Category Archives: Eschatology

How to go to hell


-Hell Receiving Fallen Angels, Dante’s Paradise Lost illustration, by Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

-by Edward Freser is writer and philosopher living in Los Angeles. He teaches philosophy at Pasadena City College. His primary academic research interests are in the philosophy of mind, moral and political philosophy, and philosophy of religion.

“How is it that anyone ever goes to hell? How could a loving and merciful God send anyone there? How could any sin be grave enough to merit eternal damnation? How could it be that not merely a handful of people, but a great many people, end up in hell, as most Christian theologians have held historically?

A complete treatment of the subject would be complex, because there are a number of relevant subsidiary issues, some of them complex in themselves. These issues include: the difference between the supernatural end of the beatific vision and our merely natural end, and hell as the loss of the former; the difference between the sufferings of hell and the state of a soul either in limbo or in purgatory; the precise nature of the sufferings of hell, and the different kinds and degrees of suffering corresponding to different vices; what it is that makes a particular action – including actions modern people tend to regard as merely minor sins or not sins at all – mortally sinful or apt to result in damnation; what can be known by way of purely philosophical analysis and what is known only via special divine revelation; the proper interpretation of various scriptural passages and the authority of the statements of various councils, popes, and saints; what is wrong with various popular misconceptions which cloud the issues (crude images of devils with pitchforks and the like); and so forth.

I’m not going to address all of that here. What I will address is what I take to be the core issue, in light of which the others must be understood, which is the manner in which hell is something chosen by the one who is damned, where this choice is in the nature of the case irreversible. In particular, I will approach this issue the way it is approached by Aquinas and other Thomists.

Many misunderstandings arise because people often begin their reflections on this topic at the wrong point. For example, they begin with the idea that the damned end up in hell because of something God does, or with the idea that there is something in some particular sin (a particular act of theft or of adultery, say) that sends them there. Now, I would by no means deny that the damned are damned in part because of something God does, and that particular sins can send one to hell. The point, again, is just that there is something more fundamental going on in light of which these factors have to be understood.

Obstinate angelic wills

It is useful to begin with the way in which, on Aquinas’s analysis, an angel is damned. (See especially Summa Theologiae I.64.2; De Veritate, Question 24, Article 10; and On Evil, Question XVI, Article 5.) Here, as with the images of devils with pitchforks, the unsympathetic reader is asked to put out of his mind common crude images, e.g. of creatures with white robes, long golden hair, and harps. That is not what an angel is. An angel is instead an incorporeal mind, a creature of pure intellect and will. It is also worth emphasizing for the skeptical reader that whether or not one believes in angels is not really essential to the subject addressed in this post. Think, if you must, of what is said in this section as a useful thought experiment.

On Aquinas’s analysis, angels, like us, necessarily choose what they choose under the guise of the good, i.e. because they take it to be good in some way. (See my article “Being, the Good, and the Guise of the Good,” reprinted in Neo-Scholastic Essays, for exposition and defense of the Thomistic account of the nature of human action.) And as with us, an angel’s ultimate good is in fact God. But, again like us, they can come to be mistaken about what that ultimate good is. That is to say, like us, an angel can erroneously take something other than God to be its ultimate good.

However, the nature of this error in the case of an angel is somewhat different from the nature of the error we might commit. In us, a sudden and fleeting passion might distract us from what is truly good for us and lead us to pursue something else instead. But passions are essentially corporeal, i.e. they exist only in creatures which, like us, have bodies. Angels do not have bodies, so passions play no role in leading them into error.

A second way we can be led into error is through the influence of a bad habit, which pulls us away from what is truly good for us in a more serious way than a fleeting passion might. For Aquinas, there is indeed habituation in angels, as there is in us. However, there is a difference. In our case, we have several appetites pulling us in different directions because of our corporeal nature. Because we are rational animals, our will is directed at what the intellect conceives as the good, but because we are rational animals, we also have appetites which move us toward the pursuit of other, sub-intellectual things, such as food, sexual intercourse, and so forth. These appetites compete for dominance, as it were, which is why in a human being, even a deeply ingrained habit can be overcome if a competing appetite is strong enough to counter it.

