Getting into my car after Eucharisitc Adoration this evening, I switched on the radio and heard a man express an interesting concern:
I worry about sinning because I don’t want to go to hell, rather than because I love God.
The good nuns who taught me in Catholic grammar school would have called this “imperfect contrition.” Perfect contrition is when your motive for sorrow is your love for God.
But this sincere and honest man is on the path to Heaven. God is so good and merciful that He will accept even imperfect contrition as sufficient sorrow for the forgiveness of sins.
But what about hell anyway? I used to think of hell when I had a really bad migraine headache. My head would hurt so much that the pain alone consumed me. I would imagine hell as something like a migraine that would never end. Often, the only thing that makes pain bearable is that we know it will eventually end, in this life anyway.
But hell never ends. Many of us have read stories from the lives of the Saints about their visions of hell as a dark, hideous place filled with a horrible stench and populated with monstrous demons who delight in torturing their victims.
But what about hell really? Can it ever be described as it truly is? Aren’t all of our ideas about hell actually metaphors? Just as we cannot possibly imagine Heaven, neither can we really understand what hell will be like.
But one day, I forgot about the lake of fire, the demons, the stench. I forgot about all of this because I suddenly realized that even if they are real, they are the wrong things to fear.
The one truth we do know about hell is that if we go there, we will be completely separated from God, Who is all Love, Goodness, Light, Wisdom, Joy, and Beauty, revealing Himself to us in a Life united to Him in unending Beatitude. The Beatific Vision.
This Merciful and Loving God became Man, was crucified and died for our sins, and rose again, gifting us with eternal life. He has accompanied us throughout our lives, feeding us with His Most Precious Body and Blood, begging us to repent, giving us countless opportunities, offering us all the graces and time necessary. He has thirsted for our love and we have so often chosen sin…. over Him.
This God Who loves us so much, will be totally absent from us in hell. He will give us what we desire. Hell will be completely our own choice, and we will know this, and our misery will bring us to the depths of despair, but we will still refuse to love Him.
We will also clearly see that we were made only for God, to be loved by Him forever and to share in the ecstasy of His Own Divine Life. Every cell of our being will burn to be filled with the only One Who can truly make us happy, the One Who created us for Himself… but it will be too late.
What else about hell could possibly matter? What will the burning fire be to our bodies when our souls are empty of the God they were made for? Will demons add much to our suffering when we are screaming in agony over what we ourselves have refused…the destiny for which we were created.
Yet, if we find ourselves there, we won’t repent. We won’t be sorry for our sins, only for ourselves. Once we die, we are confirmed in our sin, our rejection of God is fixed for all eternity.
Having to exist forever without God, for Whose Heart we were made, eclipses any other possible torment of hell. Whatever else there may be in that dreadful place, nothing else really matters except that He won’t be there.
But no one wants us to be in Heaven more than He does. He died for us. We are still breathing. There is yet hope.
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have Mercy on me, a sinner. Jesus, I trust in You!
Thou hast made us for Thyself O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee. (St. Augustine)