality moves and evolves. This is the Lord that is so far beyond the comprehension of our human nature that we don’t have the capacity nor the capability to be in the presence of such pure energy. This pure energy has three distinct components, so beyond our vocabulary, our language, our ability to measure its presence, that they are persons, or beings, yet one in nature, divine. The three components are pure knowledge, pure love, and pure service. Imagine God coming down to any of us, even the sophisticated thinkers who presume they have defined reality through science or psychology, and being present to us as He really is. We don’t have the capability to even be in that presence without our neurons frying to a crisp. Christ had to take the time and trouble become human so He could tell us and more importantly to show us how to pack our bags and prepare for the purpose of all reality. I am not talking about some pathetic politician who seems to have control over what they consider power and glory. All of what is in there so that I can make a choice with my human reason to accept the invitation of God to be an adopted son or daughter of the Father. What follows is what I can remember about the three answers the Holy Spirit gave me and the reason for my being scared.
WHAT IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN LIKE?
Last Supper Discourses.1* “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith* in God; have faith also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3* And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.a4 Where [I] am going you know the way.”*5 Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth* and life. No one comes to the Father except through me.b7 If you know me, then you will also know my Father.* From now on you do know him and have seen him.”c
The dwelling places must be consistent with our human nature and how we live out what we have linked in our lifetime to what Jesus taught us. I like to think that death means I move to one of these dwelling place in a containment field that will allow me to enjoy what I have discovered about love in my life.
The Father offers us a dwelling place that has all my needs taken care of and I can add that personal touch to this place thus making it not just a house but a home. Each person can bring with them what they have discovered about the Kingdom of Heaven while they are on earth. Matthew 13.
WHAT IS PURGATORY LIKE?
Purgatory is a place of second chances. Purgatory are those that lack the perfection or the love to make it to Heaven.
Purgatory is a place of no torment but one where people can live out their lives to make choice to love God with all their hearts, all their minds, and all their strength and their neighbor as themselves.
Purgatory must be a place consistent with human experiences and nature. When we die, our bodies corrupt but our minds and the essence of who we are continues to live. When we measure ourselves against God and come up imperfect, we are given a second chance to love others as Christ loved us, but in the context of those things in our life which we have that are what God had intended to do.
Purgatory exists in the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, there is no time, no space. In an eternal NOW, we get one more chance to love authentically as Christ loved us. When God judges us ready, we are admitted into the full bliss of the eternal communion that all humans who are in the Church Triumphant enjoy.
THE SECOND CHANCE ACCORDING TO OUR APOSTOLIC TRADITION
Purgatory is like an appendix on the intestines of life. It is there, but we don’t know what to do with it. The Church collects our heritage. We can measure orthodoxy by comparing our beliefs as an individual with the accumulated history and teaching of the Church Universal from the Apostles’ time. Below is the full excerpt from the Catholic Church’s Catechism, as the source I go to when I need to see if I am too far out there. https://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a12.htm
THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
THE PROFESSION OF FAITH
THE PROFESSION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT
“I BELIEVE IN LIFE EVERLASTING”
1020 The Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards him and an entrance into everlasting life. When the Church for the last time speaks Christ’s words of pardon and absolution over the dying Christian, seals him for the last time with a strengthening anointing, and gives him Christ in viaticum as nourishment for the journey, she speaks with gentle assurance:Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father,
who created you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God,
who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit,
who was poured out upon you.
Go forth, faithful Christian!
May you live in peace this day,
may your home be with God in Zion,
with Mary, the virgin Mother of God,
with Joseph, and all the angels and saints. . . .
May you return to [your Creator]
who formed you from the dust of the earth.
May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints
come to meet you as you go forth from this life. . . .
May you see your Redeemer face to face. 591
1021 Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.592 The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul–a destiny which can be different for some and for others.593
1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification594 or immediately,595 — or immediate and everlasting damnation.596At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.597
1023 Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they “see him as he is,” face to face:598By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints . . . and other faithful who died after receiving Christ’s holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died, . . . or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death, . . .) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment – and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven – have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature.599
1024 This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called “heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.
1025 To live in heaven is “to be with Christ.” The elect live “in Christ,”600 but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name.601For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom.602
1026 By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has “opened” heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.