Angels are not like this, because they are incorporeal. They have only a single appetite – the will as directed toward what the intellect takes to be good. There is no competing appetite that can pull the angel away from this end once the will is directed toward it. Once the will is so directed, habituation follows immediately and unchangeably, because of the lack of any other appetite that might pull an angel is some different direction.

A third way we can be led into error is intellectually, by virtue of simply being factually mistaken about what is in fact good for us. Here too, angels can make the same sort of error. But here too, the nature of the error is different in the case of an angel. The way we come to know things is discursively. We gather evidence, weigh it, reason from premises to conclusion, and so on. All of this follows upon our corporeality – in particular, the way we rely upon sensory experience of particular things in order to begin the process of working up to general conclusions, the way we make use of mental imagery as an aid to thought, and so forth. Error creeps in because passion or habituation interferes with the proper functioning of these cognitive processes, or because we get the facts wrong somewhere in the premises we reason from, or the like. Further inquiry can correct the error.

There is nothing like this in angels. For Aquinas, an angel knows what it knows, not discursively, but immediately. It doesn’t reason from first principles to conclusions, for example, but knows the first principles and what follows from them all at once, in a single act. Now, because there is no cognitive process by which an angel knows (as there is in us), there is no correction of a cognitive process that has gone wrong, either by gathering new information, resisting passions, or overcoming bad habits. If an angel goes wrong at all, it is not (as we are) merely moving in an erroneous direction but where this trajectory might be reversed. It simply is wrong and stays wrong.

For Aquinas, then, an angel’s basic orientation is set immediately after its creation. It either rightly takes God for its ultimate end, or wrongly takes something less than God for its ultimate end. If the former, then it is forever “locked on” to beatitude, and if the latter, it is forever “locked on” to unhappiness. There is no contrary appetite that can move it away from what it is habituated to, and no cognitive process that can be redirected. The angel that chooses wrongly is thus fallen or damned, and not even God can change that any more than he can make a round square, for such change is simply metaphysically impossible insofar as it is contrary to the very nature of an angelic intellect.

Obstinate human wills

Again, human beings are different, because they are corporeal. Or, to be more precise, they are different while they are corporeal. For a human being has both corporeal and incorporeal faculties. When the body goes, the corporeal faculties go. But the incorporeal faculties – intellect and will, the same faculties that an angel has – carry on, and the human being persists as an incomplete substance. (See my article “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought,” also reprinted in Neo-Scholastic Essays, for defense of the incorporeality of the intellect. See chapter 4 of Aquinas for exposition and defense of the Thomistic argument for the immortality of the soul.)

This brings us to Aquinas’s treatment of the changeability or lack thereof of the human will. (See especially Summa Contra Gentiles Book 4, Chapter 95.) Prior to death, it is always possible for the human will to correct course, for the reasons described above. A passion inclining one to evil can be overcome; a bad habit can be counteracted by a contrary appetite; new knowledge might be acquired by which an erroneous judgment can be revised. Hence, at any time before death, there is at least some hope that damnation can be avoided.

But after death, Aquinas argues, things are different. At death the soul is separated from the body, a separation which involves the intellect and will – which were never corporeal faculties in the first place – carrying on without the corporeal faculties that influenced their operation during life. In effect, the soul now operates, in all relevant respects, the way an angelic intellect does. Just as an angel, immediately after its creation, either takes God as its ultimate end or something less than God as its ultimate end, so too does the disembodied human soul make the same choice immediately upon death. And just as the angel’s choice is irreversible given that the corporeal preconditions of a change are absent, so too is the newly disembodied soul’s choice irreversible, and for the same reason. The corporeal preconditions of a change of orientation toward an ultimate good, which were present in life, are now gone. Hence the soul which opts for God as its ultimate end is “locked on” to that end forever, and the soul which opts instead for something less than God is “locked on” to that forever. The former soul therefore enjoys eternal beatitude, the latter eternal separation from God or damnation.

The only way a change could be made is if the soul could come to judge something else instead as a higher end or good than what it has opted for. But it cannot do so. Being disembodied, it lacks any passions that could sway it away from this choice. It also, like an angel, now lacks any competing appetite which might pull its will away from the end it has chosen. Thus it is immediately habituated to aiming toward whatever, following death, it opted for as its highest end or good – whether God or something less than God. Nor is there any new knowledge which might change its course, since, now lacking sensation and imagination and everything that goes with them, it does not know discursively but rather in an all-at-once way, as an angel does. There is no longer any cognitive process whose direction might be corrected.

