“In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin.”
In his admirable book The Confessions Saint Augustine narrates his famous conversation with his mother, Saint Monica, in Ostia, the port of ancient Rome, shortly before she died.
In an inimitable language of literary beauty and elevation, he tells how mother and son, – one already in the fullness of sanctity, the other seized by that ideal – were being led by the desire for eternal things as they leaned against the window of their room at an inn and contemplated the approach of evening.
Away from the crowds, we strived, after the fatigues of a long journey, to recover our strength, keeping in mind the sea crossing. We spoke alone, very softly, forgetting the past and walking towards the future. We tried to imagine, in Thy presence, Thou who art the truth, what the eternal life of the saints would be, that which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard: neither hath it entered into the heart of man” (1 Corinthians 2, 9).
That desire of speaking about heavenly things and knowing what future life awaits us at death, is inherent to human nature. Another great soul, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, alludes to that desire, and even mentions this rapture at the harbor of Ostia.
This happened when the saint, who at fourteen had already decided to be a Carmelite nun, was taken with the great desire to know, proper to her age. She chanced upon the book, End of the Present World and Mysteries of the Future Life by Father Charles Arminjon, which deals precisely with life after death. It impressed her greatly, as she herself testifies:
This reading was one of the greatest graces in my life. . . I experienced already what God reserved for those who love Him…and, seeing the eternal rewards had no proportion to life’s small sacrifices, I wanted to love, to love Jesus with a passion.2
She relates that she spent hours, in the late afternoon, with her sister Celine (later a Carmelite nun), speaking about the things of heaven:
I do not know if I am mistaken, but it seems to me that the outpourings of our souls were similar to those of Saint Monica with her son when, at the port of Ostia, they were lost in ecstasy at the sight of the Creator’s marvels.3
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If the thought of heaven fills us with joy, we must ponder all the possibilities opened for us at the time of death, that is, to consider what the Church calls the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven.
We should think about the risk of eternal damnation and how terrible are the pains of Purgatory and Hell, since, as Scripture counsels, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ecclus.1:16).
The vivacity of the instinct of self-preservation and our attachment to life notwithstanding, we recognize that everything cannot be reduced to this earth. Our thirst for happiness will find its complete manifestation only in a life that does not have the miseries and vicissitudes of this world, the illnesses, the ingratitudes, and the continuous reverses and dangers. In a word, we pine to be able to love to the utmost limit of ourselves and be reciprocated superabundantly, living in peace and happiness, with neither worries nor sudden surprises.
However, we also know that there is an infallible, eternal justice that will establish a kingdom of equity forever, according to which, and in contrast to what frequently happens on earth – the good will be rewarded and evil punished; virtue will no longer be humiliated by vice, and corruption will never again triumph over integrity.
We rely on our innate sense of justice by which we perceive that there must be a future punishment for our present failings in a degree of perfection and rigor impossible here on earth. This is so because human justice can be based only on external acts and on that which appears to the eyes of all without penetrating into the most intimate recesses of our conscience.
In this way, our own instincts and natural inclinations awaken in us a notion of a Heaven that rewards virtue, a Hell that punishes vice, and a Purgatory that eliminates the thorn left by our repented evil acts.
These natural instinctive considerations, found even in the cultural manifestations of pagan or primitive peoples, are confirmed and made explicit by divine Revelation. Through Scriptures, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church, God Himself teaches us about the matter. Our desire to be familiar with that future life thus takes on a dimension and certainty that goes far beyond mere natural reason.
God did not want, however to unveil the future life to us in all its details and aspects, to the extent we would desire to know. We will have a full understanding only after passing through the terrible valley of death, and being judged by the Creator.
Nevertheless, it is entirely legitimate for us to make hypotheses and raise questions about our future life, based on what God reveals to us, the Church teaches us and earthly things unveil to us, through analogies, comparisons and reasoning.
Although private revelations do not have a decisive character, but merely an indicative one – we are free to believe in them or not – they can be very useful to us, provided that we take the necessary precautions concerning their authenticity, and compare them with the doctrine of the Church. With a great deal of realism they symbolically reveal to us the beauties of Heaven and the horrors of Hell that are beyond our imagination.
For this reason this study about the future life, while still based on the teaching of the Church and writings of the doctors and theologians of the best reputation, also makes use of private revelations in order to make the text more attractive and intelligible lest it become a bit arid.
After death, the eternal destiny of the soul is decided by one’s particular or private judgment. The glory of Heaven awaits those who die in friendship with God; eternal damnation, Hell, for whoever dies in wickedness. Between these two ends stands Purgatory, where suffer the saved souls who died without completing all the penances due to their sins.
The modern mentality, imbued with spontaneity and superficiality, has difficulty in thinking seriously about the future life, and shaping its earthly life around that end of its existence.
However, the Church always recalls the warning of the Scriptures: “Remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin” (Ecclus. 7:40). Let us think about the last ends and we will not be condemned to the fire of Hell.
If the fear of Hell is a healthy brake to the attraction of sin, the thought of Heaven is a powerful stimulus for the practice of virtue and a comfort in the midst of sufferings.
* * *
Having seen that death is the door whereby we have access to our future life, we will discuss it at once, with the private Judgment, Hell, and Purgatory following later.
* * *
Saint Joseph was designated by the Church as the patron of a good death. Therefore, to him, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of all graces, we dedicate this work, asking for their protection at the hour of our death.
Let us consider some meaningful examples as a meditation on death. They will help us to understand better this terrible step that all must take.
In an elegant room of a beautiful eighteenth century French house full of ornaments, delicate trimmings, silk hangings and upholstered chairs, an old man is dying under the canopy, of an enormous bed.
He is a thin wasted man. Very intelligent, even genial, but impious and sarcastic, he had a truly diabolic ability to ridicule his adversaries. He used that power especially against the Church and Her Divine Founder, Whom he would refer to only as the “Infamous One,” Who must be crushed.
This philosopher had all that life can offer: money, pleasure, prestige. He was even idolized by many.
He knows he is going to die and has already received the visit of two priests. However he refuses to confess his errors and asks them to leave him in peace.
His body is completely covered with sores, his throat is on fire, and his soul is in despair.
Still lucid, he recognizes that the Church is the truth and Jesus Christ his salvation. But he refuses all graces, he hardens his will in evil. He knows the end that awaits him, and Hell already opens in front of him.
That end arriving, he “dies furious, blaspheming with despair, cursing his friends, scratching his flesh, and eating his own excrement.”5
Saint Thérèse, the Little Flower of Jesus6
Let us now turn towards a poor, unadorned infirmary. It is the infirmary of the convent of the Carmelite nuns of Lisieux, France at the end of the nineteenth century.
A young 24-year-old nun is near death. Stricken with tuberculosis, Thérèse’s struggle with death has been long and sorrowful. She is short of breath and feels suffocated. Her soul is enveloped in a mortal aridity, no longer feeling the consolations of the Divine Spouse to Whom she consecrated her life and Whom loves with an ardor that consumes her more than the illness. The Divine Savior sends this supreme trial to this heroic soul.
According to the custom of the convents, the rest of the nuns surround her. Among them are her three blood sisters: Pauline, Marie and Celine. Pauline (Mother Agnes of Jesus) was her guide, her “little mother.” Marie (Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart) was her affectionate godmother who prepared her for First Communion. Celine (Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face) was a twin soul of her own, with whom she identified most closely and who was especially open to her doctrine of the “Little Way,” or “Spiritual Infancy.”
Her cousin, Marie Guérin (Sister Marie of the Eucharist), the Superior, Mother Marie de Gonzague (who made her suffer so much), and the rest of the professed nuns are also near her deathbed.
All pray fervently and suffer at seeing the suffering of their dying sister. Finally, in an apex of pain, Thérèse raises herself slightly in her bed, looks toward an indefinite point in the room, angelically smiles, and, in an ecstasy of happiness, delivers her virginal soul to God.
Photographed immediately after death, that paradisiacal smile is still present on the lips of that nun who had wanted to be a contemplative, a missionary, a warrior and a new Saint Joan of Arc. That smile is the beginning of Heaven.
Finally, let us consider a small Palestinian house. It is composed of walls of layered rocks and has a flat roof, as was the style in this region that so seldomly sees rain.
In a simple, rustic room, marked by an indefinable cleanliness and elevation, a seasoned and venerable old man struggles with death on a meagre bed. Unequalled majesty and sweetness emanate from him.
On one side of the bed is a young Man, robust but not coarse, with such harmonic facial features that about him David prophetically exclaimed: “Thou art beautiful above the sons of men” (Ps. 44:3). It is obviously Jesus Christ standing next to the bed of His foster father.
On the other side is a middle-aged lady whose beauty is enhanced by her maturity. To her are applied the words of the Canticle of Canticles (4:7): “Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee.” This is Mary Most Holy.
We are in front of Saint Joseph, being aided in his final moments by Our Lord and Our Lady.
There cannot be a more efficacious or consoling support or a happier death for this glorious Patriarch, husband of the Virgin Mary and therefore true, although not carnal, father of the Divine Savior.
This is why the Church named him the patron of a good death.
How Death Shocks Us
Let us enter into another kind of consideration.
Our most intense instinct is the one of self-preservation. When suddenly threatened, our whole body goes into a state of alert. Our breathing changes, our vision becomes intensified and all our senses focus on forestalling the danger that can put our life at risk.
Under the intense emotion caused by danger, a man can do things for himself or a loved one that he normally could not do. He will throw himself from a flaming building, leap over extremely high walls, cross swollen and raging streams, run enormous distances or throw himself in front of a car to save a loved one.
All this is instinctive. It precedes thinking and leads to rapid, efficient and fulminant action. Such intensity shows that, naturally speaking, man sees life as the greatest of all goods. Moreover, he is so attached to life that he is disposed to make the greatest sacrifices and concessions to save it, at times placing it above any other value.
This is why when a man puts the defense of country, a noble cause, principles, virtue or, especially, the Faith above his life, it is an expression of high moral detachment and heroism. When he puts the love of God above life, he becomes a martyr, a saint.
Thus, on the purely natural level, without considering grace and divine assistance, man fears death more than anything else, and feels distressed even in face of its remote perspective.
When man views death with supernatural spirit, however, he knows, despite the violence of the separation of the soul from the body, that death is the door giving access to the future life and the glory of the blessed. He then regards death with eyes full of faith and hope.
