Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Father Ignatius visited the local Catholic School to address the 15 years-old children at Catechism Class.
One of them asked: “Father, is it true that hell is full of fire and devils poking you with big forks and all that …”
“And all that …” repeated Father Ignatius with a smile.
“Hell has been described as a burning place many times in the Bible,” continued Father Ignatius. “Jesus tells us the story of a rich man who did not care for poor Lazarus starving at his gate. When both of them died, Lazarus went to Heaven whereas the rich man went to hell.
“Jesus says in this story that the rich man was in torment in the fire, so much so that he begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue.”
“So it is a fiery hot place; is it Father?” asked one of the children.
Father Ignatius cleaned his glasses of imaginary smudges. A habit he had acquired when he wanted to buy more thinking time.
A few seconds later he said: “The Bible often refers to hell as a fiery place where the flames never stop burning.
“When I was a young priest, and that’s many years ago as you can imagine, the message we gave from the pulpit on Sunday was that hell is indeed a fiery place, where torment is eternal and the worms that eat you never die. Fire and brimstone was the message of the day back then.
“A place where there will be crying and gnashing of teeth as it says in the Bible. Although I’ve often wondered what would happen to people with no teeth … perhaps they’ll be provided with dentures to gnash!”
The children laughed in unison.
“These days, however, the message has changed,” continued Father Ignatius pensively, “we no longer seem to talk much about hell in our sermons.”
“Why?” asked a child.
“Good question. I suppose because people have become hardened and they no longer believe, or no longer wish to believe.
“If I were to say in my sermon on Sunday that hell is a burning place full of demons with long spears, as one of you described it, the congregation would scoff in disbelief. They would just not want to buy such an imagery of hell.
“It seems to me that today’s generation wishes to believe in a nice place called Heaven, whatever they perceive it to be. And everyone seems to think that they are destined there.
“If you were to ask people in the street about Heaven most of those who believe in such a place hope they’ll go there. That’s because people consider themselves to be good and worthy of Heaven regardless of the way they live their lives.
“They’d rather not think about hell or what it’s like. Some may mention fire and damnation, but do they really believe it?
“And the only one laughing secretly at this state of affairs is the devil. For he exists all right although he’d rather we think he didn’t exist.”
The children were attentive to his every word. The priest continued in his gentle soothing voice:
“Someone once described hell as a place or a state of being totally without God.
“When I look around me these days I see many people in that state right now. They live without God in their lives. Totally unaware of Him; some even rejecting publicly His very existence. Others revel in the fact that they don’t believe in God, and consider themselves somewhat superior to the rest of us who believe in a supreme Creator of the Universe and all that is in it.
“So is hell just a state of being totally devoid of God’s love?
“Personally, I’d like to describe hell as a place not only totally devoid of God and His love, but also with a big difference.
“It is a place where you know for certain that God exists. You are made aware of His existence, His omnipotence, and His love for mankind. A place where you realize how wrong you were in choosing not to believe in Him, to reject Him and to mock Him in your lifetime.
"A place where you know of His eternal love for us and you see this love being shared amongst His followers in Heaven. Yet you are totally excluded from His presence and His love.
“It is denied to you because of the choices you have made when you were free to choose.
“Can you imagine that? Knowing for certain that God exists yet being excluded from Him.
“Isn’t that worse than any eternal fire?” asked the priest.
“Wow …” muttered one of the children.
Father Ignatius smiled reassuringly. “So, what is it to be,” he asked, “a fiery place or a place devoid of God?”
A child raised his hand and said: “I think it’s a place where I would rather not be!”
“That’s very wise,” remarked the priest, as the bell rang to indicate the end of Catechism lesson.