No matter where you get your news from, you likely saw this week that Pope Francis apparently “did away with Hell”!
Now, of course, you can look it up yourself, but the Pope has preached TONS of times about the reality of Hell. So the Vatican issued a clarification that what the Pope said was falsely reported. The person doing the interview is a 93 year old reporter who doesn’t write anything down nor record his interviews, so we ought not be surprised. The reporter accomplished his likely goal of selling newspapers because we saw how far the report spread.
As we think about this Divine Mercy Feast Day that we celebrate today, Hell is an important aspect of Divine Mercy.
The devotion of Divine Mercy has sprung out of the life of St. Faustina, who was visited numerous times by our Lord. One of the times our Lord came to St. Faustina, she records the following:
"I, Sister Faustina Kowalska, by the order of God, have visited the Abysses of Hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence...the devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God, What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: That most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell.
Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like...how terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God's mercy upon them.” (Diary 741)
Now those who think Hell is made up, whether it was made up by someone from the middle ages thinking of some way to keep people in line and paying their tithes, or whether it was invented by nuns to keep second graders in line…anyone who says Hell is made up is really saying that from a place of great “privilege”
This week I came across a poem by the English Catholic poet Francis Thompson, who authored the famous poem “The Hound of Heaven”. I found a much shorter (6 line) poem by Thompson that I think is extremely relevant titled Heaven and Hell
The gist of what Thompson says is this:
“It is said that no one would have thought up hell, except that hell has been taught
And they say that it is obvious and self evident that there is a Heaven
But it is not so, it seems to me.
It seems that Heaven lies beyond our sights and rather it is Hell that is quite evident
For all can feel the God that smites, but ah, how few the God that loves.”
The only people who ever come up with the idea that there might not be a Hell are people from materially blessed, prosperous places, people who have had the “privilege” of living in a culture that has been GOSPELIZED already…that have heard about the joy and peace of Heaven…those are the only people who ever think that maybe there is not a Hell.
What Thompson is saying is that for the vast majority of Humanity, it is self-evident that there is a HELL. Just looking inside myself for a moment, I recognize the destructive power of sin tearing me down and killing me in my own life. And certainly looking beyond ourselves, for people who are parents or siblings of one of the 25,000 children who die every day from starvation, the people who lived through the Holocaust, the people who see their kids get burned alive by Syrian chemical weapons, the early Church who lived through the slaughters and tortures and the Church around the world that continues to be persecuted, for the people who lived amidst the cultures that had yet to be Christianized…for all such people, I think, Francis Thompson is rightly saying It is HELL that is almost self-evident.
If I don’t think Hell is real, one problem with that: I don’t really appreciate Divince Mercy, and in fact, Divine Mercy isn’t really that awesome. To deny Hell, to say that there isn’t a place where evil can run and hide from God, then God’s gift of His own Son isn’t REALLY that spectacular nor is it that inspiring.
It is precisely because evil is real, in our hearts, in the world, and in eternal life if we so choose…precisely BECAUSE Hell is real that Divince Mercy is CELEBRATED!
There is a path OUT of and away from Hell, a ladder that Christ extends to us into the pit, His Divine Mercy that comes through the Church and Her Sacraments is given to us to bring us into the eternal joy of Heaven and the Peace that comes on Earth that comes from following Christ.
Finally then, an important implication of all this is that if I don’t think there’s a Hell, then I’m really not going to be that worried about myself NOR will I be worried about anyone else. Everything is sort of “blah” and it is all the same. If there’s no Hell, and there’s no Heaven, but especially if there’s no Hell, then I’m not really going to care what my neighbor Dave (or any other neighbor or any other person) I’m not really going to care WHAT they do.
But inherent in the Divine Mercy devotion is not just a desire for us to experience it, but a desire to help OTHER PEOPLE experience in their lives Divine Mercy too.
Do you really believe any of your neighbors might be living at risk of Hell? Do you really believe that any of your classmates are at risk of Hell? If you answer “no” to that, then you aren’t going to be a vessel of Divine Mercy to anyone.
In the Gospel today, Jesus tells the doubting Thomas: “Do not be unbelieving, but believe!”