You’re (probably) not going to like this
REV. JOSÉ MARIO O. MANDÍA
On March 2014, Pope Francis met with families of the victims of the Italian mafia. At the end of his discourse, he put his notes down and told those gathered there, “I feel that I cannot finish without saying a word to those who are absent today, to the absent protagonists: to the men and women of the mafia. Please, change your lives, convert, stop what you are doing, stop doing harm. And we pray for you. Convert, I ask you this on my knees; it is for your own good. This life you are living now will not bring you pleasure, it will not bring you joy, it will not bring you happiness.
He continued, “Power, the money you have now from your many dirty dealings, from your many mafia crimes, is blood money, it is power that is stained with blood, and you will not be able to take it with you to the next life. Repent, there is still time, so as not to end up in hell. This is what awaits you if you continue on this path. You have a father and a mother: think of them. Cry a little, and repent.”
That was not the first time that Pope Francis spoke about hell. He has made it clear that he firmly adheres to the teaching of Jesus about eternal damnation.
Hell is not a fairy tale. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1034) teaches: “Jesus often speaks of ‘Gehenna’ of ‘the unquenchable fire’ reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost (cf Matthew 5:22, 29; 10:28; 13:42, 50; Mark 9:43-48).”
We often see hell portrayed with this fire that Jesus talks about. For me, however, another image explains it better. Jesus Christ says that in hell “men will weep and gnash their teeth” (Matthew 13:42). Why weep, why gnash the teeth? Let us try to explore this idea.
In some past articles, we have spoken about freedom. Freedom is an awesome power. It enables us to accept God’s plan, to say “Yes” to Him. But it is also a terrible power – that of being able to say “No” to Him, of telling Him, “I have no need of You.”
What happens when I say “Yes” to God? It means that I open myself to the Source of everything that is real, good, and beautiful. I welcome the Maker of every single thing I can ever enjoy on earth.
And what happens when I say “No”? It means I reject the Source of everything that is real, good, and beautiful. I turn my back on the One who has made every single thing that I can ever enjoy on earth. Instead, I choose self. And what has the self got? Nothing. St Paul asks, “What have you that you did not receive?” (I Corinthians 4:7) Choosing self means choosing nothing. If death comes, and I have not changed my mind, then my refusal is sealed forever, my heart is forever closed to everything that is true, good, beautiful.
Hell is not God’s creation. It is a creation of human freedom. As Saint John Paul said in July 1999, “It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life.” He adds, “’Eternal damnation’, therefore, is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to his love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1033) teaches us: “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: ‘He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him’ (I John 3:14-15). … To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell.’ ”
So what is there in hell? Nothing. Nothing but myself. Once I close myself to God and to my neighbor, I am only left with self and nothing else. Just imagine having no wi-fi signal. Imagine having no phone, or no television, or anything that puts you in contact with others. Hell means not having anything that can make one happy. “Weeping and gnashing” mean eternal frustration and also eternal boredom.
The talk about hell is not a scare tactic of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1036) gives two reasons for speaking about hell: it is a call to make responsible use of freedom, and a call to conversion and repentance.
On February 19, 2014, Pope Francis challenged those listening to him in Saint Peter’s Square: “Everyone say to himself: ‘When was the last time I went to confession?’ And if it has been a long time, don’t lose another day! Go, the priest will be good. And Jesus, (will be) there, and Jesus is better than the priests — Jesus receives you. He will receive you with so much love! Be courageous, and go to confession.”
The Holy Father noted, “Someone can say, ‘I confess my sins only to God.’ Yes, you can say to God, ‘forgive me,’ and say your sins. But our sins are also against our brothers, against the Church. This is is why it is necessary to ask forgiveness of the Church and of our brothers, in the person of the priest.”
“Forgiveness is not something we can give ourselves,” added the Pope. “One asks forgiveness, one asks it of another person, and in confession, we ask forgiveness from Jesus.”
Let us end with the Fatima prayer that we say during the Rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of your Mercy.”