A HELL OF A SITUATION
rich man also died and was buried and from the netherworld,
where he was in torment ... [he cried out] 'I am suffering
torment in these flames. ... warn them, lest they too come
to this place of torment.' "
It is frighteningly odd.
We no longer hear of of Hell ... although we see it leaching into our
lives and the lives of those around us everywhere it crouches,
either feeding on our malice and greed, or lurking in some obscure corner
of our lives that shrinks from the light.
Contrary to "progressive" theological speculation, Hell has not been
abolished ... nor has its rage abated. Look around you.
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.
But still, we whistle
in the dark. Odd. Very odd.
Despite all that Christ has told us, all that Holy Mother the Church
has taught us, we will not hear of it ... we insist on our
way. Christ knows this. That is why He gives us the Parable of the Rich
Man. Do you doubt it?
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
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, something to fear rather than
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 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, is, as it were, "by right" (and rite ...) in virtue of the
fact that they are dead "in the company of the Angels and Saints."
Strangely enough, 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 "one among us", that is to say, a sinner also. What he needs most
the "celebrant" carefully contrives to conceal from us: the need of
We no longer pray for
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. In any event,
the outcome at least admits of doubt in terms of clearly distinguishable
Monuments and mirrors
For many years we could
find the following inscribed on tombstones both in Europe and America:
Fui quod sis,
Sum quod eris. "As you are, I once was; as I am you shall
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. If we do, we have an
abundance of the one or the other: either much to hope for or much to
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, 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.
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.
"Go to my brother", he would importune us, as he did Abraham. Unfortunately,
we ourselves would tell him very much what Abraham told him: "It would
be of no avail."
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!
It's a hell of a situation: Priest, Rabbi, Minister, even his psychologist,
are all of one accord: there is no such thing as Hell.
The hell there isn't!
Ah, the price of constant gratification. Yes, such lies console the
bereaved, but are a definite disservice to the dead who stand much in
need of prayer and, could they tell you, would be eternally grateful
But even if they
did, you would not believe them either ... would you?
* Of course,
during the Mass the names of those who have died recently are, in fact,
announced, and a perfunctory prayer is offered for them but rarely
with pleas for mercy since mercy presumes sin ... and the hope of forgiveness
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