Death, the Wages of Sin
Saint Paul teaches us: “For the wages of sin is death. But the grace of God, life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
“Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned” (Rom 5:12).
Death has a note of punishment. That is why it is so dreaded and causes so much suffering.
Naturally speaking, man should not live forever. He is a composite being, formed of a spiritual soul – which is immortal – and an organic body – which is perishable. The soul gives life to the human composite being. When the body collapses – through illness, wear and tear or accident – it loses its capacity of union with the soul. The two elements of the human composite being separate; the soul enters into eternity and the body enters into corruption, turning to dust, from which it was created (cf. Gen. 2:7), until the Final Resurrection when it will unite once again with the soul.
Consequence of Original Sin
God created our first parents, Adam and Eve, and gave them an earthly paradise as a dwelling.
The Creator Himself, Who conversed with Adam at the time of the afternoon breeze, raised them to the supernatural order, giving them the gift of sanctifying grace, through whicih they participate in the divine life itself.
Beyond this, He gave them many gratuitous gifts, called charisms,7 that were above human nature. Thus they received the gift of infused knowledge, by which they understood everything, and the gift of integrity, whereby they were spared illness and death.
Had it not been for sin, the life of man on earth would have been a celestial life in the friendship of God amid the enchantments and sweetness of Eden. Man was the king of creation; the animals themselves obeyed him and nature bent before his will. After his time was completed, when his sanctity had reached a certain level, the Angels would lead him to enjoy the fullness of happiness in Heaven.
But God, Who is all justice, established a trial so that there might be merits in the practice of virtue. Desiring the complete submission of man to His divine will, God tried Adam and Eve, prohibiting them from eating the fruit of the tree in the middle of Paradise, called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Tempted by the devil, Eve let herself be seduced; she, in turn, seduced her husband. Disobeying the divine precept, both ate of the forbidden fruit.
The punishment came: They lost their original innocence, opening their eyes towards evil; “they perceived themselves to be naked” (Gen. 3:7), and concupiscence rose up within them.
Expelled from Paradise, they had to work and earn their bread with the sweat of their brow. They experienced for the first time the weight of exhaustion. The woman would give birth in pain, the earth would be filled with thorns, and the animals would revolt against their former masters.
In virtue of their sin, called Original, for having been the first committed by humanity, Adam and Eve lost not only sanctifying grace, which made them friends of God, but also some of the extraordinary gifts,8 especially that of integrity, thereby becoming subject to illness and death (cf. Genesis, chapters 2 and 3).
The Pangs of Death and the Good Death
Death marks the end of our trial here on earth. It prevents us from earning more merit, repenting for our sins and receiving additional graces. Man enters into eternity as he dies, “If the tree fall to the south, or to the north, in what place soever it shall fall, there shall it be”(Eccles. 11:3).
A good death depends upon a special grace that God grants to those who have lived well, who have repented for their sins or, more rarely, to anyone He decides to grant it out of pure generosity according to His holy designs. The grace of a good death and final perseverance is one of the graces that we ought to ask for with great insistence.
Natural death, that which does not result from a fatal accident, comes normally proceeded with agony, which can vary in length. Agony comes from Greek and means struggle. In fact, in that tragic moment we join in the final battle which will decide our ultimate fate – salvation or damnation. By permission of God, the devil unleashes a supreme attack during the final agony, trying to lead the dying person to despair.
While we should not be terrorized at this perspective, we must take the perspective of the agony very seriously hoping with confidence in the mercy of God and in the intercession of Mary Most Holy.
Whoever has lived a virtuous life and, especially, prayed much for the grace of a good death can be certain Our Lady, Saint Joseph and the Holy Angels will be helping him in his agony. It is the supreme moment for heroic confidence in the mercy of God.
Duties to The Dying
Although the primary responsibility for a good death lies with the individual, it is a grave duty of charity to help others die well, especially if they are friends, family members or someone whose death we happen to witness.
This obligation of charity consists in providing the dying one with a priest for Confession and Extreme Unction, in helping him make acts of faith, hope and charity and supporting him with our prayers.
Failing to call a priest for fear of frightening the patient – an attitude unfortunately very common – is a pagan and naturalist way of proceeding. It can be a real crime against the dying person, since his eternal destiny can depend on this. His fear will be much greater when he comes face to face with the judgment of God without having received the Sacraments to prepare him for eternal life.
With true repentance, confession pardons sins. The Anointing of the Sick, or Extreme Unction, also confers pardon, especially in cases of unconsciousness, and, when it is the will of God, it even improves or restores a person’s health.
In his Epistle, Saint James exhorts:
Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man; and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.Confess therefore yours sins to one another; and pray one for another, that you may be saved (James 5:14-16).
Anointing of the Sick has several effects:
1) It increases sanctifying grace in the soul, destroys what has been left of sin (weakness, bad inclinations and so forth) and fortifies the soul against past, present and future evils.
2) It absolves mortal sins in cases in which the person, through no fault of his own, cannot confess, provided that he has attrition, that is, supernatural repentance for fear of God.
3) Depending on the levels of the person’s interior dispositions, it removes, at least partially, the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven.
4) It restores health to the body if it is helpful for the soul. Although a secondary effect, this is infallible if it be for the spiritual good of the sick person.
In cases of unconsciousness, Anointing of the Sick is more important than Confession itself, because, the sacrament of Penance requires for its validity at least the supernatural attrition of the sinner manifested externally in some manner. On the other hand, habitual attrition is sufficient for the validity of the Anointing, even if it is not displayed externally in some way.
After Confession and Anointing of the Sick, if the dying person is lucid, he should receive Holy Communion, that is the Viaticum, which is the nourishment to walk the paths of death, strengthened with the bread of the Angels – Jesus Christ Himself in sacramental form.
In Face of Death, We Should Neither Panic nor Remain Indifferent
Regarding death, we should avoid nervous panic and despair as well as indifference towards eternal life and the presumption of salvation without merit. This attitude is different from the humble and supplicating confidence of one who hopes for everything from Divine Mercy but who does everything he can to be well prepared for the decisive meeting with the Creator.
Our own death, or that of those dear to us, must be accepted with resignation. Evidently, the death of loved ones should sadden us. Our Lord Himself gave proof of this by weeping over the death of Lazarus (John 11:3 ff).
Although death is inevitable and has a note of punishment, it becomes meritorious when accepted with resignation, or as a suffering for our sins.
Saint Pius X highly recommended that the faithful pray the following act of conformity to the will of God. He even enriched it with a plenary indulgence at the moment of death for whoever prays it devoutly everyday:
Lord, my God, with all my heart and complete free will, I accept now from Thy hands the kind of death that Thou hast reserved for me, with all its afflictions, pains and sufferings.
Let us meditate frequently upon death, not with the despair of pagans, or as the end of our existence like atheists, but as a blessed gate through which we enter into Paradise. Then we see why Saint Paul affirms that death was conquered by the resurrection of Christ: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55).
As soon as man dies, the terrible moment of his private judgment follows. Then he will render accounts for all his actions, and a Merciful, but Just, Judge will give His definitive judgment: salvation or damnation, Heaven or Hell.
The Letter from Beyond
To gain an idea of the reality of this private judgment, let us read a passage of the Letter from Beyond or the letter from “the other world.”
The origin of this document is impressive. In the fifties, among the papers of a young nun in Germany who had just died, a manuscript was found. It told how this person, through a dream or another way utilized by divine Providence, received a letter from a damned soul.
One day, when Claire – the future religious – was vacationing in a boarding house in Switzerland, she received a letter from her mother saying that Anne – a former girlfriend at work she had lost track of – had died.
Because Anne had fallen away from religious practice, the young girl was worried about the salvation of her soul and spent the whole day distressed and praying for her.
That night she awakened with the sound of sheets of paper slipped violently beneath her door. Gathering them up, she saw that it was a long letter written to her. Stunned, she recognized immediately the handwriting of her dead friend, asking her not to pray for her anymore because she was condemned. She went on to tell how she had refused each one of the graces of God, until the end. She told what had happened to her immediately after death; and she affirmed that she was in Hell, which she describes with terrible reality.
Anne’s description of her private judgment is in complete agreement with what the theologians teach.
She had died in a car accident, and says that at the time she felt an intense suffering; but, immediately afterwards, saw herself enveloped by complete darkness. She continues:
I awakened from the darkness in the exact moment of my death. I saw myself, suddenly, wrapped up in a blinding light. It was in the same place where my body was found. Everything happened as in a theater, when suddenly the lights go out, the curtains are opened, and the scene appears tragically illuminated: the scene of my life.
I saw my soul reflected as in a mirror. I perceived then the graces that I trampled on, from the time of my childhood until my last “no” said to God.
I had the impression of myself as of an assassin lead to the tribunal with himself the dead victim. Did I want to repent? Never! Was I ashamed of myself? Never!
Meanwhile, it was not possible for me to remain in the presence of God, who was denied and rejected by me. Only one thing was left for me: the fire of hell. So, as Cain fled from Abel’s body, so too my soul fled from that horrible vision.
That was my private or particular judgment.
Thus the Invisible Judge said: Remove thyself from my presence!” In that moment my soul fell, like a sulphurous shadow, into the place of eternal torment.”
Are More Condemned than Saved?
Evidently, not every private judgment ends with the tragic sentence of condemnation. We cannot ever affirm decisively that the number of those condemned is greater than those saved, since this is a secret that God keeps for Himself. However, in periods of greater religious indifference or great immorality, clearly more are lost than in periods of fervor and intense piety.
Be that as it may, what matters for us is that we be prepared for that terrible moment when our eternal destiny will be sealed.
The Parable of Lazarus and Rich Man
By means of parables, Our Lord tried to show us the irrevocable character of the eternal sentence, this can be seen for example, in the parables of the “indebted servant”(Matthew 18. 23ff), the “evil winegrowers”(Matthew 21. 33ff), the “wedding of the king’s son”(Matthew 22. 1ff), and the “prudent and foolish virgins”(Matthew 25. 1ff).
In the parable of the “bad rich man and the good Lazarus,” the eternal reward given to the good, and the equally eternal punishment of evil, is vividly illustrated.
There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen; and feasted sumptuously every day.
