On the Teaching of Our Lord Concerning 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 Teaching of Our Lord Concerning Hell.
On this, the last day of another week, imagine yourself to have reached the last day of your life, that solemn moment when death’s cold hand is laid on you and you are compelled to go forth from this world into eternity. No rescue is possible, no delay will be granted you. Pale and terror-stricken, you feel that the hour has come when you must appear before the terrible, the inexorable Judge. And this one hour, this single moment will decide your whole eternity. Upon it depends whether you may eternally enjoy the felicity of Heaven, whether you will be enthroned for evermore in the celestial courts, or cast into the horrible abyss of hell for all eternity. If the latter should be your fate, are you aware of the awful future that awaits you? Our Lord Himself tells you what you have to expect. Meditate on His words.
1st. “Cast him out into exterior darkness.” (St. Matt, xxii. 13.) Thus we learn that hell is pre-eminently a place of darkness, “the eternal night of damnation,” as St. Gregory says. Darkness is the opposite of light; it is related to death, and in its train follow fear, horror, disquietude and sadness; it is a word never used in a good sense. Only think, my soul, of the condition of a blind man who is condemned to pass his whole life in perpetual night and darkness; try to realize what it would be to be confined for years, perhaps for your whole lifetime in a dismal dungeon where no ray of light can ever penetrate; imagine yourself buried alive in a dark, tomb-like vault what a deplorable fate! Now as is this blind man, this prisoner, this individual who is buried alive, so are the lost in hell. They are cast, as is said in the Book of Job, “into a land that is dark and covered with the mist of death, a land of misery and darkness where is the shadow of death, and no order, but everlasting horror dwelleth.” (Job xxi. 22.) Woe betide the unhappy sinner, who seeks the darkness that under cover of it he may work the works of iniquity; he will expiate them in eternal darkness, he will one day hear the appalling words of the prophet addressed to him: “Sit thou silent and get thee into darkness, daughter of the Chaldeans” (Is. xlvii. 5), and he will cry in lamentation with the Psalmist: “They have laid me in the lower pit, in the dark places and in the shadow of death.” (Ps. Ixxxvii. 7.)
2d. Consider the further description our Lord gives of hell: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Thus nothing breaks the silence of that terrific darkness but cries and gnashing of teeth. Pause awhile and consider the twofold expression our Lord employs. Weeping, howling is the expression, the utterance of pain and grief, and truly of no ordinary pain, but a great and violent pain that does not merely move the sufferer to complain and shed tears quietly, but compels the damned to cry aloud with agony and torture. Moreover the reprobate experience this woe, this torment in their souls as well as in their bodies. Only think of the mental anguish of a mother who has lost her only child; represent to yourself the unspeakable torture and desolation of a soul who deems herself forsaken by God; imagine the gnawing regret and consuming grief of a man who is banished to a distant barren region, and is tortured by homesickness. Then ask yourself what is the grief of a mother in comparison to that of the damned, of one who has sustained a loss infinitely greater than that of a child, who has lost that for which he was destined, the goal of his life, eternal felicity? What is the suffering of a soul who imagines herself forsaken by God in contrast to the grief of one whom God has really abandoned? And how can the pain of longing to return to one’s native land bear comparison with the agony of eternal unsatisfied yearning after the celestial country, the soul’s true home? And in regard to the bodily pains and torture which cause the lost souls to weep and cry aloud, listen to what is written in the Imitation of Christ: “In what things a man hath sinned, in these he shall be more heavily punished. There the slothful are plied with fiery goads, and the gluttons will be tormented with extreme thirst and hunger. There the luxurious and the lovers of pleasure will be bathed in burning pitch and stinking brimstone, and like mad dogs the envious will howl for grief. There is no vice which will not have its proper torment. There the proud will be filled with all confusion, and the covetous be straightened with most miserable want.” Choose to weep now, my soul, that thus you may escape this eternal weeping.
3d. Our Lord adds: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” To gnash one’s teeth is a sign of anger, of rage, of hatred. In hell there reigns a twofold, a threefold hatred, which impels the damned to gnash their teeth. Those unhappy souls hate God before all else. They cannot, they may not love Him any longer, therefore they hate Him, and the more they hate Him, the more they gnash their teeth at Him, so much the more do they increase the fire that tortures and consumes them. What awful misery of the soul! Created to love God, she is condemned to hate Him eternally. In the second place the damned rage with wild fury against themselves; they hate their body, the instrument of the sins for which they suffer, and they hate their soul, which has brought them to this misfortune. They would fain be annihilated, so great is their abhorrence of themselves, but this is impossible; they would fain kill themselves, but alas! they are destined to live forever. O awful torture of the soul! Created to attain happiness by love and legitimate self-love, she is condemned to eternal hatred of self. Thirdly, the lost hate one another, and this is what makes hell to be hell. Think of the wretched life of married people between whom discord prevails, represent to yourself the pitiable condition of a family, a Community, a cloister where there is no peace and concord, and then endeavor to conceive the appalling idea of hell filled throughout with devils and reprobate souls eternally at war with one another, cursing, hating, raging at one another, gnashing their teeth in the violence of their fury. But let this be enough for to-day! Close your eyes and for one moment imagine yourself in that awful place of darkness where “there is weeping and gnashing of teeth,” and then remind yourself that it stands within your own power either to escape or be plunged into that unutterable anguish to-day, to-morrow perhaps, but whether any longer who can tell?
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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