Heaven and Hell
Heaven and hell are a reality that we have to consider, because we’ll ultimately end up in one or the other, so it’s a good idea to understand what they are. Heaven and hell aren’t places that we go. Heaven isn’t a place where all of our dreams come true, and hell isn’t a place where demons torture the souls of the condemned, as if it’s some sort of spiritual dungeon. Heaven is the state of being in complete union with God and hell means being eternally separated from God.
Jesus Christ redeemed us through His death, Resurrection, and ascension into heaven and thus reconciled us to God. Heaven is the community of all those who are perfectly united with Christ; we call these people the angels and saints. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes heaven like this, “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called ‘heaven.’ Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (paragraph 1024). We were made for heaven because God made us for love, and God is love. Being is perfect union with God means to love perfectly and to be completely filled with love. Since heaven isn’t a place we can begin to experience it here on earth whenever we are united with Jesus. We experience heaven when share God’s love with one another through acts of charity, when we experience the presence of God in prayer, and, most of all, when we unite ourselves to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Holy Mass and receive Him in the Most Holy Eucharist.
The Catechism goes on to say, “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 neighbor or against ourselves… 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’” (1033). In the Gospels, Jesus often speaks of hell as being cast out into the darkness, where there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth.” Hell is a place of punishment, but that punishment is one that we bring on ourselves by our own choices. If we live apart from God here on earth, we shouldn’t be surprised if we are separated from Him for eternity.
No one is predestined to go to hell; only those who turn away from God through mortal sin and persist in it. However, everyone sins, as St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For all have sinned and all are in need of the glory of God. We have been justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rm 3:23-24). While we pray for mercy and the grace of God in prayers like the Our Father (“lead us not into temptation”) and the Hail Mary (“pray for us now and at the hour of our death”), we should also remember that we must all, bishops, clergy, and lay people, Catholics and protestants, Christians and non-Christians, stand before our Just Judge after we die. Let us strive to live so that we can welcome that day not with terror but with rejoicing.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.