And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores, desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table, and no one did give him; moreover the dogs came, and licked his sores.
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in hell.
And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom;
And he cried, and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame. And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted; and thou art tormented.
And besides all this, between you, and us there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come-hither.
And he said: Then, father, I beseech thee, that you wouldst send him to my father’s house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments.
And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.But he said: No, father Abraham, but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance.
And he said to him: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead (Luke 16. 19-31).
The Teaching of the Theologians
The theologians, interpreting the Scriptures and Tradition, observe that what takes place in the world beyond, what happens after death, is a mystery for us. Revelation gives us elements to know with infallible certitude that the private judgment, Purgatory, Heaven and Hell, exist. However, it only describes them through symbols and figures. We must then speculate on these matters, starting from what we know about earthly things and making analogies about what is eternal.
According to St. Paul, we see God here on earth, as in a mirror; He is reflected in His creatures, of which He is the perfect model, the exemplar cause.
Thus we do not have a clear and evident vision of God, as we have of created things; so we must, the same Apostle said, now live by faith.
In this way, although we may be drawn by the Absolute Good, which is God, without seeing Him on the level of evidence, we remain free to let ourselves be seduced by the relative goods of creatures.
Although in life, the soul is united to the body in a perfect harmony, it nevertheless suffers the effects of the body. Indeed the sensibility plays a very important role. While helping us recognize things, it can also deform our understanding and powerfully influence our will. This results in making what is closer and more sensible to us more attractive than that which demands an effort of intelligence and will (an act of ascesis) for us to perceive.
Therefore, between an earthly, burning and possessive passion, and the pure, disinterested love of God, our poor nature has to make a superhuman effort to choose the right course.
When we die, things change: man loses his sensibility and comes to know directly through intuition, like the angels. Then He sees things relative to himself and God with a degree of evidence that is impossible to our present existence on earth.
The theologians explain, that at the moment of death, the soul, separated from the body, becomes fully aware that God is its final end and that it only exists in function of Him. Thus it feels an irresistible attraction towards Him, like a derelict person who finally sees the land of salvation.
In the same way, the soul sees itself without illusions, behind which we hide our defects in this world. The Separated from the body, the soul’s moral condition appears as if reflected in a mirror, as shown above. Moreover, God communicates the light of His understanding to the soul, in such a way that it perceives its whole life: each one of its voluntary acts, whether good or bad, the received, accepted or refused graces, and its sins. The person’s life flashes before his eyes like a film shown at brilliant speed but which he can follow and understand.
In the light of God, the judged soul sees the Divine Will in its regard, at that very moment it chooses its own eternal destiny. If it dies in the state of grace without any debt to Divine Justice, it is drawn toward God like filings toward a magnet. If it is in friendship with God, but lacks sufficient penance for his sins, it seeks out Purgatory, to purify itself entirely. Then when completely free from all stain of sin, it lets its Guardian Angel lead it to Heaven.
Finally, if it dies in enmity with God, it flees in terror from the Creator and throws itself into Hell in revolt and despair without remission.
Theologians unanimously hold that the soul does not see God in the private judgment, but only senses His presence and understands His will.
Indeed, to see God we need a special grace called the light of glory. We will speak about it later.
A Sentence Immediately Executed
The sentence of the private judgment is carried out immediately. It would be contrary to the wisdom of God that a soul should remain waiting somewhere once the verdict has been pronounced. This was confirmed by the case of the Good Thief, who addressed Our Lord in the following terms: “Jesus, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom.” To which Jesus answered: “Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23. 42-43)
The private judgment of both the just and ungodly is also described well in this admirable passage of the Book of Wisdom:
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die; and their departure was taken for misery; and their going away from us, for utter destruction; but they are in peace.
And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality. Afflicted in few things, in many they shall be well rewarded; because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of Himself.
As gold in the furnace he hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust he hath received them, and in time there shall be respect had to them. The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds. They shall judge nations, and rule over people, and their Lord shall reign for ever.
They that trust in him, shall understand the truth; and they that are faithful in love shall rest in him; for grace and peace is to his elect.
But the wicked shall be punished according to their own devices; who have neglected the just, and have revolted from the Lord. For he that rejecteth wisdom, and discipline, is unhappy; and their hope is vain, and their labors without fruit, and their works unprofitable (Wisdom 3. 1-12).
A Condemned Prostitute
Saint Francis Jerome (1642-1716) was a great preacher. Born of a noble family, he entered the Jesuits and developed his ministry in Naples.
Through his sermons, he converted innumerable sinners, convicts and fallen women.
Among the extraordinary facts in his biography the following excerpt is particularly pertinent since it refers to eternal damnation.
His sermons were commonly followed with the repentance and conversion of five, six and even ten fallen women, who appeared with their hair undone and shedding many tears, asking permission to enter into some convent in order to do penance for their sins.
One day, the servant of God preached in front of the home of one of those unfortunate women. Rather than repent, however she did everything she could to interrupt him, even letting loose great yells, but nothing she did suceeded to distract the attention of our saint, who continued his sermon until its end.
Some days later, Father Francis passed in front of the same house, and seeing it closed, asked those who were nearby: “What happened to Catherine?” That was the name of the unhappy woman.
She died suddenly yesterday,” they answered.
“Dead!” exclaimed the Saint. “Let us go and see her.”
He entered the home, and climbed the stairs. There he saw the body laid out according to the custom. Then, in the midst of the profound silence that reigned over the place, in spite of the large number of spectators, he exclaimed: “Tell me, Catherine, what has been done with thy soul?”
He asked this question twice without getting an answer; but, when he repeated it a third time, in a tone of authority, the dead woman opened her eyes, moved her lips in sight of everyone and, with a weak voice that seemed to come out of a great depth, answered: “In hell; I am in hell!”
Everyone left frightened and, upon withdrawing, the Saint repeatedly said: “In hell! In hell! All-powerful God, terrible God! In hell!”
The event and words of the saint caused such an impression that many did not dare return home without first going to confession.
Hell as Seen by Saint Teresa of Avila
Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) is one of the most extraordinary saints of the Church. As a reformer of the Carmelite order, she led a life of intense activity. Burning with love, and given greatly to prayer, her life was deeply mystical9. She described this life in detail in her books, which became basic works for the study of Catholic mysticism.
In her autobiography, she recounts being taken alive to Hell, and attests to the good that this did for her. Here are her words:
Some considerable time after our Lord had bestowed upon me the graces I have been describing, and others also of a higher nature, I was one day in prayer when I found myself in a moment, without knowing how, plunged apparently into hell. I understood that it was our Lord’s will I should see the place which the devils kept in readiness for me, and which I had deserved by my sins. It was but a moment, but it seems to me impossible I should ever forget it, even if I were to live many years.
The entrance seemed to be by a long narrow pass, like a furnace, very low, dark, and close. The ground seemed to be saturated with water, mere mud, exceedingly foul, sending forth pestilential odours, and covered with loathsome vermin. At the end was a hollow place in the wall, like a closet, and in that I saw myself confined. All this was even pleasant to behold in comparison with what I felt there. There is no exaggeration in what I am saying.
But as to what I then felt, I do not know where to begin, if I were to describe it; it is utterly inexplicable. I felt a fire in my soul. I cannot see how it is possible to describe it. My bodily sufferings were unendurable. I have undergone most painful sufferings in this life, and, as the physicians say, the greatest that can be borne, such as the contraction of my sinews when I was paralyzed, without speaking of others of different kinds, yea, even those of which I have also spoken, inflicted on me by Satan; yet all those were as nothing in comparison with what I felt then, especially when I saw there would be no intermission, nor any end to them.
Those sufferings were nothing in comparison with the anguish of my soul, a sense of oppression, of stifling, and of pain so keen, accompanied by so hopeless and cruel an infliction, that I know not how to speak of it. If I said that the soul is continually being torn from the body it would be nothing – for that implies the destruction of life by the hands of another; but here is the soul itself that is tearing itself in pieces. I cannot describe that inward fire of that despair, surpassing all torments and all pain. I did not see who it was that tormented me, but I felt myself on fire, and torn to pieces, as it seemed to me; and, I repeat it, this inward fire and despair are the greatest torments of all.
Left in that pestilential place, and utterly without the power to hope for comfort, I could neither sit nor or lie down: there was no room. I was placed as it were in a hole in the wall; and those walls, terrible to look on of themselves, hemmed me in on every side. I could not breathe. There is no light, but all was thick darkness. I do not understand how it is; though there was no light, yet everything that can give pain by being seen was visible.
Our Lord at that time would not let me see more of hell. Afterwards I had another most fearful vision, in which I saw the punishments of certain sins. They were most horrible to look at; but because of I felt none of the pain, my terror was not so great. In the former vision, our Lord made me really feel those torments, and that anguish of spirit, just as if I had been suffering them in the body there. I know not how it was, but I understood distinctly that it was a great mercy that our Lord would have me see with mine own eyes the very place from which His compassion saved me. I have listened to people speaking of these things , and I have at other times dwelt on the various torments of hell, though not often, because my soul made no progress by the way of fear; and I have read of the diverse tortures, and how the devils tear the flesh with red-hot pincers. But all that is as nothing before this; it is a wholly different matter. In short, one is a reality, the other a picture; and all the burning here in this life is as nothing in comparison with the fire that is there.
I was so terrified by that vision – and that terror is on me even now while I am writing – that though it took place six years ago, the natural warmth of my body is chilled by fear when I think of it. And so, amid all the pain and suffering which I may have had to bear, I remember no time in which I do not think that all we have to suffer in this world is as nothing. It seems to me that we complain without reason. I repeat it, this vision was one of the grandest mercies of our Lord. It has been to me of the greatest service, because it made me strong enough to bear up against them, and to give thanks to our Lord, who has been my Deliverer, as it now seems to me, from those fearful and everlasting pains.10
Hell Seen by the Fatima Children
On July 13, 1917, Our Lady in Fatima, appeared the third time and showed the three children hell. Sister Lucy tells what happened:
[Our Lady] once again opened her hands as she had done in the two previous months. The reflection [which streamed from them] seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a great sea of fire; submerged in that fire were demons and souls in human shapes who resembled red-hot, black and bronze-colored embers that floated about in the blaze, borne by the flames that issued from them together with clouds of smoke, falling everywhere like the showering sparks of great blazes – with neither weight nor equilibrium – amidst shrieks and groans of sorrow and despair that horrified us and made us shudder with fear.
