Sunday, March 10, 2013

Is Hell Just a Figment of God's Imagination?

Valerie Harper with Mary Tyler Moore
in the days of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show"
Valerie Harper, who in the 1970's played Rhoda Morgenstern on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" just announced that she has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and has been told she has three months to live. I've never met her, but I was a huge fan of the "Mary Tyler Moore" show and have never stopped watching it over the years. So even though I don't personally know Valerie Harper, it still sort of feels like losing a friend.

A true personal friend did die very suddenly a few weeks ago. She was a co-worker whom I had sat next to for several years. She wasn't feeling well and went to the doctor in January. He found an enlarged liver and immediately sent her to the hospital. She walked into the hospital for tests, and never walked out, dying less than 3 weeks later of a very aggressive cancer.

Psalm 90:10 says, "The length of our days is seventy years--or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.."  One of the best interpretations of this verse is from Woody Allen in the movie, "Annie Hall":
There's an old joke - um... two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life - full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly.
Death is our enemy. It will eventually take from us everyone we love, and one day we too will succumb. And none of us knows when death will strike. None of us have a guarantee when we get up in the morning that we will be alive by the evening.

But what happens when we die?

Fr. Steven Scheier
There is a very interesting video on Youtube about a priest, Father Steven Scheier, who was involved in a near-deadly car accident in 1985 and had what we call an out-of-body experience. At that time he had been a priest for 11 years. You can watch the Youtube video here in which he describes his experience. He was also on Mother Angelica's show, which you can watch here.

National Catholic Register also had an article on Father Scheier's experience entitled "Wake Up Call Changes Priest":
Father Steven Scheier should have died on Oct. 18, 1985, in a collision while traveling back to his parish in the Diocese of Wichita, Kan. He suffered a major concussion and fractured vertebrae of the neck. Doctors gave him little chance to survive.
But he did.
Shortly after returning to his parish, as he read the Gospel of Luke about the unproductive fig tree, the page illuminated, enlarged and moved toward him from the Lectionary. Shaken after Mass, he remembered that after his accident he found himself before the judgment seat of Jesus.
Our Lord went through his whole life, showing him sins unconfessed and unforgiven since his last confession.
Father Scheier could only answer, “Yes, Lord.” Although a priest, he admittedly was not very spiritual and had practically no prayer life.
The judgment was hell, to which Father Scheier agreed. He said the Lord was merely “honoring his choice.” But then he heard a woman’s voice pleading to spare his soul. He knew it the Blessed Mother.
He heard Jesus say: “Mother, he has been a priest for 12 years for himself and not for me; let him reap the punishment he deserves.” Our Lady responded, “But Son, what if we give him special graces and strengths and then see if he bears fruit? If not, your will be done.” Jesus replied, “Mother, he’s yours.”
Since then, he has been hers. That extreme wake-up call with its eternal consequences has made all the difference in Father Scheier’s life and priesthood. Moreover, he wants it to make a difference in the lives of others. In the 1990s, he appeared as a guest on Mother Angelica’s EWTN show to recount his experiences.
There are a lot of stories out there from people who have died, experienced heaven and then come back to their bodies to tell us all about it.  I dismiss most of these stories because they are not in agreement with Catholic doctrine.

Father Scheier's experience is the only one I know of where the person involved does not tell us about lights and angels, etc. but just about hearing two voices. Further, Father Scheier's story is the only one which speaks of hell. There is nothing flashy or overly dramatic in his story, and for that reason it rings 100% true. He also has not written any books, been on innumerable talk shows or tried to capitalize on his experience in any way. To this day, he is a working parish priest serving the people of God, delivering a very sobering message to anyone who will listen to him.

Three children of Fatima
We have had many accounts of hell from different saints. Hell is one of the secrets of Fatima, when Our Lady opened up the earth and showed hell to the three children. Sister Lucy wrote about this in her memoirs:
She opened Her hands once more, as She had done the two previous months. The rays [of light] appeared to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a vast sea of fire. Plunged in this fire, we saw the demons and the souls [of the damned]. The latter were like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, having human forms. They were floating about in that conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames which issued from within themselves, together with great clouds of smoke.
Now they fell back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fright (it must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me). The demons were distinguished [from the souls of the damned] by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals.
That vision only lasted for a moment, thanks to our good Heavenly Mother, Who at the first apparition had promised to take us to Heaven. Without that, I think that we would have died of terror and fear.
St. Faustina wrote of her experience with hell in her Diary:
"I, Sister Faustina Kowalska, by the order of God, have visited the Abysses of Hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence...the devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God, What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: That most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell." (Diary 741)
"Today, I was led by an angel to the Chasms of Hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw:
The First Torture that constitutes hell is: The loss of God.
The Second is: Perpetual remorse of conscience.
The Third is That one's condition will never change.
The Fourth is: The fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it. A terrible suffering since it is a purely spiritual fire, lit by God's anger.
The Fifth Torture is: Continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own.
The Sixth Torture is: The constant company of Satan.
The Seventh Torture is:  Horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies.
The messages of Fatima and St. Faustina are just two of those given to us in the 20th Century regarding hell. St. Padre Pio, another saint of the 20th Century, gave a very succinct answer to the question of the existence of hell. As Fr. Longenecker posted on his blog:
Padre Pio was asked what he thought about modern people who didn’t believe in hell.
“They’ll believe in hell when they get there.” he replied.
Take particular note of the statement by St Faustina: "But I noticed one thing: That most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell."  I find it quite disconcerting that a good majority of Catholics no longer believe in hell. They feel that God is love and mercy and wants everyone with Him in heaven, which is all very true. But people seem to forget that when we are born, our default destination is not heaven but hell because we belong to the devil. We are redeemed, or bought back from the devil, through Christ's sacrifice which then gives us the ability to choose. But as our Lord Himself said, "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:14).  Most Catholics these days either forget or ignore this verse.