1027 This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”603
1028 Because of his transcendence, God cannot be seen as he is, unless he himself opens up his mystery to man’s immediate contemplation and gives him the capacity for it. The Church calls this contemplation of God in his heavenly glory “the beatific vision”:How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God, . . . to delight in the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God’s friends.604
1029 In the glory of heaven the blessed continue joyfully to fulfill God’s will in relation to other men and to all creation. Already they reign with Christ; with him “they shall reign for ever and ever.”605
1030 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 achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608
1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611
IV. HELL (Also referenced in the section on Hell, below)
1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”612 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.613 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
1034 Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.614 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,”615 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”616
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”618Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.”619
1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”:621Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen.622
1038 The resurrection of all the dead, “of both the just and the unjust,”623 will precede the Last Judgment. This will be “the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”624 Then Christ will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him. . . . Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”625
1039 In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare.626 The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life:All that the wicked do is recorded, and they do not know. When “our God comes, he does not keep silence.”. . . he will turn towards those at his left hand: . . . “I placed my poor little ones on earth for you. I as their head was seated in heaven at the right hand of my Father – but on earth my members were suffering, my members on earth were in need. If you gave anything to my members, what you gave would reach their Head. Would that you had known that my little ones were in need when I placed them on earth for you and appointed them your stewards to bring your good works into my treasury. But you have placed nothing in their hands; therefore you have found nothing in my presence.”627
1040 The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death.628
1041 The message of the Last Judgment calls men to conversion while God is still giving them “the acceptable time, . . . the day of salvation.”629 It inspires a holy fear of God and commits them to the justice of the Kingdom of God. It proclaims the “blessed hope” of the Lord’s return, when he will come “to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed.”630
1042 At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed:The Church . . . will receive her perfection only in the glory of heaven, when will come the time of the renewal of all things. At that time, together with the human race, the universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ.631
1043 Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, “new heavens and a new earth.”632 It will be the definitive realization of God’s plan to bring under a single head “all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.”633
1044 In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men.634 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”635
1045 For man, this consummation will be the final realization of the unity of the human race, which God willed from creation and of which the pilgrim Church has been “in the nature of sacrament.”636 Those who are united with Christ will form the community of the redeemed, “the holy city” of God, “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”637 She will not be wounded any longer by sin, stains, self-love, that destroy or wound the earthly community.638 The beatific vision, in which God opens himself in an inexhaustible way to the elect, will be the ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace, and mutual communion.
1046 For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man:For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God . . . in hope because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay. . . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.639
1047 The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, “so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just,” sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ.640
1048 “We know neither the moment of the consummation of the earth and of man, nor the way in which the universe will be transformed. The form of this world, distorted by sin, is passing away, and we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, in which happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in the hearts of men.”641
1049 “Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come. That is why, although we must be careful to distinguish earthly progress clearly from the increase of the kingdom of Christ, such progress is of vital concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the better ordering of human society.”642
1050 “When we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise . . . according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again, cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal kingdom.”643 God will then be “all in all” in eternal life:644True and subsistent life consists in this: the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, pouring out his heavenly gifts on all things without exception. Thanks to his mercy, we too, men that we are, have received the inalienable promise of eternal life.645
1051 Every man receives his eternal recompense in his immortal soul from the moment of his death in a particular judgment by Christ, the judge of the living and the dead.
1052 “We believe that the souls of all who die in Christ’s grace . . . are the People of God beyond death. On the day of resurrection, death will be definitively conquered, when these souls will be reunited with their bodies” (Paul VI, CPG § 28).
1053 “We believe that the multitude of those gathered around Jesus and Mary in Paradise forms the Church of heaven, where in eternal blessedness they see God as he is and where they are also, to various degrees, associated with the holy angels in the divine governance exercised by Christ in glory, by interceding for us and helping our weakness by their fraternal concern” (Paul VI, CPG § 29).
1054 Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God.
1055 By virtue of the “communion of saints,” the Church commends the dead to God’s mercy and offers her prayers, especially the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist, on their behalf.
1056 Following the example of Christ, the Church warns the faithful of the “sad and lamentable reality of eternal death” (GCD 69), also called “hell.”
1057 Hell’s principal punishment consists of eternal separation from God in whom alone man can have the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
1058 The Church prays that no one should be lost: “Lord, let me never be parted from you.” If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God “desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him “all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
1059 “The holy Roman Church firmly believes and confesses that on the Day of Judgment all men will appear in their own bodies before Christ’s tribunal to render an account of their own deeds” (Council of Lyons II :DS 859; cf. DS 1549).
