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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Hell is Never Saying You’re Sorry

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I was asked one time, “Father, do you think the damned in hell are sorry for their sins?”  Given the terms we use in the Act of Contrition, the answer is no.  The damned souls carry with them their malevolence or spite.  The animosity or ill will that precipitated evil acts has eternally infected them.  Perfect contrition would require loving God and regretting how they have dishonored him.  This love cannot enter hell.  The pain derived from the loss of heaven and the fear of hell in imperfect contrition might have saved them but they tarried too long in returning to the Lord.  This level of sorrow only has meaning outside of hell and in this life.  Death forever fixes a person’s spiritual state, either convicted of sin in hell or as one found worthy of heaven, albeit possibly after purgation.  The damned might not like the consequences of their sins but that is inconsequential.  It changes nothing.  It amounts to nothing.  Like the demons, they wear their sins; they become sin.  If there is any regret it is understood in terms of resentment toward judgment.  Popular depictions of hell are often heavily weighted toward sadism.  But it is probably wrong to assume that all the damned find satisfaction in suffering or giving pain.  The sense of loss is real and lasting.  There is a frustration that cannot be escaped.  They were made for God and yet they have denounced him.  They have damaged themselves.  They are irrevocably broken and can never be fixed.  They settled for less when they could have had everything that mattered.  Dante imagined that the regions of hell reflect the sins with which people most commit.  This bondage is made permanent after death.  Even in this life people tend to identify themselves by their sins.  They could be ever so much more.  Important questions arise for those still in pilgrimage here on earth:

  1. Do you love God and neighbor as you should?
  2. Do you hate sin and are you sorry for offenses?
  3. Have you repented and made an amendment of life?
  4. Have you sought God’s mercy and his absolution in the Church?

God is not capricious but time is quickly running out.  Too many have become comfortable living in mortal sin.  These are the living dead among us.  Yes, there is a tragedy for those who die in sin and are lost; however, there is a tragedy here-and-now for missed opportunities.  How many others might be lost because we failed to be the Christians we were called to be.  How many have been forced to suffer abandonment, oppression, poverty and pain because of our failure to care— our failure to love?  We do not know the day or the hour that the Lord will come for us.  That last moment we live in this world will be frozen for eternity.  What is our spiritual and moral orientation?  Are we molded by grace and discipleship so as to be transformed into saints?  Are we spiritually disfigured by vice and sin into something monstrous and shameful?

The measure for spiritual transformation is always charity.  Jesus tells us a parable about a rich man who ignores the needs of a beggar that lives on his doorstep.  His state is so lamentable that the dogs licked his sores.  Where there is a failure to love, people are often stripped of dignity.  The beggar Lazarus is walked over like a doormat; worst yet, he is reduced to dog food.  The rich man is aware of his plight but just he does not care.  Death balances the scales.  The beggar is translated to the side of Abraham in paradise; the rich man finds himself tormented in the abode of death.  He is literally in hell.  The rich man does not rejoice at the beggar’s good fortune.  There is no praise for divine justice.  Even in hell, the rich man remains locked in his preoccupation with self.  He cries from far off, “Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames” (Luke 16:24).

The damned have neither a bucket nor a cup.  They cannot cup their hands as it looks too much like a gesture for prayer.  Jesus makes himself the great sin offering, dying in our stead.  Nevertheless, even on the crosses beside his, there is one who trusts Christ and another who curses him.  Jesus says, “I thirst.”  This thirst is a consequence of all the sins of the world, a burden that he takes upon himself on Calvary.  He would thirst for a moment so that those who believe in him might receive a living water and never thirst again.  Those in hell have rejected this refreshment.  Their thirst cannot be satisfied.  Yes, even if the water be brought to them they would still thirst.  Not only do the damned have no cups— they have forgotten how to drink.

3 Responses

  1. Sorry, that I really meant was — is the Pope Francis a heretic?

    Alex

    FATHER JOE: I think the issue is that Pope Francis is often unclear.

  2. Catholicism emphasises the former… = Catholicism seems to emphasise the former…

    FATHER JOE: Repentance or contrition or sorrow is necessary for the forgiveness of sins.

  3. One question: what happens if the means by which grace comes – not God the Author of grace, Who cannot be affected by human sin – are compromised ? There is a vast difference between saying that Christ vouchsafes to work through the human instrumentality of His Church – and, saying that He does not, will not, or cannot work without this human instrumentality. Catholicism emphasises the former so strongly, as to ignore or even deny the latter. Which IMHO is dangerously unbalanced, and not true to Scripture.

    Catholics make a great deal of “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against [My Church]” – but is that a sufficient response; or is it, instead, an evasion of the scandalousness of some of what has happened in the Church ?

    Is it charity that keeps us from being disheartened by the deformity in the Church’s life – or is it, instead, a kind of slothfulness ?

    Thank you for your articles – they are always thought-provoking.

    FATHER JOE:

    Can the means by which grace comes be compromised? Actually this has always been the case in the Church. God works through weak and broken instruments. The Lord has indeed promised to abide with his Church and that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail” against her. There is no evasion of this truth in the light of scandal. One of the great ironies is that God can grant us the sacraments and his grace even from unworthy hands. A priest who has damned himself by serious sin can grant absolution to other sinners. It may be that his witness is corrupted or destroyed. It may be that a number of priests have brought great harm upon the Church. This is so at the very beginning with Christ’s betrayal by his apostle, Judas. God will make a straight path of our crooked lines. We are not guaranteed that the Church will endure everywhere or that she will always grow. The guarantees of Christ have to do with the teaching of the truth, the perpetuation of his ministry (healing, forgiving, liberating and feeding), and that the Church will remain until he comes again at the final consummation.

    Many of us are indeed disheartened by the scandals of clergy and by a lack of clarity these days from Rome. Over the centuries, the Magisterium has been preserved in the truth by the Holy Spirit, even when men less than holy occupied the primatial see. The miracle is that the Church remains in fidelity to the Gospel message of Christ. While I have thought it fairly easy to distinguish between the accidentals of faith and that which is essential, that does not prevent speculation and controversy on certain matters. There have been a few cases where a definite organic development can be discerned. We see this with the Immaculate Conception of Mary, with the prohibition of slavery or human bondage and maybe today on a host of pro-life issues like the death penalty and the possession of nuclear arsenals. The latter two still seem to be in transition or not totally clear (given that the one is reflective of modern justice and the latter of current technology). Nevertheless, while controversial they are still linked to the Church’s understanding of the Gospel of Life. All human life is sacred from the womb to the tomb. All human persons must be seen as God sees them, possessing an incommensurate value and dignity. Much of morality is fixed given divine positive law and natural law. That is what creates the modern conflicts as over homosexuality. No longer living in a Christian culture— the Bible and the Church teaches one thing and the society believes and practices another. This leads to a loss of faith and/or a growing relativism regarding moral truths.

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