But might not the resurrection of the body restore the possibility of a course correction? Aquinas answers in the negative. The nature of the resurrection body is necessarily tailored to the nature of the soul to which it is conjoined, and that soul is now locked on to whatever end it opted for upon death. The soul prior to death was capable of change in its basic orientation only because it came into existence with its body and thus never had a chance to “set,” as it were. One it does “set,” nothing can alter its orientation again.

An analogy might help. Consider wet clay which is being molded into a pot. As long as it remains wet, it can alter its basic shape. Once it is dried in the furnace, though, it is locked into the shape it had while in the furnace. Putting it in water once again wouldn’t somehow make it malleable again. Indeed, the water would be forced to conform itself to the shape of the pot rather than vice versa.

The soul is like that. While together with the body during life, it is like the wet clay. Death locks it into one basic orientation or another, just as the furnace locks the clay into a certain definite shape. The restoration of the body cannot change its basic orientation again any more than wetting down a pot or filling it with water can make it malleable again.

The influence of the passions and appetites

Now, what choice is a soul likely to make immediately upon death? Obviously, the passions and appetites that dominated it in life are bound to push it very strongly in one direction or another. For example, a person who at the end of his life is strongly habituated to loving God above all things is very unlikely, in his first choice upon death, to regard something other than God as his ultimate end or good. A person who at the end of his life is strongly habituated to hating God is very unlikely, in his first choice upon death, to regard God as his ultimate end or good. A person who, at the end of his life, is strongly habituated to regarding some specific thing other than God as his ultimate good – money, sex, political power, etc. — is very likely, in his first choice upon death, to regard precisely that thing as his ultimate good or end. It is very likely, then, that these various souls will be “locked on” forever to whatever it was they were habituated to valuing above all things during life on earth.

Of course, what counts as regarding God as one’s ultimate end requires careful analysis. Someone might have a deficient conception of God and yet still essentially regard God as his ultimate good or end. One way to understand how this might go is, in my view, to think of the situation in terms of the doctrine of the transcendentals. God is Being Itself. But according to the doctrine of the transcendentals, being – which is one of the transcendentals – is convertible with all the others, such as goodness and truth. They are really all the same thing looked at from different points of view. Being Itself is thus Goodness Itself and Truth Itself. It seems conceivable, then, that someone might take goodness or truth (say) as his ultimate end, and thereby – depending, naturally, on exactly how he conceives of goodness and truth – be taking God as his ultimate end or good, even if he has some erroneous ideas about God and does not realize that what he is devoted to is essentially what classical theists like Aquinas call “God.” And of course, an uneducated person might wrongly think of God as an old man with a white beard, etc. but still know that God is cause of all things, that he is all good, that he offers salvation to those who sincerely repent, etc. By contrast, it seems quite ridiculous to suppose that someone obsessed with money or sex or political power (for example) is really somehow taking God as his ultimate end without realizing it.

In any event, the strength of the passions and appetites is one reason why the sins attached to them are so dangerous, even when they are not as such the worst of sins. To become deeply habituated to a certain sin associated with a particular appetite or passion is to run grave risk of making of that sin one’s ultimate end, and thus damning oneself. This is why the seven deadly sins are deadly. For example, if one is at the time of one’s death deeply habituated to envy or to sins of the flesh, it is naturally going to be difficult for one’s first choice upon death not to be influenced by such habits.

There is this “upside” to a sin like envy, though – it offers the sinner no pleasure but only misery. That can be a prod, during life, to overcoming it. Sins of the flesh, however, typically involve very intense pleasure, and for that reason it can be extremely difficult to overcome them, or even to want to overcome them. In addition, they have as their “daughters” such effects as the darkening of the intellect, self-centeredness, hostility toward spiritual things, and the like. (I discussed Aquinas’s account of the “daughters of lust” in an earlier post.)