1060 At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. Then the just will reign with Christ for ever, glorified in body and soul, and the material universe itself will be transformed. God will then be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28), in eternal life.
1061 The Creed, like the last book of the Bible,644 ends with the Hebrew word amen. This word frequently concludes prayers in the New Testament. The Church likewise ends her prayers with “Amen.”
1062 In Hebrew, amen comes from the same root as the word “believe.” This root expresses solidity, trustworthiness, faithfulness. And so we can understand why “Amen” may express both God’s faithfulness towards us and our trust in him.
1063 In the book of the prophet Isaiah, we find the expression “God of truth” (literally “God of the Amen”), that is, the God who is faithful to his promises: “He who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth [amen].”645 Our Lord often used the word “Amen,” sometimes repeated,646 to emphasize the trustworthiness of his teaching, his authority founded on God’s truth.
1064 Thus the Creed’s final “Amen” repeats and confirms its first words: “I believe.” To believe is to say “Amen” to God’s words, promises and commandments; to entrust oneself completely to him who is the “Amen” of infinite love and perfect faithfulness. The Christian’s everyday life will then be the “Amen” to the “I believe” of our baptismal profession of faith:May your Creed be for you as a mirror. Look at yourself in it, to see if you believe everything you say you believe. And rejoice in your faith each day.647
1065 Jesus Christ himself is the “Amen.”648 He is the definitive “Amen” of the Father’s love for us. He takes up and completes our “Amen” to the Father: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God”:649Through him, with him, in him,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor is yours,
God, forever and ever.
591 OCF, Prayer of Commendation.
592 Cf. 2 Tim 1:9-10.
593 Cf. Lk 16:22; 23:43; Mt 16:26; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23; Heb 9:27; 12:23.
594 Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274):DS 857-858; Council of Florence (1439):DS 1304- 1306; Council of Trent (1563):DS 1820.
595 Cf. Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1000-1001; John XXII, Ne super his (1334):DS 990.
596 Cf. Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1002.
597 St. John of the Cross, Dichos 64.
598 1 Jn 3:2; cf. 1 Cor 13:12; Rev 22:4.
599 Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1000; cf. LG 49.
600 Phil 1:23; cf. Jn 14:3; 1 Thess 4:17.
601 Cf. Rev 2:17.
602 St. Ambrose, In Luc.,10,121:PL 15 1834A.
603 1 Cor 2:9.
604 St. Cyprian, Ep. 58,10,1:CSEL 3/2,665.
605 Rev 22:5; cf. Mt 25:21,23.
606 Cf. Council of Florence (1439):DS 1304; Council of Trent (1563):DS 1820; (1547):1580; see also Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336):DS 1000.
607 Cf. 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7.
608 St. Gregory the Great, Dial. 4,39:PL 77,396; cf. Mt 12:31.
609 2 Macc 12:46.
610 Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274):DS 856.
611 St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in 1 Cor. 41,5:PG 61,361; cf. Job 1:5.
612 1 Jn 3:14-15.
613 Cf. Mt 25:31-46.
614 Cf. Mt 5:22,29; 10:28; 13:42,50; Mk 9:43-48.
615 Mt 13:41-42.
616 Mt 25:41.
617 Cf. DS 76; 409; 411; 801; 858; 1002; 1351; 1575; Paul VI, CPG § 12.
618 Mt 7:13-14.
619 LG 48 § 3; Mt 22:13; cf. Heb 9:27; Mt 25:13,26,30,31-46.
620 Cf. Council of Orange II (529):DS 397; Council of Trent (1547):1567.
621 2 Pet 3:9.
622 Roman Missal, EP I (Roman Canon) 88.
623 Acts 24:15.
624 Jn 5:28-29.
625 Mt 25:31,32,46.
626 Cf. Jn 12:49.
627 St. Augustine, Sermo 18, 4:PL 38,130-131; cf. Ps 50:3.
628 Cf. Song 8:6.
629 2 Cor 6:2.
630 Titus 2:13; 2 Thess 1:10.
631 LG 48; Cf. Acts 3:21; Eph 1:10; Col 1:20; 2 Pet 3:10-13.
632 2 Pet 3:13; Cf. Rev 21:1.
