On the Pains of Hell.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Pains of Hell.
Imagine that you see before you your Lord upon the cross; that you see Him hanging there in His awful dereliction, in darkness, tortured by burning thirst, in the company of two thieves, mocked, blasphemed, racked with agonizing pain. Sin, our sin, is chastised in His person. If the innocent suffer in this manner on account of sin, what will be the punishment of the guilty, of the damned in hell? We know but little about hell, yet that which our crucified Lord proclaims to us concerning the pains of hell suffices to inspire us with a salutary terror.
1st. Consider in the first place the pains our Lord suffered on the cross. In reference to Him the Psalmist says: “The sorrows of hell encompassed Me.” (Ps. xvii. 6.) From this it may be assumed that He suffered the sorrows of hell. Let your thoughts dwell for a time, my soul, on those pains. Endeavor to realize the fevered burning of the wounds inflicted by the scourges, the pain caused by the piercing of the thorns that composed His crown, the indescribable torture like that of fire in His transfixed hands and feet, the consuming thirst that He suffered, with nothing to quench that thirst but vinegar; think, I say, of all this, and you will have some idea of the pains of hell. But the conception you form is only an approximate image of the torments of hell, for, be it observed, the sorrows of hell which encompassed Jesus lasted three hours, whereas those of the damned are everlasting; the sorrows of hell which encompassed Jesus only burnt like fire, whereas those of the damned are a perpetual, a consuming fire; the tormenting thirst which Jesus endured in the furnace of suffering was allayed by vinegar, whereas the damned, who are cast into the pool burning with fire and brimstone, cannot so much as dip the tip of their finger into water, to cool their parched tongue. Listen then, my soul, to Him who preaches from the cross, and be not so foolish as to suffer this eternal pain for the sake of a short-lived carnal gratification.
2d. Consider the ignominy our Lord endured upon the cross. Christ, who descended from His throne in Heaven, who from all eternity had reigned in uninterrupted glory and celestial majesty, now hangs upon the gallows, the cross, like a common malefactor, between two thieves, in the place of execution, the place of a skull. Hear how His last moments are embittered by the derision, the biting sarcasms of the Scribes and Pharisees; nay how even the thief on His left, a low assassin, pours out upon Him, the King of glory, a flood of taunts and abuse. If God avenged sin so relentlessly in the person of One who was innocent, what, think you, will be the magnitude of the chastisement inflicted on the reprobate in hell! How deep will be their fall into that abyss! They will remain immersed in the pool of brimstone not for three hours only, but for ever and ever, in the company of the lowest, most depraved and abandoned criminals; horrible curses and blasphemies, the despairing lamentations and imprecations of the damned will resound continually in their ears, and their eyes will rest, not as did those of our crucified Lord, on devils in human form, but on the devils themselves in all their naked hideousness and malice. If the demons treated the Holiest of the holy with such barbarity, what will be their treatment of the damned? Listen then, my soul, to Him who from the cross preaches to you to-day on the pains of hell, and be not so foolish as to allow yourself to deem intolerable the loneliness of your life as a Priest or Religious, the contempt in which your calling is held, or you will find yourself compelled to endure the companionship of the lost, the mockery of hell for ever and ever.
3d. Consider how our Lord hung upon the cross in unnatural darkness and in utter dereliction. Hear His agonized cry, the sorrowful, heartrending accents that resound through the awful gloom that envelops the cross: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Alas! it is sin that encompasses the innocent Victim with these sorrows. What is there in store for the guilty, for the reprobate? It is not merely a three-hour eclipse, a temporary withdrawal of the sun’s light that surrounds the lost, but the blackness of darkness for ever. They do not only feel as if forsaken by God; they are forsaken by Him, and that not for a few minutes only, not even for millions and eons of years, but for eternity. Grasp this thought: to be forever in the abyss of hell, in impenetrable obscurity and complete separation from God, a prey to remorse, despair and desolation of a truth, if there were no other sorrows to enumerate, this alone would be enough to make you embrace the cross from which you learn these truths, to pledge yourself solemnly from henceforward to fulfil cheerfully all the duties your state of life lays upon you; and instead of murmuring, to rejoice and give thanks to God for having led you to enter into a state in which you have greater facilities than elsewhere for escaping the pains of hell. Yet remember this: The pains of hell are terrible for those who live in the world, but they are doubly terrible for Priests and Religious.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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