It is said that at Fatima the Blessed Virgin declared that more souls go to hell for sins of the flesh than for any other reason. Whatever a skeptic might think of Fatima, this basic thesis is, if one accepts the general natural law account of sexual morality together with Aquinas’s account of the obstinacy of the soul after death, quite plausible. That is not because sins of the flesh are the worst sins. They are not the worst sins. It is rather because they are very common sins, easy to fall into and often difficult to get out of. Nor does it help that in recent decades they are, more than any other sins, those that a vast number of people absolutely refuse even to recognize as sins.

A world awash in sexual vice of all kinds and “in denial” about it is a world in which a large number of people are going to be habituated to seeking sexual pleasure above all things, and to become forever “locked on” to this end as their perceived ultimate good. (It is very foolish, then, for churchmen and other Christians to think it kind or merciful not to talk much about such sins. That is like refusing to warn joggers of the quicksand they are about to fall into. And positively downplaying the significance of such sins and even emphasizing instead the positive aspects of relationships (e.g. adulterous relationships) in which the sins are habitually committed is like encouraging the joggers to speed up. One thinks of Ezekiel 33:8.)

Whatever might be said about sins of the flesh per se, however (and I have said a lot about that subject in other places) the main point is to emphasize how deeply the passions and appetites “prepare” a soul for the decisive choice it is going to make, especially when there is pleasure attached to the indulgence of the passions or appetites. What is true of illicit sexual indulgence is true also, if often in a less intense way, of the indulgence of other passions and appetites. There is, for example, the pleasurable frisson of self-righteousness that can accompany the judgment of others or the indulgence of excessive or misdirected anger. There is the pleasure a sadist might get from dominating or humiliating others. And so forth.

There can also be a deficiency in the passions and appetites. For example, one can show insufficient anger at injustice and evil and thus lack any resolve to do something about it. Or one might be deficient in the amount of sexual desire one has for one’s spouse or in the amount of affection one is inclined to show one’s children. Deficiencies in passions and appetites can thus keep us from pursuing what is good, just as excesses in passions and appetites can lead us to pursue what is not good.

The passions and appetites are like heat applied to wet clay. The longer the soul is pushed (or not pushed) by a passion or appetite in a certain direction, the more difficult it is to reorient the soul, just as it is more difficult to alter the shape of wet clay the longer heat is applied and the drier the clay gets.

Those interested in further reading on this subject are advised to read, in addition to the texts from Aquinas cited above, Abbot Vonier’s The Human Soul, especially chapters 29-33; Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s Life Everlasting and the Immensity of the Soul, especially chapters VII-IX; and Cardinal Avery Dulles’s First Things article “The Population of Hell.” (Most readers will be familiar with Garrigou-Lagrange and Dulles. If you are not familiar with Vonier, I highly recommend tracking down everything written by him that you can get your hands on.)”

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us, Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of heaven, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us. Holy Trinity, One God, Have mercy on us.
-Litany of the saints
Matthew

Hell: God is unjust?


-by Karlo Broussard

“For many people, the Catholic doctrine of hell serves as an obstacle to belief in God. They think an all-good God wouldn’t allow someone he loves to experience everlasting torment. And they think the permanent nature of hell’s punishment is incompatible with a just God.

A recent caller on Catholic Answers Live asked, “Given that we have a finite life with limited information to make our decisions, how is an infinite punishment not infinitely disproportionate? Shouldn’t the punishment be proportional to the transgression?”

St. Thomas Aquinas put this question in the form of an objection:

“It would seem that an eternal punishment is not inflicted on sinners by divine justice. For the punishment should not exceed the fault: “According to the measure of the sin shall the measure also of the stripes be” (Deut. 25:2). Now fault is temporal. Therefore the punishment should not be eternal (Summa Theologiae, suppl. III:99:1).”

So, does the eternity of hell make God an unjust, vengeful tyrant? Here are some reasons why the answer is no.

A different law of gravity

First, the objection falsely assumes that a punishment has to be equal or proportionate to a fault as to the amount of duration. If the duration of punishment had to correspond to the duration of an offense, then it would be unjust to give a murderer a prison sentence any longer than the time it took for the murderer to kill his victim.

But that’s absurd. As the Jesuit philosopher Bernard Boedder writes, “[T]ime cannot be the standard by which punishment is to be determined” (Natural Theology, 340; Kindle edition).

