By Father MieczysЕ‚aw Piotrowski TChr,
Love One Another! 8/2007 → Catholic Church
The collapse of morality along with the attendant loss of a sense of sin has led, among other things, to the rejection of the revealed truth about the existence of hell. The truth of eternal damnation was recalled at Fatima in the famous vision of hell and in the first Fatima secret. Many people object strongly to the notion of an everlasting hell. They claim it is incompatible with the truth about God, who always loves and always forgives.
What does Holy Scripture say?
“God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge
of the truth” (1
Tim 2:4). “The Lord is forbearing toward you, not wishing
that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance”
Pet 3:9). These verses clearly tell us that God loves, and wants
to save, all souls. Everyone has the chance to be saved. No one
is predestined to perish. But we cannot forget that, in addition
to God’s will that we should all be saved, there is also the
fact of our own free will, which may not accept, and reject, God’s
saving love. Jesus Himself tells us on numerous occasions that man’s
rejection of God leads to eternal punishment. The godless will certainly
be excluded from eternal life and separated from Christ: “Depart
from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil
and his angels” (Matthew
25:41). All those who did not obey the will of God, will hear Him
say, “depart from me, you evildoers” (Matthew
7:23). “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who
does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests
upon him” (John
3:36). The exclusion of all those who have not accepted His invitation
to the banquet is final and absolute. “I tell you, none of
those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (Luke
14:24). Christ’s explanation of the parable of the net makes
it clear that this is no poetic metaphor: “So it will be at
the close of the age, the angels will come out and separate the
evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire;
there men will weep and gnash their teeth” (Matthew
13: 40-41, 50).
The Letters of St. Paul also contain numerous verses referring
to the absolute exclusion of the godless from the kingdom of God:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the
kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters,
nor adulterers, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor
drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of
Cor 6: 9-10; see also, Galatians
5: 19; Eph
5:5). All these verses carry a note of finality: “shall not
see life,” “none shall taste my banquet,” “shall
not inherit the kingdom.”The most powerfully suggestive verses touching on the finality
and perpetuity of hell are found in the Book of the Apocalypse,
where the expression “for ever and ever” is twice used
14:11; 20:10). There can be no doubt that eternity means eternity.
No one then can have any doubt that the texts of Holy Scripture
point to the reality of an everlasting hell, excluding any possibility
of an apokostasis, i.e. the belief that the exclusion of the godless
will only be for a time, and that their punishment will end at some
point, since they will repent.
The sin against the Holy Spirit
We also learn of the eternity of hell in Christ’s teaching
about the sin against the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that “every
sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against
the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matthew
12:31). In his encyclical Dominum et vivificantem, John Paul II
explains that the sin against the Holy Spirit consists in “the
refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through
the Holy Spirit. It is the attitude of a person who closes himself
off from the love of God, the attitude of someone ”who claims
to have the ‘right’ to persist in evil – in any
sin at all – and who thus rejects Redemption” (46).
This sin is unforgivable by its very nature, since it stems from
a radical rejection of the very possibility of salvation. It does
not consist in a single sinful act, but in an attitude of absolute
selfishness, that is, in the total closing off of one’s freedom
from Christ’s love. A person develops such an attitude over
the course of his entire earthly life. Every fully conscious and
freely willed act of evil wreaks terrible harm on a person. With
each evil committed he becomes increasingly more insensitive to
the love of God and less able to love his neighbor. If throughout
his earthly life he lives as though God did not exist, radically
rejects the possibility of conversion, calls evil good and good
evil, the objectively existing evil of every sin will wreak so much
destruction on that person, that his capacity to love will be destroyed.
He will become utterly selfish, consumed by a self-love so strong
that he comes to the point of hating God. What happens to such a
person at the most critical moment of his life, that is, at the
moment of death?
Judgment at the moment of death
We know that at the moment of death there will be a judgment. Jesus
tells us what this judgment consists in. “And this is the
judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved
darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every
one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light,
lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes
to the light…” (John
Upon death, every person will stand before Christ as the only reality.
Unable to back away or avoid Him, he will have to make a decision
either to accept or reject the gift of Christ’s love. All
those who during their earthly life love evil more than good, and
become totally selfish, will at the moment of death hate and reject
God’s love. If, on the other hand, a person has even a minimal
capacity for accepting God’s love, he will be saved, but only
after a period of growth in love in Purgatory (cf. 1
Cor 3, 11-15). A “yes” uttered to Jesus becomes
heaven; a “no” becomes hell. Christ tells us that it
is man who condemns himself, that at the moment of judgment he will
receive what he desires; and he will desire according to the kind
of person he becomes in his earthly life. Hence God warns us, “Do
not invite death by the error of your life, nor bring on destruction
by the works of your hands” (Wis
How can a loving and merciful God condemn souls to eternal punishment? In answer to this question Our Lady of Fatima told the seers that souls, who go to hell, choose to remain there, because they hate God and do not wish to be saved. They hate God and blame Him for everything; and in so doing, they become a part of hell.