633 Eph 1:10.
634 Cf. Rev 21:5.
635 Rev 21:4.
636 Cf. LG 1.
637 Rev 21:2,9.
638 Cf. Rev 21:27.
639 Rom 8:19-23.
640 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 5,32,1:PG 7/2,210.
641 GS 39 § 1.
642 GS 39 § 2.
643 GS 39 § 3.
644 1 Cor 5:28.
645 St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. illum. 18,29:PG 33,1049.
646 Cf. Rev 22:21.
647 Isa 65:16.
648 Cf. Mt 6:2,5,16; Jn 5:19.
649 St. Augustine, Sermo 58,11,13:PL 38,399.
650 Rev 3:14.
651 2 Cor 1:20.
WHAT IS HELL LIKE?
Hell is not the opposite of Heaven, it is the absence of God. We can’t possibly imagine what that is except that Satan and the other demons chose themselves rather than God. The core of that choice was pride and jealousy, something.
Using my Rule of Threes (looking at the physical universe, the mental one and the spiritual one), there are three kinds of pain, all corresponding with these three universes.
HELL IN OUR TRADITION FROM THE APOSTLES
Read this excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In fact, read it three times, once for the words, the second time for meaning, and the third time asks how it affects how you view reality. One time alone won’t do it. I use this measuring stick of orthodoxy to keep my heretical tendencies in check.
1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor, or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”610 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.611 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.”
1034 Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna” of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost.612 Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,”613 and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”614
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”615 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
1036 The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”616
Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where “men will weep and gnash their teeth.”617
1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;618 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance”:619
Father, accept this offering
from your whole family.
Grant us your peace in this life,
save us from final damnation,
and count us among those you have chosen.620
615 Cf. DS 76; 409; 411; 801; 858; 1002; 1351; 1575; Paul VI, CPG # 12.
618 Cf. Council of Orange II (529): DS 397; Council of Trent
620 Roman Missal, EP I (Roman Canon) 88.
St. Benedict speaks of the fear of the Lord and our need to be aware of the existence of Hell in his Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict. https://christdesert.org/
41 Place your hope in God alone.
42 If you notice something good in yourself, give credit to God, not to yourself,
43 but be certain that the evil you commit is always your own and yours to acknowledge.
44 Live in fear of judgment day
45 and have a great horror of hell.
Hell is a condition or a permanent existence where all three types of pain exist (physical, mental, and spiritual). I don’t know much about Hell, but I will say that I hope there are not a lot of people there. God gives humans every chance to fulfill their destinies, going so far as to bestowing adoption as sons and daughters of the Father. I can’t imagine that if people actually knew what Hell was like, they would choose it freely. That said, Hell is the ultimate proof of God’s love for humans, in that, like Lucifer and the other fallen angels, the choice to be God or to be you as God extends forever. At stake here is the love of God versus the love of self as God. Seeking God every day as a Lay Cistercian means anticipating foggy and what is unattainable yet just beyond my grasp.
WHAT SCARED ME IN MY LECTIO DIVINA
I was scared in my Lectio Divina because I was afraid of God (although I am always afraid of what I can’t quite control). My fear comes from realizing that I am actually beginning to make sense of how all of these ideas of Jesus fit together in my timeframe and within my heart. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I think I am beginning to feel what that means, not just as a mental construct but as part of who I am. Another way to say it is the transformation of the false self to a new self. The scary part is if I am so excited over just a peek at how this all fits together, what can I expect in heaven when all of this fogginess clears up?
When St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Doctor of the Church, remarked to colleagues that, after contemplating the totality of all reality, everything he wrote about God was so much straw compared to who God is. All I have is glimmers of what lies ahead, but I would sell everything I have to possess the limited joys that await me.
One of my favorite photos is about a solitary cup sitting on a windowsill. In the background is a foggy window with just faint images on the other side. This photo is my favorite to depict who I am looking through the window at something on the other side, murky, just barely visible, knowing that something is there, but I am not sure of that. This is like the Mystery of Faith. Through contemplation and using Cistercian practices and charisms, my Faith is in the words of Christ that He is in on the other side; my Hope is that the words of Christ to me that He is preparing a place for me on the other side of this window is true, and my Love is that, right now on this earth, seeking God each day, Heaven is right now in what I transform from my false self to my true self as an adopted son of the Father.