The devils stood out like frightful and unknown animals with horrible and disgusting shapes, but transparent like black coals that have become red-hot.11
All this happened in an instant, and was so shocking that the three children would have died from fright if Our Lady had not promised to take them to Heaven.
Proofs from Revelation
The existence of an eternal Hell is a truth of the Faith, defined by the Church in councils, symbols of Faith and documents of the Magisterium.
In addition, scriptural references to it are countless, including this impressive sentence of the Divine Savior: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” (St. Matthew 25:41).
In this affirmation the existence of Hell is unquestionable (the fire prepared for the devil and his angels) as well as the interminability of both the fire and the separation from God (depart from me, you cursed into everlasting fire).
The same Evangelist recounts other statements of the Savior in which the sensible torment in hell is illustrated with the loss of the Divine Presence, exterior darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth.For example Jesus describes in this way the fate awaiting the Jews who refuse him, “they will be cast out into the exterior darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12).
Likewise, in the parable of the wedding feast of the King’s son, referring to the man without a wedding garment (that is, without innocence), Jesus says, “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the exterior darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (22:12-14) and again concerning the unfaithful servant of the parable of the talents Jesus says, “cast him into the exterior darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:30).
In the parable of the wheat and the tares, Our Lord explains: “The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all scandals, and them that work iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (13:41-43).
In the Gospel of Saint Mark we find another severe warning about Hell. There, Our Lord insists on the fire that never goes out and the worm that does not die. These symbolize the eternity of the two main torments of Hell: one of the senses (fire) and one of loss (the worm, which represents continuous remorse and the privation of the presence of and hope in God):
And if thy hand scandalize thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life, maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into unquenchable fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished.
And if thy foot scandalize thee, cut it off. It is better for thee to enter lame into life everlasting, than having two feet, to be cast into the hell of unquenchable fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished.
And if thy eye scandalize thee, pluck it out. It is better for thee with one eye to enter into the kingdom of God, than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished.
For everyone shall be salted with fire; and every victim shall be salted with salt. (9:42-48)
These terrible examples sufficiently demonstrate how the Divine Savior insisted on eternal punishment to prepare his listeners for conversion, and ultimately eternal salvation.
The Sufferings of Hell
In this chapter, we will describe more systematically, the two fundamental punishments of Hell: the pain of loss and the pain of the senses.
The Pain of Loss
The pain of loss is suffering par excellence and the greatest punishment that man can suffer. It consists in his definitive exclusion from eternal life and the irremediable loss of his highest happiness, namely the privation of the beatific vision and possession of God.
Hell essentially consists in this most frightening punishment, and all the others are only a mere consequence of it.
One could object that the pain of loss can not be that terrible, because, while on earth we are deprived of the beatific vision without much affliction.
However, on earth this deprivation is simply the privation of a good not yet due to man, and whose possession is still possible. However, for the damned, it is the privation of a good which should but can never have, and thus he suffers immensely.
In this life, we understand immeasurably less about God as our sovereign good, and the vision and possession of the creatures that surround us serve as a distraction from the thought of the Highest Good, thus calming our innate desire for happiness. We find entertainment and joy in creatures.
However, after death, we are deprived of all goods, and only the vision of God will make us happy. More than a fish needs water, we feel an urgent, imperious, constant and uninterrupted need of God, about Whom we will not stop thinking even for an instant.
While the companionship of other souls will be a joy for those in Heaven, for the damned those that surround them, far from bringing relief, or even distraction, will only augment their torture.
Furthermore, the punishment of damnation is not equal for all the condemned. The affliction of each reprobate, differs according to his culpability. The more culpable he is, the more tortured he will be for having fallen more deeply into the dark and terrible abyss of sin.
The Pain of the Senses
The torments of the senses consist above all in the fire of Hell. It is a real fire, but mysterious, similar and different from earthly fire.
Because we can know about the afterlife only by comparison with things of earth, we could assert that the fire of Hell is analogous to our earthly fire. However, at the same time, it is different. The exact measure of this is impossible to specify.
The law of analogy asks that the difference in the nature of the fire be established, both in its properties and effects. Fortunately, revelation clarifies these points:
Similarities: While the Church has not defined the fire of Hell as material, it is designated by the term of fire or flame around thirty times in the New Testament, at least eight times of which are in the Gospels. This language would not be used if the punishment of fire (the most terrible punishment here on earth) did not have an intimate connection with the punishment of Hell, and if it were not the most appropriate illustration of its severity.
Differences: All theologians recognize the differences that separate hellfire from natural fire:
– Natural fire is produced as a result of certain chemical operations while the fire of Hell owes its origin and its subsistence to the wrath of God.
– Natural fire only operate on souls through means of their bodies while infernal fire directly tortures the spirit.
– Natural fire will extinguish itself while that which the wrath of God enkindles, will burn forever.
– Natural fire illuminates while the fire of Hell produces darkness.
– Natural fire consumes what it burns, the infernal flame burns and tortures its victim without destroying him.
How does the fire of Hell work? How can material fire burn a pure spirit like the devil or a damned soul before the final resurrection?
Beginning with Saint Thomas, practically all theologians are in agreement that this action of matter over spirit is naturally impossible. The material fire of Hell can only act over spirits through an action of God whereby the fire produces a special effect that reaches the soul. In order to act over souls, this effect must also have an immaterial nature.
The eternal fire does not burn the soul of the reprobate or demon, but shackles the spirit, impeding it from moving freely. This enslavement is not just local, extrinsic to the spirit, but is a modification that is incorporated into the faculties of the soul, preventing the free use of the intelligence, memory, imagination and will.
For example, the imagination cannot free the soul from present torments or entertain it with agreeable thoughts and pleasant memories.
Even when the demons leave Hell temporarily with divine permission, they do not escape the imprisonment of this fire. Even outside of Hell, they remain under its action which directly impedes
the use of their spiritual powers. Thus, owing to this continual action, they suffer the lack of freedom that the fire of Hell causes them, as if the fire were near to them. This is analogous to a blessed Angel who, leaving celestial places, retains the vision of God (the light of glory).
* * *
The opinion that there might be ice and water in Hell, whereby reprobates go from the heat of fire to the frigidness of ice and water, is not supported in Scripture. Theologians also explain that the reference Our Lord made to gnawing worms signifies the remorse experienced by the damned and demons.
Can we know where Hell is?
As the theologians point out, by natural reason we cannot know where Hell is. Revelation did not speak clearly enough on this nor was it defined by the Magisterium.
Still, the opinion of the Church Fathers and theologians has always been that Hell exists inside the earth. Not only does the language of the Scriptures support this, but because there is space and fire in the interior of the earth, nothing is reasonably opposed to it. Besides, the Latin word for Hell, Infernus, indicates an inferior place, and therefore reinforces the common belief that it is subterranean. But all this is mere speculation which cannot be verified and does not hold real importance.
Can Reprobates ever Leave Hell?
Before the resurrection of the body, the souls of the condemned and the demons are imprisoned in Hell by the infernal fire, as was already explained.
While the demons can leave Hell to tempt men, the question is more difficult to answer with regard to the reprobate. While it is reasonable to think that some reprobates appear on earth through Divine permission to benefit living, it is something rare, extraordinary and, except in extreme situations, a great punishment for men.
Social Interaction, a Source of Suffering
Being together with demons and the damned in Hell is also a cause of suffering. Their unspeakable depravity, creates the odious condition in which they exist. Also, the horrible punishments of the reprobates are a frightening spectacle. Therefore this continual, eternal society is an additional torment.
This torment runs counter to the reprobates need of sociability and cordial treatment, which, here on earth, is a source of much happiness and joy when in a good society, and causes much displeasure and annoyance in a hateful and depraved one.
Therefore, Hell is not a solitary-confinement regime in which the vision of pious soul causes grief, but a great abyss of fire, where the demons and damned constitute a community which torments them.12
The infernal darkness is not so dense that it prevents corporal sight. Imagine the horror of Hell, and the frightening disorder caused by the hateful tyranny of the demons and eternal and universal hatred in relation to others, which exists to such and extent that no good feeling ever exists between one condemned and another.
Hating God, the final cause, they are filled with hatred for one another. They consider everyone, including themselves, contemptible and repulsive.
Moreover, there are special sufferings resulting from the interaction between the sinner and his accomplices, corrupters and those he corrupted during life. For example there is a special torment for the relations between fornicators, adulterers, members of a gang, totalitarian parties or sects, or bad professors and their corrupted students.
Suffering in Everything
Is everything in Hell a torment?
Yes. In this cursed place, about which Dante wrote, “abandon all hope ye who enter here,” the damned do not receive any of the sweet and intense satisfactions the joy of living on earth affords us: lights, breezes, reasoning, rest and comfort. None of this, which is loved so much here on earth exists among the damned. They feel the privation of corporal freedom and the sensations of immensity, variety and changing ambiences. All this is consumed by the fire of Hell.
Even the imagination and memory are a source of torture, since these merely feed their irremediable despair.
The degree of refusal provides the measure of suffering
To understand well why the torments of Hell are so terrible, we must compare them with the immensity of Divine Mercy that a reprobate refused. In choosing Hell, he rejected the Creation, elevation to the state of grace, Incarnation, Passion and Death of Our Lord, intercession of Mary Most Holy and the Saints and institution of the Church and Sacraments.
God loves all men more than the most loving mother loves her son. Consequently, He surrounds them with affection and exceptional care. Our Lord went so far as to compare Himself with a hen that gathers her chicks beneath her wings (Matthew 23:37) to demonstrate this affection. The degree of refusal of this love corresponds to the amount of suffering in Hell.
God is the cause of all good, beauty and truth. When one breaks with Him, he retains evil, ugliness, falsity and error. Physical and mental health depend on this ordering element of everything, Which is God. To be separated from Him is to be separated from the source of all health, well-being and sweetness. Only disease, hideousness, and suffering remain.
Responding to Objections About Hell
In this chapter, using theological arguments, we will strive we will refute the most common objections made against the existence and eternity of Hell.
The objections are numbered and followed by the refutations.