The measure of the punishment due for sin is the gravity of the fault. According to Aquinas, “[T]he measure of punishment corresponds to the measure of fault, as regards the degree of severity, so that the more grievously a person sins the more grievously is he punished” (ST, suppl.III:99:1). In other words, it is the internal wickedness of an offense that is the measure of expiation for it.

The highest high of moral disorders

The free and willful rejection of God—what the Catholic Church calls a “mortal sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1855) or, as the apostle John calls it, “a sin unto death” (1 John 5:16; Douay Rheims)—reasonably calls for permanent exclusion from the presence of God.

As Aquinas points out in the supplement to the third part of the Summa Theologiae, the gravity of an offense is determined according to the dignity of the person sinned against. For example, punishment for striking the president of the United States is going to be greater than punishment for striking a fellow citizen in bar brawl.

Since God is ipsum esse subsistens (subsistent being itself), He is infinite in dignity and majesty. Therefore, His right to obedience from His reasonable creatures is absolute and infinite. There is no right that can be stricter and every other right is based on it.

A willful violation of this right, which is what a mortal sin is, is the most severe offense a human being can commit. Boedder explains it this way: “A willful violation . . . of this right implies a malice which opposes itself to the foundation of all orders” (NT, 340).

Since the rejection of God’s absolute right to our obedience, worship, and love is a moral disorder of the highest degree, it deserves a penalty of the highest degree. Everlasting punishment seems to fit the bill.

Alternatives that don’t register on the justice monitor

A second reason why the unending punishment of hell is just is because the alternatives are unreasonable. If permanent punishment is not the answer, then there can only be two other options: temporary punishment or annihilation—the act by which God stops willing someone into existence. But neither one of these alternatives coheres with the nature of mortal sin in relation to God.

Consider temporary punishment. Perhaps the soul receives an intense dose of punishment and then enters heaven upon being relieved of it. This would be an injustice. For example, let’s say I find out that my twelve-year-old son ditched school and went to a party with his older teen friends and got drunk and smoked a few jays (this is merely hypothetical, mind you).

I punish him by saying, “Son, you’ve been a bad boy, and as a result you’re going to stay in your room for ten minutes. But when that time is up, pack your bags because we’ve got tickets to spend the weekend at Legoland.” (He loves Legos). How does this register on your justice monitor? My guess is that it doesn’t rate very high—especially if my son refuses to apologize for his misconduct. The duration of the punishment is much too small relative to the reward he is given.

Similarly, a temporary stint in hell—no matter how long the term—is much too small of a punishment relative to the everlasting happiness of heaven. It would be unjust for God to give heaven as a reward to a person that committed the most grievous offense of all, the permanent rejection of God’s absolute right to obedience, worship, and love.

Annihilation is also an unreasonable alternative. How could a person experience the punishment justice demands for permanently rejecting God if he were annihilated? The gravity of violating God’s absolute right would be reduced to nothingness if there were no punishment for it, Justice would not be served.

Furthermore, it would violate God’s wisdom to annihilate the soul. Why would he create a soul with an immortal nature only to thwart it? Moreover, Aquinas argues that because God’s power is manifest in preserving things in existence, to take a soul out of being would hinder that manifestation (Summa, I:104:4).

The reasonableness of a permanent commitment

A third reason the unending nature of hell is justified is that it’s befitting to reason that an individual make a permanent choice for or against God at death. And if a permanent choice against God, then a permanent punishment.

We know from divine Revelation that there is no repentance after death: “[I]t is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). The time of preparation for man’s last end comes to an end at the moment of death.

This is reasonable within the logic of love. Love demands a permanent commitment to the beloved. For example, would it be true love if a man says to his bride on the altar, “I’ll commit to you for only ten years, and then after that, we can go our separate ways?” Of course not! We value loving relationships that involve a choice to commit one way or the other—a commitment unto death.  [Editor: even better if you don’t know what you’re getting into!!!  It’s too easy when the going is rough to abandon one’s commitment.  Metaphorically, if a soldier under fire throws away his gun and says “I quit!”  Let the marriage jokes regarding a combat metaphor ensue.  Remember, there are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church: baptism. eucharist. confirmation. reconciliation. anointing of the sick. holy orders and martyrdom.  I know, I know.  I’m in trouble, AGAIN!] 😉

Similarly, the loving relationship that God has created us for demands that we at some point in time make a definitive choice to love Him or not. According to divine Revelation, that moment is death (Heb. 9:27).