Thus, at the moment of death, man will choose what he desires; and his desires will be of a piece with the attitude he shaped in the course of his earthly life. An utterly selfish person, totally enslaved by evil, will desire evil and hate what is good. In his self-worship he will hate and definitively reject the love of Christ when he meets Him at the moment of death.
We know from experience that evil often seems more attractive and alluring than good. This comes from the fact of our sinfulness and lovelessness. A drug addict or an alcoholic does not find sobriety appealing. In the same way, a sex addict, or a person addicted to pornography, will perceive a call to self-control and chastity as an infringement on his freedom. The thing about evil is that it enslaves, while emanating a lethal delicacy, which destroys what is most precious in a human being — his capacity to love. Evil fosters selfishness and raises self-love to the level of an ultimate good. It is this usurpation of divinity that creates in a person that attitude which is the sin against the Holy Spirit. At the moment of death, because of who he is, an utterly selfish person must, of necessity, as it were, repudiate the gift of Divine Love. That is what hell is.
It is not to frighten us that Jesus Christ speaks so clearly and unequivocally of the real possibility of hell. He wants to make us aware of the ultimate consequences of sin. For this very reason, as True God, He became True Man to lead us out of the hell of sin and death and bestow upon us the fullness of life. Our salvation is not accomplished in any magical way. It involves our active consent as expressed in the labor of living our life according to the Commandments and demands of the Gospel. Only Christ can free us from the reality of the hell of sin; but that He may do this, we must consent to conform our “self” to the demands of revealed Truth. The more I rely on myself and live selfishly, the more I stumble and sink into the reality of hell. Hell must never be understood as an external punishment meted out to man by God.
The greatest punishment of sin
The greatest punishment of sin are the results of sin. They are
a foretaste of hell – here on earth. Everywhere we experience
the tragic consequences of our sins. “When self-indulgence
is at work,” St. Paul tells us, “the results are obvious:
fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; idolatry
and sorcery; feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels;
disagreements, factions, envy; drunkenness, orgies, and similar
19-21). In committing sin, we reject love and life and choose self-destruction
and death. In this way we become prisoners of sin. It is an absurd
situation ultimately leading to such a degree of enslavement by
the self that we end up acting against ourselves and wishing to
drag others into slavery with us. We see this at work in the world
today. Everywhere the culture around us, with the assistance of
the mass media, seeks, in its hatred of Christ and the system of
values He imparted to us, to demoralize and destroy the authority
of the Church, atheizing people and nations, especially the young.
Enslaved by evil, people desire evil and do everything in their
power to draw others into the slavery of addictions and a life of
lies and hatred. The removal of God from the life of man inevitably
gives rise to a sense of the absurdity of life as well as to a peculiar
kind of obduracy in clinging to the lie that would make evil appear
good. This hardening of the heart in the matter of Truth is a special
foretaste of hell on earth today.
God fully respects the free will of His creatures, even when they decide definitively to reject Him. Thus hell is not an unforeseen or unjust punishment. We choose sin of our own accord and embark on a path leading to hell. Hell exists because sin exists. Hell is nothing else but sin desired as an end, accepted in its final fulfillment, and extending into eternity. The truth of hell gives our earthly life an unrepeatable and dramatic uniqueness. It reminds us that if sin – our greatest misfortune – is trivialized and treated as a good, it will lead us to the reality of hell.
Our Lady of Fatima reminds us that man’s greatest tragedy and misfortune is sin and remaining in a state of sin, which leads to the total rejection of God, which is Hell. By granting us that horrific vision of Hell, Our Lady makes us aware that in giving in to the slavery of sin and renouncing belief in God, many souls actually choose eternal perdition. Writes St. Faustina: At times in a strange and mysterious way the mercy of God touches the sinner at the final moment. From the outside, it would seem all were lost. But it is not so. Enlightened by the rays of God’s last grace, a soul turns to God with such power of love that God instantly forgives its sins and penalties. O how unfathomable is the mercy of God. Yet alas! There are souls who freely and consciously reject this grace, and scorn it. Even in their death throes such souls are granted a clear, interior moment, enabling them – should they so wish – to return to God. Yet there are souls so hardened of heart that they freely choose Hell, rendering impotent not only the prayers that other souls offer up for them, but also the efforts of God Himself (Diary, 1698).
This is the burden of the message of the first Fatima secret.