1. Because God is good, He cannot wish evil on anyone
– Obviously, God does not wish evil on anyone. He created all men for Heaven, and does not want anyone to go to Hell. His universal love and kindness offer everyone superabundant means for salvation. However when men refuse this kindness, preferring Hell over Heaven, they render it ineffectual.
Furthermore, although God is good, He is also just. His kindness cannot contradict His justice. Among men, kindness can degenerate into weakness and justice into hardness of heart, but, being perfect, God’s virtues exist in an harmonic balance such that one cannot prevent the exercise of the other.
2. Why does not God prevent man from practicing evil, or force him to do good?
– God endowed angels and men with intelligence and will. Because the capacity to choose between good and evil is a characteristic of a rational being, God had to make every rational being free. This freedom differentiates us from irrational beings, who are uncontrollably guided by their instincts and thus unable to modify their actions. Since God cannot contradict His own work, He cannot create man free and then prevent him from using his freedom.
Freedom is also necessary for actions to have merit. If God forced angels and men to do good, their actions would lack any merit.
3. Why did God create Hell?
– God created Hell to avenge the Divine justice offended by sin. Hell’s punishments atone for the offenses committed against Him and re-establish the order of the Universe, which demands that good is rewarded and evil castigated.
Thus Hell’s existence is a powerful (and often the only effective) incentive for the practice of good. Fear of Hell has served to turn countless souls from the path of vice to love of God and virtue. Saint Augustine reputedly said that because of Original Sin, if Hell did not exist to punish evil, life here on earth would be transformed into a Hell because without fear of future punishment, most men would selfishly seek their own advantage, and few would restrain their passions for the sake of love.
Finally considering the mercy of God, Who grants so many graces for salvation, one sees more clearly the necessity of Divine Justice and Hell.
4. Since God knows that certain men will be damned, why does he allow it?
– This common objection, expresses an implicit error by which God is spoken of in human terms.
In human terms, when a man sees the future, he sees something that still has not happened. On the other hand, for God there is no time, everything is present. He sees past, present and future simultaneously. Thus, God does not foresee, but simply sees, and if He prevented something from happening, since it would not happen He would not see it. Therefore, God sees actual reality in the exact moment it takes place, not something that yet is going to take place.
Perhaps a comparison will help illustrate this point.
If an apparatus existed that was capable of filming a future event as though it were the past, we would see the event, but would be unable to change its outcome, because the apparatus would have registered a future reality, not a future possibility.
Furthermore, knowing the future is different from being the cause of an event. Thus God’s knowing that a man is going to damn himself, does not make him the cause of it, nor does it mean that He desires it. A father who sees that his son does not accept his advice and change his lifestyle may know that his son is going to be lost, but in no way does he desire it.
5. If God is Love, why must He avenge himself against the reprobates?
– God does not desire the perdition of the reprobates. When someone dies as God’s enemy, persevering in evil and forever refusing the divine grace, their perdition comes from themselves, not God.
Concerning vengeance, there is another play on words. In this sense the term vengeance is different from the way it is used in relation to men. In our case, vengeance is the fruit of an imperfection, which is impossible in God. Here, the word is understood in its juridical sense meaning the re-establishment of justice, which God exercises within the bounds of His perfect impassibility and supreme equilibrium.
6. Why can man not repent after death?
– Because the mutability of human nature comes from the union of soul and body, man can only change his will while he is alive, during which time he perceives earthly things imperfectly. However, the soul, separated from the body, comes face to face with eternal truths. Thus it loses the ability to see something imperfect as a good. The eternal goods are evident, and attract or repel the soul without its free choice.
Man’s last act of will decides his final choice and fixes his destiny forever. The soul enters into eternity with a will unchangeably fixed, in good or evil. Thus man’s psychology and God’s sentence are both eternally immutable. Such a change would imply an uncertainty in God, contradicting His Justice and Wisdom. God treats everyone with impartiality, rewarding or punishing each according to his actions.
7. If all souls see God and His perfection clearly, why does not the irresistible attraction they feel towards Him keep them from choosing Hell?
– Upon dying, the reprobate sees God in His infinite perfection, and himself in the hideous moral condition in which he died simultaneously.
The stainless Divine Purity contrasts with the reprobates moral ugliness to an unbearable degree. This contrast crushes him; making him feel repugnant in face of the infinite sanctity and perfection of God and the moral beauty of the elect, to such a degree that he prefers Hell’s torments to Heaven’s delights. Thus infinite beauty of God, that attracts him also repels him.
8. Is it the reprobate that willfully flees God’s presense?
– According to most theologians, reprobates willfully flee God’s presense. Since God, the supreme Beauty for which man was made is unbearable to him, he detests, blasphemes and curses God, Whom he has lost forever. This can be compared to an obsessive relationship in which love, becoming impossible, is transformed into dominant, unsubdued hatred, heightened fury, rage and despair.
Thus, in spite of his natural tendency towards God, the reprobate, knowing that only God can satisfy his insatiable thirst for happiness, still willingly flees from this sovereign Good.
9. Could a reprobate desire Heaven while he is in Hell?
– As shown above, by the characteristic psychology of a reprobate, he will never desire Heaven. Let us take a closer look at why this is so.
On earth, the sinner chooses a created good, a deceiving and finite pleasure, as his ultimate end, instead of God. If he could remain in sin forever, without punishment, he would never turn to God. His transitory plans of amendment are fickle and indefinite. When satiated with sin he wants to regularize his affairs, out of fear of Hell, not for love of God. He hates only the punishment due to sin, not the intrinsic disorder and offense to God.
Thus, the sinner, chooses sin and Hell over God and Heaven. Although he may not desire the torments of Hell, he does wish to remain in a state of life that leads to Hell and the definitive separation from God. Through attachment to sinful pleasure or the satanic pride, the hardened sinner sells his Heavenly patrimony, like Esau sold his inheritance. Saint Gregory the Great stated that sinners would like to live eternally only to practice their sin forever.
In this light one sees clearly that a person who dies such, forever binds himself to the disorder of sin, and thus throws himself into eternal damnation.
10. Is it not unjust for God to condemn someone for having committed a single sin of weakness?
– Although, in justice, God could condemned someone for a single mortal sin of weakness, Hell is only for those who persists in evil, since those who sin through weakness usually do not persist in sin.
The habitual sinner, thinking he has great pleasure in sin, closes his soul to the solicitations of the grace, and repentance, deciding only to convert in his last moment.13
Certainly, he who sins through weakness, without falling into habitual sin, finds the sinful condition painful. Therefore, he is sensitive to the graces of repentance that God always communicates to men. Even so, sins of weakness can be the symptom of a condition leading to the soul’s definitive separation from God, through a disordered attachment to creatures.
Therefore, Hell is the punishment for a condition of persistent disdain towards the Divine Love and Mercy.
11. If a reprobate wanted to go to Heaven, could he?
-Heaven consists in love of God, and the happiness of sanctity, while Hell is the rejection of God and radical moral disorder. Mortal sin is an act of radical disorder against the ultimate end of man, Which is God. A person who dies in this state is fixed definitively in this rejection, and is therefore incompatible with Heaven.
From the supernatural view, eternal life is sanctifying grace. In destroying this grace, mortal sin also destroys eternal life.
Sin, in itself, is naturally irreparable. Only divine grace can remedy it. Since, the grace of conversion does not exist after death, neither does conversion itself.
12. Is not God’s Mercy eternal?
– Undeniably, God’s Mercy will always exist. However, because someone is damned not due to a lack of mercy on God’s part, but rather a lack of acceptance of this mercy on the reprobates part, God’s eternal mercy will never free him from Hell. His will, perverted by the refusal of Divine Mercy during life, would not accept the grace of conversion after death, even if it were offered to him.
Saint Thomas illustrates this point with the following example: if someone blinds or kills himself, does he have the right to ascribe responsibility to God for his blindness or death? Similarly, the sinner who voluntarily destroys in himself the principle of supernatural life does not have the right to protest against his perdition. On the contrary, it is perfectly just that he who wanted to sin eternally against God, be eternally separated from Him.
13. Aren’t earthly punishments enough?
– Evil is not always punished on this earth. In fact, sinners often wallow in honors and wealth here, while the just suffer trials and afflictions. Because God cannot remain indifferent to crime and virtue, a postmortem punishment must exist to re-establish justice.
14. Must Hell be eternal?
– To be useful, every sanction must be efficacious. According to human psychology, man really fears only an eternal punishment, while temporary ones insufficiently impress him. Man’s fallen nature is so attracted to sin that, in face of the intense, immediate sinful pleasure, the possibility of a temporary future suffering, is inadequate to restrain his passion. Put plainly, man prefers a transitory, distant suffering, to the denial of a present joy.
15. Is not an eternal punishment disproportionate for sins that were committed over a short time?
– According to justice, the time it takes to commit a crime does not determine the length of sentence. Rather the consequences and seriousness of the fault committed decide the length of the punishment. Therefore, a murder, committed in the blink of an eye, because its effects are everlasting, can merit an everlasting punishment.
16. Would it not be nicer to believe in an eventual general pardon, in which the demons themselves would convert and general happiness be reestablished?
– What is nicest is to accept God’s Will and conform ourselves to His Wisdom.This hypothesis, so full of kindness and sweetness at first glance, is absurd. This idea, defended by romantic men of letters of the nineteenth century, like Victor Hugo, Lamartine, Paul Valery and others, is founded in a false concept of kindness and love, in which sentiment dominates reason. When defended by Origen in the early Church, it was condemned.
Only a god moved by sentimental reasons, and not Divine Wisdom could thus contradict his justice. The divine will, like every rational will, is guided by the intelligence, producing infinite mercy while maintaining perfect justice both of which are expressions of the Divine Wisdom.
Furthermore, it is not reasonable for God treat the reprobates and demons with mercy. A general pardon would overturn the foundation of justice, which demands that each one receives what he earned, reward or punishment.
This foundation corresponds to the moral responsibility of each one for his actions. To pardon the demons and reprobates is to reward evil. It is unimaginable that Heaven would be shared by Lucifer and Saint Michael, hangmen and martyrs, apostates and faithful, prostitutes and pure virgins, heresiarchs and apostles, or innocent victims and cruel assassins!
According to this view, Judas and Saint Peter, Luther and Saint Ignatius and Messalina and Saint Agnes would forever enjoy the same reward!