The permanency of our choice at death can also be argued for in light of the nature of choice by an incorporeal being. Such a topic, however, goes beyond the scope of this article. For a great explanation of Aquinas’s thought on this topic, see Edward Feser’s online article “How to Go to Hell.”

If a person makes his choice against God at the moment of death, then his choice to not love God remains forever—the perversity of the will is forever determined. Therefore, the punishment for such perversion is eternal as well.

This is why the Catechism defines hell as the “definitive self-exclusion from God” (CCC 1033). This is also the reason why the Church teaches that if a person dies in a state of mortal sin, hell will be his lot (see CCC 1033, 1035).

The sinner who rejects God at the moment of death gets what they wanted—namely, separation from God. This unending separation is the “eternal punishment” (CCC 1472), because the individual will forever lack the fulfillment and satisfaction that only God can give a creature of a rational and spiritual nature (CCC 1035).

The flip side is reasonable

Finally, we can see the reasonableness of the unending punishment of hell by seeing the reasonableness of the reverse side of the issue—the unending reward of heaven. Aquinas writes:

As reward is to merit, so is punishment to guilt. Now, according to divine justice, an eternal reward is due to temporal merit: “Every one who seeth the Son and believeth in Him hath [Vulg.: ‘that everyone . . . may have’] life everlasting.” Therefore according to divine justice, an everlasting punishment is due to temporal guilt (Summa, Suppl. III:99:1).

Just as it is not contrary to God’s justice to give a permanent and everlasting reward for a temporal act of charity, so too it’s not contrary to God’s justice to give a permanent and everlasting punishment for a temporal act of evil.

Conclusion

Hell is not a pleasant place to think about. It’s something that we’re all repulsed by—especially those who use it to object to God’s justice. But there is no reason why such repulsion should lead us to reject God. It should lead us to reject hell; not to deny its existence but to do what we can to stay out of it.”

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us, Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of heaven, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, Have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Spirit, Have mercy on us. Holy Trinity, One God, Have mercy on us.
-Litany of the saints
Matthew

Purgatory 2

“Purgatory’s materiality refers to the persistent set of characteristics associated with purgatory that have been a continuous problem from its inception as a doctrine in the thirteenth century to the present. It has been variously described as a location on earth, as a place where souls are at once physical and spiritual, and as a condition that demands bodily mortifications and severe penances. In this sense, materiality is a category that encompasses three important sites where purgatory has presented theological, scientific, and logical difficulties for church theologians, scholastic philosophers, and others who have been responsible for working out the philosophical support for the doctrine: place, body, and performance. From the twelfth century to the present, representations in various sources, including medieval chronicles, exempla, early modern periodicals, and, later, in pamphlets, books, and magazines, and today on websites and in books, have depicted purgatory variously as a location on earth, a place simultaneously spiritual and physical, and, most recently, as a more abstract condition of souls experiencing the pain of loss. The version of purgatory as a physical location persisted into the nineteenth century. Pre-doctrinal representations of purgatory shifted so much with respect to historical context that it is impossible to identify a linear progression from that of a physical place to a condition of soul. However, this progression becomes pronounced in the modern era and by the mid-nineteenth century conceptions of purgatory as a place were subject to anti-Catholic polemicists and were actively discouraged by Church authorities. I have not encountered anyone, currently, who believes purgatory is a place on earth. Taking a “long view,” of purgatory suggests that material representations of purgatory have been discouraged in favor of representations clothed with abstract words such as process, state of soul, or condition. The progression from a “place” to a “condition” has been fraught with dramatic twists and intrigues, and even today the issue of purgatory’s material status is not definitively settled. Contemporary Catholic devotional literature about purgatory focuses on the material locations of place, body, and performance that were the focuses of purgatory devotions in eras past…