Unfortunately, many of our priests today no longer preach or believe in hell. I recently was at a funeral in which the priest informed us that there are two main reasons for a Catholic funeral: 1) to give comfort to the living so that they may mourn their loss, and 2) to explain the teaching of the Catholic Church that the dead are with God. It never occurred to this priest that a funeral is a time to pray for the dead. I know that this particular priest believes in universal salvation, so it is only logical that he sees no need to pray for the dead.

Another very popular priest who comes perilously close to preaching universal salvation is Father Robert Barron, a celebrity priest out of Chicago who is a millionaire off the profits of his media company, Word on Fire. Below is a video in which Fr. Barron explains his views on hell and salvation:



I personally find this video extremely disturbing in its implications and the message it gives. In this video, Fr. Barron admits that the biblical figure who talks most of hell and warns of it is Jesus Christ. Yet, Fr. Barron spends the rest of the video assuring us that we can "reasonably hope" that no one has ever gone to hell or will ever go to hell. Father admits that we can't be 100% sure that all people are saved, but he admits that he is "pretty much" convinced that there is universal salvation. He bases this belief on "God's desire for all people to be saved" and that "God has gone to the limits of Godforsakeness to effect this salvation." Fr. Barron admits that we can resist the Divine Love of God and that is why "we must hold to the existence of hell, at least as a possibility."

Fr. Barron goes on to define hell as a "spacial and visual metaphor" of a "state of deep loneliness that comes from having rejected the Divine Love." This does not seem to match the description of hell given to us by the the children of Fatima or St. Faustina or Our Lord Himself. You can read here the visions of hell by St. Catherine of Siena, which are very similar to those reported by St. Faustina. These visions involve a lot more than "a state of deep loneliness."

Father Barron says in this video that we don't know if there are any human beings actually in hell. It is true that the Church has never declared any individual as condemned by God, but at the same time, we do know that hell is not empty. Father Barron does mention the parable of Matthew 25, but he gives us no specifics from this parable. It should be noted that in Matthew 25, Christ says that in the final judgment he will say to the condemned, "Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels." I find it interesting that in all of this talk of hell, Fr. Barron never once mentions Satan and his demonic spirits who are condemned to hell. They seem to play no part in Father Barron's theological beliefs.

Father Barron says that if there is any soul who might actually go to hell. such a soul is one who has "slunked into the corner and refused to join the party, and has locked himself into this dark and sad and lonely place, not so much sent there by an avenging God, but a self-imposed exile." "Self imposed exile" is partially true - hell is a choice we make - but as our Lord says, hell is also the sentence the wicked will receive from Him as quoted above.

The only person I can speak of with complete assurance is myself.  I spent 38 years away from the Church, and there is not one doubt in my mind that if I had not returned to the Church, I would have been condemned to hell.  I have not literally seen my place in hell as St. Teresa of Avila saw the place in hell reserved for her, but the more I look back on my life, the more I realize there could not have been any other judgment for me.  Even now, I still fight myself, just as St. Paul said he did, "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."  (I Corinthians 9:27)

I find the theology of Fr. Robert Barron and others who think like him to be very dangerous to souls. Our God is a God of unlimited mercy and love, more than our finite human minds can take in. But He is also a God of justice, and if we persist in rebellion against Him, we will reap our just reward in hell, just as Fr. Steven Scheier was shown and as has been shown to many of the saints down through the ages.

Father Barron would do himself and all of his followers a great service if he would listen to the words of our Lady of Fatima:
You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to My Immaculate Heart. If people do what I am going to tell you, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.


3 comments:

  1. Catholic in Brooklyn, how trustworthy do you think Bishop Barron generally is these days?

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    Replies
    1. I completely trust Bishop Barron. I don't agree with his views that few if any go to hell, but that is just his opinion and not dogma that he is trying to teach. There are a lot of his opinions I don't agree with, but Bishop Barron presents the church and the Gospel in a beautiful, positive light. We can all learn from that.

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  2. http://www.catholic.com/blog/tim-staples/are-there-souls-in-hell-right-now

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