“The Hell there isn’t!”
Like children fearing to invoke the very evil they fear through merely uttering it, we have somehow convinced ourselves that if we resolutely ignore Hell, it will go away; that if we pretend that there is no such place, then it will become a fiction and therefore we have nothing to fear ... and also nothing to avoid. It is — we are told, and therefore tell ourselves — a quaint vestige of pre-enlightened and distinctly medieval thought, of long gone days of dismal dogma; in fact a notion abolished after Vatican II as unkind, as severe, and therefore “unworthy” of God. This is not true.
But still, we
whistle in the dark as we pass a graveyard or a place of darkness fraught
with a sense of looming evil. Odd. Very odd.
Ask yourself this:
have you ever (that is to say, even
once) been to a funeral Mass where the bereaved are
not told, indeed, completely assured, that
their dead (who, like the rest of the congregation, had apparently never
sinned) are already in Heaven smiling down benignly on our
obsequies even as we utter them?
The real illusion ... and it is not Hell
It matters not that “the departed” were cruel and miserly, utterly indifferent to the poor; that they profited from the pain, misery, sin and degradation of others, caring nothing for God and even less for men — and we know it! We knew it while yet they lived, and were ourselves often keenly aware of their selfishness, their lust, pride, and greed — even their open depravity. Unrepentant to the moment of that clap of thunder that ended the illusion of tomorrow, they went to death as they had lived — and we “celebrate their lives” ... instead of trembling before their death. In the lowest octave of our “celebration” we instinctively discern a deeply dissonant note that is discordant with our carefully revised narrative. It is deeper than the human voice, and more ancient still. We know that we “celebrate” a fiction of our own making to dispel the remorseless truth that stirs uneasily within us: that Heaven alone is not, after all, the abode of all our dead; that we have something to deeply lament, rather than celebrate; in fact something to fear rather than to rejoice in.
Has the question, let alone the concern, of the dead’s urgent and utter need for every possible prayer ever once so much as arisen? Are we ever invited, urged, to so much as pray for our dead? * Are they not in need of our prayers? They were in life, yes? But somehow death appears to have abrogated this necessity. For all practical purposes and appearances, “being dead” is synonymous with “being canonized”. The dead, in every aspect of today’s liturgy, are, as it were, “by right” (and rite ...) — in virtue of the fact that they are dead — already “in the company of the Angels and Saints.”
we acknowledge ourselves to be sinners — if we acknowledge sin
at all — but in a remarkable dispensation that quite suddenly becomes
concomitant with death, not the recently departed ...
who yesterday was
that is to say, a sinner also. What he needs most the
carefully contrives to conceal from us: the need of our prayers.
One day — perhaps this day — I will need them ...
and so will you.
We no longer pray for our dead
Why is this?
Praying for the
dead is very closely connected to a sober recognition of the reality
of ... other alternatives than Heaven. Lesser alternatives,
frightening alternatives, even everlasting alternatives.
We wish to spare our dead either a measure of that privative state of
purgation preparatory to Heaven through the suffrage of our prayers,
or were it possible, the pains of Hell through an impassioned petition
to the Judge.2 In any event, the outcome at least admits
of doubt in terms of clearly distinguishable consignments.
Monuments and mirrors
For many years we could find the following inscribed on tombstones both in Europe and America:
“As you are, I once was;
as I am you shall be”
It was as much a reminder of the brevity of this life as an admonition to live our lives in recognition of realities that we cannot avoid, minimize, or simply wish away — and that these realities, moreover, will correspond with how we have lived.
Of two things we are certain: that we die, and that following our death we will either live forever or we will not.
If we do not, we have nothing to hope for and nothing to fear. We are not Catholics. We are not even Christians. We are atheists and everything ultimately means nothing. But if we are either, we do — we have an abundance of the one or the other: either much to hope for or much to fear.
We reject the first option offhand, that is to say, the notion that death brings total extinction. We are ... after all ... Catholics, and that flies in the face of everything Christ said and did.
But neither do we embrace the alternative (of either much to hope for or much to fear), at least in the eschatological terms enunciated by Christ Himself involving death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell.
We cannot have both.
Neither, then — in our preferential and subjective cosmology that accords with neither reason nor revelation — can we have a Heaven and a Hell. So we abolish Hell much in the way that we may succeed in abolishing Mount Aetna by our preferring to say that it is not there, despite persistent and troubling reports that it is.
Dives, the rich man in this parable, would have a decidedly different
opinion on the matter — were he present to offer it, but Dives is being
... detained. Indefinitely. Even eternally. Or Christ is a liar.
think you're in Heaven!”
The priest told them so; he assured
them ... remember? They think that you are looking down
on them, having no clue that, could you see, all that you would see
of them would be the soles of their shoes!
Hell there isn't!”
Totally Faithful to the Sacred
Deposit of Faith entrusted to the Holy See in Rome