Father Francis Maple
Homily from Fr Francis for the 26th Sunday of the year.
Mark 9: 38-43, 47-48
I was once giving a parish Mission and I remember knocking on the door of one home. The moment I entered I sensed a very unhappy, cold atmosphere.Something wasn't right. If I spoke to the husband, the wife didn't exist. If I spoke to the wife, the husband didn't exist. You could sense that there was no communication between them. There was a coldness and hostility. After being with them for 15 minutes I decided to move on to the next Catholic home. The husband saw me to the door and said, "Father, do you ever preach on Hell?" I said, "I do." "Then whenever you preach on Hell in the future always use the example of my wife and I, because in this house there is no love. It is a living Hell. We live our separate lives under one roof. We just can't stand each other's company. We cook our own meals and eat on our own. I have my own living room and bedroom and she has hers. We decided to live like this for the last twelve years. We agreed that going through a divorce is too much trouble. I tell you, Father, living like this is like living in Hell. So when you next preach on Hell use us as an example because there is no love in our home. That is precisely what Hell is! There is a complete breakdown in our relationship."
That man went to the heart of the matter of Hell when he said it was a place where no love exists. I have heard some Catholics say there is no Hell. How can a loving God create such a place? We Catholics must believe that Hell exists. Jesus Himself refers to its existence when He says, "Fear Him, (meaning God,) who has power to cast body and soul into Hell." Hell is the home of Satan and his fallen angels. Is there anyone else in Hell? We just don't know, but Jesus in His parable of the Sheep and Goats warns us that we could find ourselves in Hell if we don't love. He described the sending of those to Hell in these words, "Depart from Me into the fire of Hell prepared for the devil and His angels." Those words indicate that there has been a complete breakdown in people's relationship with God and their neighbour.
What is Hell like? No one knows exactly, because no one has ever come back from Hell to describe it for us. Jesus speaks of Hell in terms of everlasting fire. It is not the fire we see at a barbecue or a bonfire.That fire could not afflict the soul, which is a spirit. To be thrown into fire causes extreme pain and fire is mentioned to indicate the extreme suffering one will experience in Hell. The real excruciating suffering in Hell is the pain of loss. The pain of loss is the eternal separation from God, which constitutes the worst of Hell's suffering. The persons in Hell know that the only Person who can make them happy is God and yet they hate Him. Hell is being fully aware that God is waiting for us with open arms and we can never be with Him through our own fault because we have rejected him. It is similar to the ache in the heart of lovers who are separated. All they want is to be with each other, but this is impossible. That pain is nothing compared to the pain of never again being able to love and possess God.
There has to be a tremendous loneliness in Hell, hating God, hating everyone and hating yourself. It is no good thinking if your friend goes to Hell that you will be able to enjoy each other’s company and console each other. You will be hating each other, wishing you could just turn back the clock and be given another chance to love God and your neighbour. My Mum used to tell us, in Hell there is a clock, which ticks and says, "Forever and ever! Forever and ever!" No picture can paint the reality of Hell. May God forbid anyone of us going there!
I love this illustration of the difference between Heaven and Hell. A man dies and was first shown Hell. He saw everyone sitting at a sumptuous banquet with the finest food and drink, but was surprised to see that everyone was starving. Then he noticed a weak man trying to feed himself. He couldn't, for the forks, spoons and knives were all six foot long and he couldn't get the food to his mouth. Next he was shown Heaven and there he saw exactly the same scene, a sumptuous banquet. But here no one was starving. He noticed when anyone was hungry the person opposite just picked up their spoon and fed them. In Hell there is only hate and selfishness, but in Heaven there is only love and thoughtfulness.
To deserve to go to Hell, we must have broken our relationship completely with God. Let us take an example. The Church, knowing the tremendous worth and God's wish to be adored by all Catholics through Sunday Mass, teaches that deliberately, and without good reason, to miss Mass on Sunday (or on the Saturday evening instead) is a mortal sin, and you can't go to Holy Communion again unless you first confess that sin in Confession and receive absolution. To commit any mortal sin requires three conditions to be present. These are, one, that the sin must be of grave matter. The Church considers that missing Mass on Sundays is a grave sin breaking one of God's Ten Commandments - “Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day”- and turning down God's invitation to worship Him with His children as He wants. The second condition is that you know it is a serious offence against God, and the third condition is you deliberately commit the sin.
Supposing you were to die the next day after missing Mass and without repenting, then according to moral theologians, those who die in mortal sin will go to Hell for all eternity. But my own personal thought is that this would be unlikely to happen because to be condemned to Hell for one failing seems too harsh a punishment! For missing Mass once on Sunday does not necessarily entail a complete breakdown in our relationship with God. However, the danger is that having missed Mass without good reason once, it will be easier to miss again and again, and then again…until not going to Mass becomes a “normal” part of life as God’s Commandments are forgotten which, in time is likely to lead to a complete breakdown in the relationship. That is why it is not okay to miss Mass even on the odd occasion. I repeat it is a mortal sin, a great offence against God's love, and you cannot receive Our Lord in Holy Communion until you have confessed that sin with sorrow in your next Confession, which you should make as soon as is practicable.
I think of a life as a tree. If a tree leans in one direction when it dies it will fall in that direction. It is not going to fall in the opposite direction. So, too, with our lives. If all the time we are leaning towards God, very likely, with God's grace we shall fall into His arms when we die. But if our lives never point to God, it is very likely that when we die we shall die in enmity with God.
In fact I would advocate that you try to attend daily Mass as the best way of expressing love for God. If you want to avoid Hell make sure you have in your heart love for God and your neighbour. Remember that each of us is one of God's children. He never wants to lose any and would never send anyone to Hell. If someone goes there it will be because of the life which that person has chosen to live. Should we go to Hell it must break His heart. Knowing this a prayer I like to say very often is, "Heavenly Father, do not consider what we truly deserve, but forgive us our sins and lead us all to Heaven to be happy with You forever."