Truly, sin is evil and disorder. Since evil can never become good or disorder, order, the enmity between good and evil, order and disorder must endure forever together with their consequences: happiness and sorrow.
Even the possibility of Hell’s punishments ending would destroy one of virtue’s main attractions. It would make good and evil, truth and error meaningless, producing a complete moral and doctrinal relativism.
The effects of this line of reasoning are evident in the absurdly relativistic world of today.
“Oh! If people only knew what Purgatory is!”
In 1870, Belgium fought as an ally with France against Germany.
In September of that year, Sister Maria Serafina, a Redemptorist nun in Malines, Belgium, was suddenly seized with inexplicable sadness. Soon after, she received the news that her father had died in that war.
From that day on, Sister Maria repeatedly heard distressing groans and a voice saying, “My dear daughter, have mercy on me!”
Subsequently, she was besieged with torments, which included unbearable headaches. While laying down one day, she saw her father surrounded with flames and immersed in profound sadness.
He was suffering in Purgatory and had received permission from God to beseech prayers from his daughter and relate Purgatory’s suffering to her. Thus he said:
I want you to have Masses, prayers and indulgences said on my behalf. Look how I am immersed in this fire-filled hole! Oh! If people knew what Purgatory is, they would suffer anything to avoid it and alleviate the suffering of souls here. Be very holy, my daughter, and observe the Holy Rule, even in its most insignificant points. Purgatory for religious is a terrible thing!
Sister Maria saw a pit full of flames, spewing black clouds of smoke. Her father was immersed in the pit where he was burning, horribly suffocated and thirsty. Opening his mouth she saw that his tongue was entirely shriveled.
“I am thirsty, my daughter, I am thirsty.”
The next day, her father visited her again saying, “My daughter, it has been a long time since I saw you last.”
“My father, it was just yesterday . . .”
“Oh! It seems like an eternity to me. If I stay in Purgatory three months, it will be an eternity. I was condemned for many years, but, due to Our Lady’s intercession, my sentence was reduced to only a few months.”
The grace of coming to earth was granted to him through his good works during his life and because he had been devoted to Our Lady receiving communion on all her feast days.
During these visions, Sister Maria Serafina asked her father several questions:
“Do souls in Purgatory know who is praying for them, and can they pray for us?”
“Yes, my daughter.”
“Do these souls suffer, knowing that God is offended in their families and in the world?”
Directed by her confessor and her superior, she continued to question her father:
“Is it true that the sufferings of Purgatory are much greater than all the torments of earth and even of the martyrs?”
“Yes, my daughter, all this is very true.”
Sister Serafina then asked if everyone who belongs to the Scapular Confraternity of Carmel (those who wear the scapular), is freed from Purgatory on the first Saturday after death:
“Yes,” he answered, “but only if they are faithful to the Confraternity’s obligations.”
“Is it true that some souls must stay in Purgatory for as long as five hundred years?”
“Yes. Some are condemned until the end of the world. These souls are very guilty and entirely abandoned.”
“Three main things draw God’s malediction over men: failure to observe the Lord’s Day through work, the very widespread vice of impurity, and blasphemy. Oh my daughter, how these blasphemies provoke the wrath of God!”
For over three months, Sister Serafina and her community prayed and offered penance for the soul of her tormented father who often appeared to her. During the elevation of the Host at Christmas Mass, Sister Maria saw her father shining like a sun with matchless beauty.
“I finished my sentence, and have come to thank you and your sisters for your prayers and pious exercises. I will pray for you in Heaven.”
If Purgatory did not exist to remove the stain of sin from imperfect souls, the only alternative would be Hell. Therefore, Purgatory is a necessary place of expiation.
All personal sin carries two consequences: blame (which, in the case of mortal sin, destroys sanctifying grace and leads to Hell) and temporal punishment warranted by the offense to God.
Although Confession frees us from blame and part of the punishment, we must still make additional reparation to God. In this life, this can be done through prayer, Mass intentions, alms, penance and acquiring indulgences. One who dies in a state of venial sin or without sufficient reparation goes to Purgatory.
A Place of Expiation
We have seen that Purgatory is a place of expiation.
Souls in Purgatory endure a two-fold suffering: they experience a temporary pain of loss, since they are temporarily deprived of the Beatific Vision and they also feel sensible sufferings, or pain of sense. Unlike the damned in Hell where punishments provoke hatred, those in Purgatory find punishment evokes a profound love of God.
According to Saint Thomas and Saint Augustine, the least pain of Purgatory is worse than the greatest of this life. This is due to the intensity of the desire souls have for God, Whose privation is extremely painful, and the magnitude of sensible pain, which, touching the soul directly, is worse than anything felt by the senses.
Suffering Encouraged by Hope
However rigorous the punishments of Purgatory may be, they are soothed by hope.
Saint Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510), a mystic who suffered Purgatory’s torments on earth explained that one suffers simultaneously unspeakable torment and indescribable happiness.
She described the torment as stemming from a continually consuming interior fire, kindled by separation from God, for Whom the soul is aflame with love. This suffering is so intense that it transforms each instant into a martyrdom of pain.
Although surpassing all earthly suffering, it cannot be compared with the anguish of Hell where suffering is a despairing fruit of hatred while the suffering of Purgatory is a hope-filled suffering of love.
Consequently, Saint Catherine said that only in Heaven itself is there greater happiness than that amidst the torments of Purgatory. This is because the soul knows it is saved, in friendship with God, surrounded by holy souls, and thus aflame with love of God.
Saint Catherine explained:
I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the hindrance to His entrance is consumed. Sin’s rust is the hindrance, and the fire burns the rust away so that more and more the soul opens itself up to the divine inflowing. A thing which is covered cannot respond to the sun’s rays, not because of any defect in the sun, which is shining all the time, but because the cover is an obstacle; if the cover be burnt away, this thing is open to the sun; more and more as the cover is consumed does it respond to the rays of the sun.
It is in this way that rust, which is sin, covers souls, and in Purgatory is burnt away by fire; the more it is consumed, the more do the souls respond to God, the true sun. As the rust lessens and the soul is opened up to the divine ray, happiness grows; until the time be accomplished the one wanes and the other waxes. Pain however does not lessen but only the time for which pain is endured. As for will: never can the souls say these pains are pains, so contented are they with God’s ordaining with which, in pure charity, their will is united. 14
The Duration of Purgatory
The amount of time spent in Purgatory is very difficult to express in human terms. In accounts of private visions, we read of souls condemned for a number of years or even until the end of the world. Indeed, Our Lady revealed to the seers of Fatima that a girl who died shortly before the apparitions would remain there until the end of time.
Theologians explain that time in Purgatory can be gauged in two ways. The first is positive and corresponds to time as we measure it on earth; the other is fictitious or imaginary since it corresponds to the amount of time that souls judge they suffered which is distorted since this very suffering causes them to lose track of time.
Thus, we see souls, who after mere hours in Purgatory complain about years or even centuries of suffering.
Saint Anthony tells the story of a sick person who suffered so atrociously that he considered it beyond human nature and thus continually prayed for death. One day, an angel appeared to him and said, “God sent me here to offer you a choice. You can spend one year of suffering on earth, or one day in Purgatory.” Choosing the latter, he died and went to Purgatory.
When the angel went to console him, he was greeted with this groan of pain, “Deceitful angel! At least twenty years ago, you said that I would spend only one day in Purgatory . . . My God, how I suffer!”
To this the Angel responded, “Poor deluded soul, your body is not even buried yet.”
Devotion to the Souls in Purgatory
Devotion to souls in Purgatory originated in the early Church, based on the dogma of the Communion of Saints. Although these souls cannot gain merit, they are in friendship with God, Who willingly applies merits offered for them.
Therefore it is an act of charity to pray, offer Masses, sacrifices and indulgences for them.
This devotion was ingrained so deeply in the faithful that even Luther dared not abolish it. He understood the importance of proceeding towards his insidious goals with caution.
Supported by Scripture and Tradition, the Church defined the dogma of the Communion of Saints, which encourages devotion to the holy souls. This devotion not only encourages the practice of charity but also enlivens faith and consoles those who have lost loved ones.
The Powerful Intercession of the Souls in Purgatory
Besides being a spiritual work of mercy and a powerful reminder of the afterlife, devotion to souls in Purgatory also affords us invaluable intercession as demonstrated by Church Tradition.
According to the dogma of the Communion of Saints, they form a part of the Church (called the Church Suffering) and are therefore united to us, and can intercede for us.
Examples of this abound in Church History and many readers have undoubtedly experienced such intercession. We will relate a few examples below.
The Countess of Stratford, an English protestant, having doubts about the existence of Purgatory, consulted the Bishop of Amiens, France. Hearing her objection, he answered, “Tell the Bishop of London (an Anglican) that I will leave the Faith and become an Anglican if he can prove that Saint Augustine never celebrated Mass or prayed for the dead, especially his mother.”
Following his advice, the Countess wrote the Anglican bishop of London. Seeing that he did not respond, she converted.
At a certain point during her reform of the Carmelites, Saint Teresa was in need of a convent. A noble named Bernadine of Toledo responded to her need and donated a place for the convent. He died shortly afterwards. Saint Theresa received the revelation that he would remain in Purgatory until the first Mass was celebrated in the convent he had donated. She thus hastened to establish its foundation. During communion of this first Mass, she saw his soul radiant with splendor at the side of the priest. Thanks to that Mass which had been said for him, he was freed from Purgatory.
Whenever Saint Catherine of Bologna’s prayers seemed unanswered, she would call upon the intercession of the souls in Purgatory. She affirmed that these prayers were always answered.
A Moving Example
The cases of intercession of the souls in Purgatory are so numerous that several books would not be enough to relate them all.
The following one, which is among the best known and most moving, happened in Paris in 1817.
A domestic servant, who had the pious habit of having a Mass said every month for the souls in Purgatory, became ill and having to be hospitalized, lost her job.
Upon leaving the hospital, she went to a church to pray, where she remembered that she had failed to have Mass said for the poor souls that month. However due to her unemployment, she could not afford a Mass offering since it would leave her penniless. After hesitating, she gave the offering.
Leaving the church, she met a young man who seemed to be a noble. He unexpectedly asked her if she needed employment and gave her the address of a house, which needed a maid.
