Saturday, 29 September 2012

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
  • It is better...to enter into life crippled, than to...go to hell
  • It is better...to enter into life lame, than to be thrown into hell
  • It is better...to enter...the kingdom...with one eye, than to be thrown into hell
Rather sobering stuff, don't you think? Especially for our time which so exalts personal freedom - 'I can be whoever I want!' - and yet denies the same freedom to God who is not allowed to be whoever he wants.

'My God would not send people to Hell. I don't believe in a God who allows people to go to hell! God is all good; he would not allow hell to exist.'

But notice that each mention of hell is preceded by the phrase enter into life.  It is better to enter into life crippled ... lame ... blind - any way at all - rather than go to hell.

Life or hell - these are the radical possibilities of human freedom. Life or hell - and it can begin even in this life.

The Catechism has a very compact definition of both heaven and hell:

Heaven: Eternal life with God; communion of life and love with the Trinity and all the blessed. Heaven is the state of supreme and definitive happiness, the goal of the deepest longings of humanity.

Hell: The state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed reserved for those who refuse by their own free choice to believe and be converted from sin, even to the end of their lives.

And that's what it's all about, isn't it? That final moment of life in which God, in his freedom, definitively accepts all the choices we have made in our freedom - the truth we have accepted or rejected, the graces we have received or resisted, the love we have shared or withheld.

The Church's loving hope for each one of us is beautifully expressed in the prayer of commendation at the time of death:

Go forth, Christian soul, from this world ...May you live in peace this day,may your home be with God in Zion,with Mary, the virgin Mother of God,with Joseph, and all the angels and saints...May you see your Redeemer face to face.


How happy will that moment be when our soul's longing is fulfilled and we enter: the state of supreme and definitive happiness, the goal of the deepest longings of humanity.

Leaving aside the question of Purgatory for the moment let us consider the unthinkable possibility of hell: The state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed reserved for those who refuse by their own free choice to believe and be converted from sin, even to the end of their lives.

Firstly, hell is a state, a condition of soul. Mortal sin is the only road to hell. It deprives us of the divine life of God within us and makes us incapable of communion with him. This is a disastrous situation for anyone to be in but it happens when we sin gravely against him, against our neighbour or against ourselves. As a prisoner in Fulham said to me recently, 'The goal of my life, Father, is to remain in the state of grace.'

Secondly, hell is a definitive state. It cannot be reversed. It is final.

Thirdly, we exclude ourselves from heaven; hell is the state of definitive self-exclusion. Sometimes the question is asked why, if hell is so bad and heaven so good, do the people in hell not simply repent? The answer is simply because they don't want to.

This is a mystery of human pride and evil which is beyond most of us but we can see it everywhere in our world. The brother of the prodigal son who refused to enter the feast. He excluded himself from his own happiness. The husband, or wife, who refuses to forgive and so destroys the very happiness they most desire. The souls in hell actually prefer their torments to having to acknowledge the Lord.

Heaven is the state of communion with God and the blessed; hell is a state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed.

We were made for communion; communion is the fulfillment of human destiny and to be deprived of this fulfillment  the very purpose of existence, is undoubtedly the most indescribable agony (fire) of hell.

Hell is: reserved for those who refuse by their own free choice to believe and be converted from sin.

Before concluding let me once again draw your attention to an area this refusal to believe manifests itself most frequently in our present day. It is with regard to the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and to confess grave sin before receiving Holy Communion.

Paragraph 2180  of the Catechism states: ...On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.

The next paragraph states: ...Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.

Paragraph 1385 then says: Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.

Each of us has a free choice to believe this precept of the Church. And let us not forget that our free choice has consequences.

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