Previous Months' Topics

In November, when we remember All Saints and All Souls, we should also consider the state of our own souls. Father Larry Richards, a popular speaker at men's conferences, put the important things first in this podcast. Father Larry can be reached through his website, The Reason for Our Hope.


 

Heaven, Hell, Purgatory

by Brian Caulfield, Editor of Fathers for Good

I. Do you ever think of heaven?

Are you one those who has read Dante’s Inferno but not the Paradiso?

What do you think is the purpose of life, anyway?

These are big questions that should define our existence on earth, yet even people of faith tend not to think about them.

THINK: Our life on earth is short and uncertain – 70, 80, 90 years, if we are strong.

IMAGINE: Our life after death is eternal. Compared to the future that lies beyond the grave, our life on earth will seem like a mere flash – but what an important flash it will prove to be.

Our life on earth – how we love God and neighbor – will determine where and how we will spend our life in eternity.

“In all you do, remember your last days, and you will never sin” (Sirach 7:36).

The 16th century Jesuit St. Francis Borgia used to spend a portion of his prayer time imagining his soul in hell, to prepare for all the temptations that might bring him to that spot.

It would be good for us to think about the possibility of hell and the glories of heaven. The “life coaches” of today would call this “motivational imaging.”

II. Traditionally, the Catholic Church has taught about the Four Last Things:

1. Death
2. Judgment
3. Heaven
4. Hell

For our November topic, readers of Fathers for Good voted for:

1. Heaven
2. Hell
3. Purgatory

In this month of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2), let’s take a few minutes to get to know these places better – and decide where we want to wind up on judgment day.

III. Hell Hath Much Fury

Let’s start off where we don’t want to be … where we don’t even want to joke about going. Let’s talk about hell.

The first thing to know is that hell is real, and you can go there if you please.

I know people who joke about going to hell, because of their bad behavior. They don’t go to Mass on Sunday. They cheat on their wives and lie. They use contraception or have been sterilized by vasectomy. “I’m going to hell,” they say in a joking manner, maybe expecting someone tell them it’s all a myth and no one goes to hell anymore. But I can’t tell them that, as much as I would like to. Honesty forces me to say, “Don’t even joke about it. Pray to God for guidance in your life.”

If we continue till the end in mortal sin, God will not deny you a ticket to hell. If you live your life like you belong down there, God will not forcibly turn you back from the slippery slope to hell.

A lot of people say, “I’m basically a good person. God understands.”

Yet the big, fat, unspoken sin of today is CONTRACEPTION. Almost everyone does it, most people seem to think there’s nothing wrong with it – yet most everyone is uneasy about doing it, deep down in their heart of hearts. They know that contraception is a deep offense against the life-giving, life-affirming  goodness of God.

If you use contraception or have been sterilized, there’s a good chance you’re in mortal sin. If you continue in your ways and don’t go to a priest for sacramental confession, there’s a good chance you are headed for hell.

Think about it. Do you really want to go to hell? I don’t say this to ruin your day, but to improve your chances for a happy eternal life. What do you prefer: a few moments of pleasure on earth, or happiness forever in heaven? This is the choice God gives us. It must pain him to see us choose eternal death!

Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about hell:

• #1861: Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace.

• If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices forever, with no turning back.

Ouch! Not the warm, fuzzy feeling of the average CCD class of the past 30 years.

Hell is real, and we can go there if we please.

IV. Purgatory: A Hospital for Souls

Let’s move up the ladder a bit to Purgatory. Many Catholics today are not familiar with the word or the concept – maybe Grandma prayed for “the holy souls in Purgatory” but a modern Catholic need not be concerned with such things.

Wrong.

Though a temporary state, Purgatory is a defined doctrine of the Catholic Church.

The teaching makes good sense, and is truly good news for the majority of mankind who step and fall each day. Purgatory is for those who die in God’s friendship (state of grace) but are not yet ready for the pure light of heaven. They need to be purged or purified of venial sins and attachment to sin.

The important thing to know about Purgatory is that every soul that goes there is on the way to heaven! Although the purgation may cause suffering to the soul, the prospect of entering heaven must fill the soul with hope and joy.

The Catechism states:

• 1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo a purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

Let us rejoice that God has made a place for poor sinners to recover the splendor of Christ in their souls after a lifetime of imperfect but good-willed attempts. Let’s thank God for Purgatory, and let’s pray for the souls there now, so they may be more quickly cleansed and delivered into the presence of God.

V. Heaven Is Not a Cloud

John Lennon famously sang, “Imagine there’s no heaven … no hell below us…”

He was trying – in what seemed to be an innocent nihilism in the 1970s – to imagine a better world in which dreams of heaven and fears of hell would no longer drive the hearts of men. Yet experience has shown that Dostoyevsky’s insight is closer to the truth: if God does not exist, then there are no limits on the evil men can do.

For whatever harm religious fanatics have done, there is a greater danger from those who fear neither God nor man and have only their own will to power as a guide.

A world without God would be intolerable even to evil people. After all, no thief suffers himself to be robbed, and without God we would all become robbers, even of the ones we claim to love. Man would despair, because he knows he cannot redeem himself.

So heaven is not some dreamy place in the clouds – it is a place of ultimate reality, where God, our creator, reigns. There is a tendency, even among some priests, to spiritualize heaven into a “state of mind” or a “state of being.” Heaven is not a place, they say. Yet we know that there are at least two bodies already in heaven: the resurrected body of Jesus Christ and the body of Mary assumed into heaven.

In time, all the bodies of the redeemed will enter heaven reunited with their souls. If heaven is not a “place,” all these bodies must exist somewhere!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

• 1026: By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has “opened” heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ. He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.

St. Thomas More said something like this: Let us pray for one another so that we may merrily meet in heaven.

Amen.