When she arrived at the house, the owner, who had just dismissed her maid, wondered who could have known that she needed help. While describing the young man at the Church, the servant saw a painting of him on the wall.
Hearing this, the owner exclaimed, “That is my son, who died two months ago!”
Then both realized that God wanted to reward the maid’s charity and reveal the power of a suffering soul’s intercession.
Heaven – Visions
The Scriptures describe Heaven as a Holy City, made of precious stones, whose light is God Himself, the Immaculate Lamb.
The Celestial Jerusalem
The eagle eyes of Saint John, piercing the heavens, described the Celestial Jerusalem, in an inimitable language, full of poetry and beauty.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone, and the sea is now no more. And I John saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne, said: “Behold, I make all things new.” And he said to me: “Write, for these words are most faithful and true.” And he said to me: “It is done. I am Alpha and Omega; the beginning and the end. To him that thirsteth, I will give of the fountain of the water of life, freely.” “He that shall overcome shall possess these things, and I will be his God; and he shall be my son.” “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, they shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. . .”
And he took me up in spirit to a great and high mountain: and he showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, and the light thereof was like to a precious stone, as to the jasper stone, even as crystal. And it had a wall great and high, having twelve gates, and in the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. On the east, three gates: and on the north, three gates: and on the south, three gates: and on the west, three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them, the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. . . . And the building of the wall thereof was of jasper stone: but the city itself pure gold, like to clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was Jasper: the second, sapphire: the third, a chalcedony: the fourth, an emerald: The fifth, sardonic: the sixth, sardius, the seventh, chrysolite: the eighth, beryl: the ninth, a topaz: the tenth, a chrysoprasus: the eleventh, a jacinth: the twelfth, an amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, one to each: and every several gate was of one several pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. And I saw not temple therein. For the Lord God Almighty is the temple thereof, and the Lamb. And the city hath no need of the sun, nor of the moon, to shine in it. For the glory of God hath enlightened it, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof. And the nations shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honor into it. And the gates thereof shall not be shut by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it. There shall not enter into it any thing defiled, or that worketh abomination or maketh a lie, but they that are written in the book of life of the Lamb.
And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street thereof, and on both sides of the river, was the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits, yielding the fruits every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no curse any more; but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him. And they shall see his face: and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more: and they shall not need the light of the lamp, nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall enlighten them, and they shall reign for ever and ever . . . .
Blessed are they that wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb: that they may have a right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city. Without are dogs and sorcerers, and unchaste, and murderers, and servers of idols, and everyone that loveth and maketh a lie (Apoc. 21.1-27; 22.1-4; 14-15).
Visions of Saint John Bosco
Unlike the Early Christian, modern man (and Christian man) seldom thinks of Heaven. Indeed from the French Revolution to our days, the topic is unfortunately ignored. Thus we greatly benefit by reading the accounts of two visions of Heaven by one of the world’s most popular saints, Saint John Bosco (1815-1888) who was an apostle of youth and founder of the Salesian Fathers and Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. His life was punctuated by supernatural intervention.
It is well known that St. John Bosco’s mother played an important role in his formation and greatly assisted his work. Thus everyone affectionately called her, Mamma Margaret.
After her death, Mamma Margaret appeared to Saint John Bosco. He wrote about this vision in his Biographical Memoirs:
In August 1860, for example, he dreamed that he met her near the shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, along the wall surrounding Saint Anne’s Monastery at the corner of the road as he was on he way back to the Oratory from the Convitto Ecclesiatico. She looked beautiful. “What? Are you really here?” Don Bosco asked. “Aren’t you dead?”
“I died but I’m alive,” Margaret replied.
“And are you happy?”
“Very happy.” After several other questions, Don Bosco asked her if she had gone straight to heaven. Margaret answered negatively. He then inquired if several boys – whose names he mentioned – were in heaven, and he received an affirmative reply.
“Now tell me,” Don Bosco went on, “what is it that you enjoy in heaven?”
“I cannot explain that to you.”
“Give me at least an idea of your happiness; let me see a glimmer of it!”
Mamma Margaret then appeared radiant with majesty and clothed in a magnificent robe. As a large choir stood in the background, she began to sing a song of love of God that was indescribably sweet and went straight to the heart, filling it and carrying it away with love. It sounded as if a thousand voices and a thousand tones – from the deepest bass to the highest soprano – had all been blended together masterfully, delicately, and harmoniously to form one single voice, notwithstanding the variety of tones and the pitch of the voices ranging from loud to the barely perceptible. Don Bosco was so enchanted by this most melodious singing that he thought he was out of his senses, and he was no longer able to tell or ask his mother anything. When Mamma Margaret had finished singing, she turned to him and said: “I’ll be waiting for you. The two of us must always be together.” After speaking these words, she vanished.15
Saint Dominic Savio
St. John Bosco had another vision of Heaven in the form of a dream, which he related to his boys during one of his famous “bedtime talks.”In 1876, his recently-deceased disciple Saint Dominic Savio appeared to him in a dream.
As you know, dreams come in one’s sleep. So during the night hours of December 6, while I was in my room – whether reading or pacing back and forth or resting in my bed, I am not sure – I began dreaming.
It suddenly seemed to me that I was standing on a small mound of hillock, on the rim of a broad plain so far-reaching that the eye could not compass its boundaries lost in vastness. All was blue, blue as the calmest sea, though what I saw was not water. It resembled a highly polished, sparkling sea of glass. Stretching out beneath, behind and on either side of me was an expanse of what looked like a seashore.
Broad, imposing avenues divided the plain into grand gardens of indescribable beauty, each broken up by thickets, lawns, and flower beds of varied shapes and colors. None of the plants we know could ever give you an idea of those flowers, although there was a resemblance of sorts. The very grass, the flowers, the trees, the fruit – all were of singular and magnificent beauty. Leaves were of gold, trunks and boughs were of diamonds, and every tiny detail was in keeping with this wealth. The various kinds of plants were beyond counting. Each species and each single plant sparkled with a brilliance of its own. Scattered throughout those gardens and spread over the entire plain I could see countless buildings whose architecture, magnificence, harmony, grandeur and size were so unique that one could say all the treasures of earth could not suffice to build a single one. If only my boys had one such house, I said to myself, how they would love it, how happy they would be, and how much they would enjoy being there! Thus ran my thoughts as I gazed upon the exterior of those buildings, but how much greater must their inner splendor have been!
As I stood there basking in the splendor of those gardens, I suddenly heard music most sweet – so delightful and enchanting a melody that I could never adequately describe it. Compared with it, the compositions of Father Cagliero and Brother Dogliani are hardly music at all. A hundred thousand instruments played, each with its own sound, uniquely different from all others, and every possible sound set the air alive with its resonant waves.
Blended with them were the songs of choristers.
In those gardens I looked upon a multitude of people enjoying themselves happily, some singing, others playing, but every note, had the effect of a thousand different instruments playing together. At one and the same time, if you can imagine such a thing, one could hear all the notes of the chromatic scale, from the deepest to the highest, yet all in perfect harmony. Ah yes, we have nothing on earth to compare with that symphony.
One could tell from the expression of those happy faces that the singers not only took the deepest pleasure in singing, but also received vast joy in listening to the others. The more they sang, the more pressing became their desire to sing. The more they listened the more vibrant became their yearning to hear more…
As I listened enthralled to that heavenly choir I saw an endless multitude of boys approaching me. Many I recognized as having been at the Oratory and in our other schools, but by far the majority of them were total strangers to me. Their endless ranks drew closer, headed by Dominic Savio, who was followed immediately by Father Alasonatti, Father Chiali, Father Guilitto and many other clerics and priests, each leading a squad of boys…
Once that host of boys got some eight or ten paces from me, they halted. There was a flash of light far brighter than before, the music stopped, and a hushed silence fell over all. A most radiant joy encompassed all the boys and sparkled in their eyes, their countenances aglow with happiness. They looked and smiled at me very pleasantly, as though to speak, but no one said a word.
Dominic Savio stepped forward a pace or two, standing so close to me that, had I stretched out my hand, I would surely have touched him. He too was silent and gazed upon me with a smile…
At last Dominic Savio spoke. “Why do you stand there silent, as though you were almost devitalized?” he asked. “Aren’t you the one who once feared nothing, holding your ground against slander, persecution, hostility, hardships and dangers of all sorts? Where is courage? Say something!”
I forced myself to reply in a stammer, “I do not know what to say. Are you Dominic Savio?”
“Yes I am. Don’t you know me anymore?”
“How come you are here?” I asked still bewildered.
Savio spoke affectionately. “I came to talk with you. We spoke together so often on earth! Do you not recall how much you loved me, or how many tokens of friendship you gave me and how kind you were to me? And did I not return the warmth of your love? How much trust I placed in you! So why are you tongue-tied? Why are you shaking? Come ask me a question or two!”
Summoning my courage, I replied, “I am shaking because I don’t know where I am.”
“You are in the abode of happiness,” Savio answered, “where one experiences every joy, every delight.”
“Is this the reward of the just?”
“Not at all! Here we do not enjoy supernatural happiness but only a natural one, though greatly magnified.”
“Might I be allowed to see a little supernatural light?”
“No one can see it until he has come to see God as He is. The faintest ray of that light would instantly strike one dead, because the human senses are not sturdy enough to endure it.”16
Here ends his dream of Saint Dominic Savio referring to Paradise.
Heaven – Doctrine
Heaven consists in knowing, loving and enjoying God.
“I am . . . thy reward exceeding great”(Genesis 15:1) God said to Abraham. Our Lord promised: “Blessed are the clean of heart; for they shall see God”(Matthew 5:8).
The vision of God, an intuitive and direct knowledge of the divinity, is the essence of heavenly joy. As Saint John explained, “Now this is eternal life: That they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.”(John 17:3). Through this vision, “we shall be like to Him: [God] because we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2).
Saint Paul said that on earth we see God as in a mirror, however in heaven we will see Him face to face (I Corinthians 13:12).
Theologians call this direct, intuitive knowledge of God the beatific vision. Through it God’s nature is united to ours, and communicates His essence to us.
Since “God is charity” (I John 4:8) we cannot know Him in the degree and intensity of the beatific vision without loving Him to the greatest degree and capacity of our perfected nature. Participating in His essence, through this intuitive knowledge, we participate in the Love that is His very nature.
