Our parish priest has a certain flair for flamboyance, if that’s the right word to describe his style. I could say that his homilies are well animated, through his own actions and outbursts of fingers and robes but I could also say they’re misleading and a great cause of confusion to the good people of our parish Church.
It was only my great pleasure to experience one of the most perplexing sermons of his on Saturday at the Vigil Mass. The gospel was from St Matthew
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field; a man has found it and hidden it again, and now, for the joy it gives him, is going home to sell all that he has and buy that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is as if a trader were looking for rare pearls: and now he has found one pearl of great cost, and has sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was cast into the sea, and enclosed fish of every kind at once; when it was full, the fishermen drew it up and sat down on the beach, where they stored all that was worth keeping in their buckets, and threw the useless kind away. So it will be when the world is brought to an end; the angels will go out and separate the wicked from the just, and will cast them into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping, and gnashing of teeth. Have you grasped all this?” “Yes, Lord”, they said to him. And he said to them, “Every scholar, then, whose learning is of the kingdom of heaven must be like a rich man, who knows how to bring both new and old things out of his treasure-house.”
“I should give a fiery, fire-and-brimstone sermon like they did years ago” he began, with a smile on his face. He always started a homily with a grin or some sort of happy display, but I didn’t expect (or sadly, maybe I expected it too much) the five-minute “homemade gospel” I was about to be preached.
The basis of his lesson was from the reading above: “So it will be when the world is brought to an end; the angels will go out and separate the wicked from the just, and will cast them into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping, and gnashing of teeth” After repeating that line, in the liturgical translation of course, he branched off (or dived into) the deep end and tried to explain how we, as Catholics, should judge “good and ill” from the first reading from Kings then he talked about the line in St Matthew over what the TRUE meaning of “the furnace of fire” truly is.
“Now, a loving and merciful, just and good God does not send people to Hell. I do not and cannot believe that a God so loving, so good, could send any person to Hell or put them to suffering and if He does then it’s not the God I believe in” was what he said, then I thought he was going to elaborate but instead he continued to say “there is no Hell because we create our own Hell on Earth, and surely God won’t allow us to suffer any more after that because it’s through our own errors that we create Hell and put others through it here on Earth. Because we haven’t made Christ our rock and love our strength that we put ourselves through Hell, and that’s what Hell is. There’s no fire but there is our Hell.”
Now, I’ve never been to Maynooth or Allen Hall to study theology, and I’ve never been to King’s College for philosophy so I’m speaking purely as a secondary-school student that knows his way around the catechism. First let’s look at the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia where Joseph Hontheim says the following “theologians generally accept the opinion that hell is really within the earth. The Church has decided nothing on this subject; hence we may say hell is a definite place; but where it is, we do not know.”
That makes complete sense. Pope Benedict went further and said “Jesus came to tell us that he wants us all in heaven and that hell, of which so little is said in our time, exists and is eternal for those who close their hearts to his love” which pays no contradiction to Mr Hontheim, and in turn Mr Hontheim contradicts not a single ounce of scripture or official teaching. Pope St John Paul II explained Hell as not being a “place” but rather a “state” of a soul that freely rejected and refused the glory and goodness of God’s grace and love. It’s not up to me how to interpret that, and I don’t know enough quite yet how to interpret it but there it is for the chewing.
Back at the parish Church, my priest specifically told us the congregation that “there is no Hell” and by saying that, he didn’t mean anything different to what he said. He also says that “we create our own hell through our bad choices and we do it on Earth”, which is a contradiction of scripture and tradition. Furthermore it confuses the young children who are currently going through a catechism class that teaches the very existence of a Hell, and a generation of people that believe the Church’s teachings are currently fluid and subject to change.
In that day true and full happiness shall be the lot of none but the good, while deserved and supreme misery shall be the portion of the wicked, and of them only. (Book XX, Chapter 1)
St Augustine said that in his Confessions, and St Anthony Mary Claret wrote:
The natural fire that we see during this life has great power to burn and torment. Yet this is not even a shadow of the fire of Hell. There are two reasons why the fire of Hell is more dreadful beyond all comparison than the fire of this life. The first reason is the justice of God, which the fire serves as an instrument in order to punish the infinite wrong done to his supreme majesty, which has been despised by a creature. Therefore, justice supplies this element with a burning power, which almost reaches the infinite. The second reason is the malice of sin. As God knows that the fire of this world is not enough to punish sin, as it deserves, He has given the fire of Hell a power so strong that it can never be comprehended by any human mind. Now, how powerfully does this fire burn? It burns so powerfully, O my soul, that, according to the ascetical masters, if a mere spark of it fell on a millstone; it would reduce it in a moment to powder. If it fell on a ball of bronze, it would melt it in an instant as if it were wax. If it landed on a frozen lake, it would make it boil in an instant.
And furthermore the Cathechism declares
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 neighbour 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.”Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.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.”
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. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,”and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!”
The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
I know that I am most likely preaching to the choir and I just know that this priest needs our prayers and sacrifices just as any priest does, but my goodness is there ever a special intention for Him. This believe that there is no Hell, does no good to the Christian soul. If there isn’t a Hell then can there be any sin, for what would be right and wrong? I know that he is right when he says God does not send anyone to Hell, for God is truly all loving and merciful, just and good, but to me that is the very reason a soul should have to suffer eternal damnation should he choose not to love God and honour His commands, to reject His grace and mercy and be the enemy of all that is Holy. It is the good Father that give his Child his most deserved reward, and it is our own rejection of God that sends us to Hell when we die. The death in mortal sin is where we descend into Hell. It is most important especially in this day and age that we pray for our priests. Not attack them in articles and columns on blogs and newspapers; point out the errors, of course, but do not judge them for we ought to concern ourselves with the misled flock as well as the mistaken shepherd. Beg Our Lady to help all priests, that she might take them by the hand and lead them away from the temptation that is luke-warmness.
God Bless you.