Saint John clarified this truth:
Behold what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called, and should be the sons of God . . . and it hath not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that, when he shall appear [in Heaven], we shall be like to him; because we shall see Him as He is (I John 3:1-2).
Explaining this text, Saint Bernard said:
Just as a drop of water thrown into a great quantity of wine loses all its properties and qualities and assumes the color and character of wine; and just as a red hot piece of iron in the forge no longer seems like iron, but fire; and just as the air, when it receives the light of the sun is transformed in such a way into light that it seems to be light itself; so also, in heavenly happiness, we will lose all our debility and will be deified and transformed into God.
Then our existence will be an unspeakable joy. It will no longer be the limited joy of creatures, but that of God himself, resulting in an amorous and intimate union that, as Saint Bernard said, will deify us and transform us into God. This does not mean that we will cease to be creatures, but, rather that our nature will be totally assumed and elevated by the Creator.
The Light of Glory
To enjoy the beatific vision, we must first receive a special grace called the light of glory, that completes sanctifying grace and entirely spiritualizes us.
In this knowledge and love of God, we will see truly the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. In this vision, we will perceive and understand the Father generating the Son. We will perceive Their mutual Love which has such an intensity that the Holy Ghost proceeds from Them. We will understand other mysteries, which on earth our limited intelligence cannot grasp.
We will see why God created the Universe and all the creatures, we will understand the trial of the angels and men and comprehend the mysteries of Salvation (i.e. the Incarnation, the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ). We will rejoice in the elevation of Mary Most Holy as Mother of God and in the foundation of the Church.
We will understand all the unfathomable designs of God’s creation, for example, why He allows evil, what good he takes from this and the glory that Hell gives to His Justice. Far from becoming tedious, interest in this blessed learning is self-perpetuating. The more we know the more we will love. Thus, in turn, will inspire us to know and desire yet more.
In God we will see all history, including our individual history, with the graces we received and the mercies bestowed upon us. Eternally unable to exhaust the infinite reasons to love and adore God, we will forever unite ourselves with the angels ceaseless song of praise, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God of Hosts” (Isaias 6:3).
We will adore the Most Holy Humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, with His resplendent wounds. We will contemplate the glory of the Queen of Heaven, Mary Most Holy, the incomparable Patriarch Saint Joseph, the patriarchs and prophets the Old Testament – Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Elias, Isaias, the great saints of the New Testament – Saint John the Baptist (who united the two Testaments) and the Apostles, the great saints of the Church and all those who expanded the Kingdom of Christ on earth.
We will be with the angels, martyrs, doctors and virgins, living in this holy society. We will know our parents and friends, without ever ceasing our continual contemplation of God.
The Joy of Glorified Bodies
When our bodies resurrect, they will participate in the soul’s glory, and brilliance. The body will be resplendent, light and glorious and move with agility and subtlety.
The soul will delight in a complete and absolute dominion over the body, which will travel from one place to another at the least breath of the imagination with all the subtlety of the spirit. It will no longer experience fatigue, hunger, or discomfort of any kind.
The body, which endured suffering on earth, will delight in the glory of Heaven. Thus the just will experience every pleasure compatible with Heaven.
All the senses will experience the pleasure of Heaven. Sight will contemplate paradisiacal gardens and the splendor of the angels and the blessed. Smell will enjoy the most refined and inebriant perfumes Sound will listen to the most harmonious, varied and soothing music. Taste will experience the choicest flavors.17 Agreeable breezes will caress our body, producing pleasure for touch. Thus, the whole of man will experience chaste pleasure and happiness, characteristic of one spiritualized in the joy of divine love.
The Lord invites the elect to sit down at His table
To form a vague idea of what awaits us in Heaven, we return to Saint Bernard who was unrivaled in expressing these marvels:
O blessed region where the sovereign virtues dwell, where one contemplates the Most Holy Trinity face to face, where those sublime angelic legions, with praise in their wings, ceaselessly proclaim, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts.” Place of delights, where the just shine with more splendor than the sun! Place of ineffable joy crowned by eternity! Place of abundance, which lacks nothing one can desire! Place of suavity and unspeakable sweetness, where the Lord’s beneficence reaches everyone! Peaceful place, tranquility is firmly established! Admirable place, where all the marvelous works of God appear! Plentiful place, where one is satisfied fully, where God will show us His glory! Place of the beatific vision, where one contemplates the highest and most ineffable marvels! Oh, region sublime and full of riches, from this vale of tears our sighs go up to you! There, wisdom is free from all ignorance, memory is free from forgetfulness, intelligence is invulnerable to error and reason dissipates all obscurity. Most beautiful region, in which the Lord seats his chosen ones at his table and serves them, or rather, shows them all His splendor. There God will be all in everything.
Let us conclude with a vision of Saint Paul:
I know a man in Christ above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), such a one caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I know not; God knoweth): That he was caught up into paradise, and heard secret words, which it is not granted to man to utter (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).18
The modern world lost the notion of sin and, consequently debased itself entirely.
As we begin the third millennium of our Redemption, we have lost the living faith that inspired the crusades, the magnificent cathedrals and monasteries, the great syntheses of faith and philosophy, the remarkable saints, and the foundation of the great religious orders. We are in a world where irreligion, practical materialism and an horrific tolerance of vice and evil are dominant.
Not only chastity, but the most elementary modesty and decency hardly exist.
We risk letting ourselves be drawn by this current. The desire of “being like everyone else,” supported by the instinct of sociability, is so strong that resistance requires great strength.
Meditating on life after death is an efficient means of restoring the sense of sin in ourselves and others.
We cannot avoid nor can we ignore death. Thus we should prepare ourselves to receive it with peace and confidence, realizing that it is the beginning of our eternity.
The consideration of private judgment which will decide our eternity according to our lifelong refusal or correspondence to grace, ought to aid our fight against evil and quest for good.
Fear of Hell, and even of Purgatory, ought to teach us the malice of sin, how much it offends God and the consequences of these offenses.
The ineffable joys of Heaven should stimulate hope and the desire to serve God on earth.
Consideration of our eternal destiny, when understood with the balance that only the Church can give, should not cause terror or nervousness. Rather it should be a source of tranquility and peace, which orders our lives.
Let us follow the counsel of the Divine Master: “I must work the works of him that sent me, whilst it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
Let us use our lives to gain merits for eternity.
We conclude with an excerpt from a saint who confessed his faults and praised God for his graces. It is one of the most beautiful quotes ever written by Saint Augustine.
Too late loved I Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! too late I loved Thee! And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad, and there I searched for Thee; deformed I, plunging amid those fair forms which Thou hadst made. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee, which, unless they were in Thee, were not at all. Thou calledst, and shoutedst, and burstest my deafness. Thou flashedst, shonest, and catteredst my blindness. Thou breathedst odours, and I drew in breath and panted for Thee. I tasted, and hunger and thirst. Thou touchedst me, and I burned for Thy peace.
- All biblical quotations are from the Douay-Rheims version.
- Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, transl. by John Clarke, O.C.D. (Wash., D.C., ICS Publications, 1975), p. 102.
- Ibid., p. 104.
- François Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire (1694-1778), a Frenchman, was a great enemy of the Church. He was impious and sarcastic. A man of literature and a philosopher, he wrote essays, poetry and drama. His action was one of the factors that resulted in the French Revolution, which brutally persecuted the Church.
- Cav. Gaetano Moroni Romano, Dizionario di Erudizioni, Tipografia Emiliana, Venezia, 1879, t. VI, p. 536. See also Jean Orieux, Voltaire: a Biography of the Man & His Century, Doubleday, Garden City, 1979
- Saint Teresa of the Infant Jesus (1873-1897), a Carmelite nun, one of the worlds most popular saints, received from God the mission of teaching the Little Way, a means of sanctification accessible to everyone, the essence of which consists in doing everything, even the smallest chores, for the love of God. Her autobiography (The Story of a Soul or Autobiographical Manuscripts) was one of the greatest publishing successes, having been translated into practically all the modern languages.
- Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: cha.ris.ma. noun: an extraordinary power (as of healing) given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church.
- Adam did not lose all the charisms; he kept, for example, the gift of infused knowledge, since he had to transmit the necessary knowledge for the development of the life of man on earth. But the charisms that our first parents did not lose, they did not transmit to their descendants. Many times God gave, and He still does, some of these gifts to some of His servants.
- True mysticism consists in a condition of the spiritual life in which the Holy Spirit acts with great intensity in the soul, through His Gifts, rendering it very docile to the divine action. Many times this state is accompanied with extraordinary gifts, such as miracles, revelations, ecstasies, and so on; but these do not properly form part of the mystical life. Moreover, for the good of others, these gifts can be given to those less advanced in virtue.
- The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, David Lewis translation , Chap. XXXII, (Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books, 1997), pp. 298-301.
- Quoted from Our Lady of Fatima: Prophecies of Tragedy or Hope? by Antonio A. Borelli (York, Penn.: American TFP, 1994), pp. 47, 49.
- It is possible that the damned suffer the torments of a solitary-confinement regime, isolated from everything, jointly with that of the hated company of other reprobates, since Hell is a place of contradiction and total torment.
- While this holds true in the majority of cases, there are torn souls, who, with the help of grace, go from the depth of sin to a complete conversion like Saint Mary Magdalen. However this is an exception, often gained from mystical offerings of other souls.
- http://www.cfpeople.org/Apologetics/page51a013.html Chapter II.
- Brown, Eugene M., Dreams, Visions and Prophecies of Don Bosco, Don Bosco Publications, New Rochelle, New York, 1986, p. 254.
- Ibid. p.255-259.
- Whether the elect will eat is debated by theologians. However, our taste may be activated by the vision of marvelous and unequaled fruits, delicacies and wines, producing unimaginable pleasure.Whether the elect will eat is debated by theologians. However, our taste may be activated by the vision of marvelous and unequaled fruits, delicacies and wines, producing unimaginable pleasure.
- The ancient Jews, basing themselves on the verse of the first book of Kings, “Heaven and the heavens of Heavens” (3 Kings8:27) deduced that two or three heavens exist. To be understood better by the Jews, when Saint Paul narrated this vision that elevated him to Heaven, he conformed himself to this view, saying that he was carried to the third Heaven.