…statements about purgatory participate in a long tradition of interpretations of the doctrine that seem to have little in common with official definitions. Papal statements about purgatory, from its official codification as a Roman Catholic doctrine until today, emphasize its status as an afterlife “state” or condition, and deemphasize its material, concrete characteristics. Writing during the Council of Trent (1545–1563), Pope Pius IV insisted that attention to purgatory’s material aspects, such as where it is located and what types of punishments occur there, should be discouraged. “The more difficult and subtle questions, and which tend not to edification, and from which for the most part there is no increase of piety, [should] be excluded from popular discourses before the uneducated multitude.”6 Currently, papal discussions of purgatory, while briefer, are substantively no different. In his General Audience address of 1999, Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, stated that the term “purgatory,” “does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence.” And, on January 12, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI noted that the fifteenth-century mystic St. Catherine of Genoa did not focus on “purgatory as a place of transit in the depths of the earth,” or “as an exterior fire.” Rather, purgatory was an inner state.7 Shortly after, the Catholic News Service published an article that eliminated any possibility that the pope would be misunderstood as to purgatory’s physical reality. It was titled “Purgatory Is a Process, Not a Place.”8

Despite papal statements about it, authors of popular narratives about purgatory have characterized it very differently. In their reports and anecdotes, purgatory is a physical place of suffering. Souls in purgatory are depicted engulfed in real, not symbolic, fire, the evidence of which include burned charcoal–colored handprints on tables for the living to consider, such as can be found in the Purgatory Museum in Rome. It is tempting to suggest that these narratives are in tension with official, cleric-authored proclamations about purgatory. While in some instances this is the case, in other contexts it was clerics and theologians who wrote about purgatory as a place, and scholastics also wrote about the physical evidence left by souls in purgatory. What persists throughout these various narratives and their historical contexts, however, is the problem presented by purgatory’s materiality. Purgatory’s place, which has been described variously as being in Ireland [Editor: Definitely], or in Italy, in the middle of the earth, or as a place next to hell, has been a problem for those who attempt to locate it, and also for those who have participated in a tradition that downplays its concrete features. The following chapters examine several cases where the physicality of purgatory is its best advocate and its most problematic feature. In other words, this book is a history of the problem of purgatory—it’s characterization as a physical place of real, not symbolic, suffering.

While it may have been more common to associate purgatory with an actual earthly location in medieval Europe, as stated previously this belief persisted into the nineteenth century. For hundreds of years, and contrary to the proclamations of most popes on the subject, purgatory was believed to be either on earth or in the middle of the earth. I was not surprised to hear of (some people’s) belief that purgatory was on earth, and I am certain that her belief is not like the belief that prompted medieval knights to undertake journeys to Ireland in search of the real purgatory. But nonetheless what is important is that (some people) associate purgatory with an earthly place, not a condition. This inclination to attribute spatial and physical characteristics to purgatory, and the problems this creates, is intrinsic to its history. Scholastic theologians of the thirteenth century, who were most responsible for providing the theological support for the new doctrine, questioned where it was on earth, and they rarely questioned if it was on earth. William of Auvergne (1180–1249) posited the existence of two purgatories, one on earth, and the other somewhere else, perhaps near heaven. As recently as 1863, the French periodical “Le Liberateur des Ames du Purgatoire,” edited by the French priest Celestin Cloquet, described how the souls in purgatory resided inside the earth. Purgatory’s place on medieval and early modern world maps, or mappa mundi, persisted even as the Garden of Eden and heaven, the two most mapped religious destinations, gradually disappeared.”

Love,
Matthew

6. Council of Trent, The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Ecumenical Council of Trent: Celebrated under the Sovereign Pontiffs, Paul III, Julius III and Pius IV (1848) (Ithaca: Cornell University Library Press, 2009), 233.
7. “Purgatory Inflames Hearts with God’s Love, Pope Says,” Catholic News Agency, Vatican City, January 12, 2011.
8. Cindy Wotten, “Purgatory Is a Process, Not a Place, Pope Says at General Audiences,” Catholic News Service, January 12, 2011.

Purgatory


-Dante and Beatrice in Gustave Dore’s “Submersion in the Lethe”, 1903


-by Br Cyril Stola, OP

“We’re called to become saints. The Father desires that we be united in friendship with him in this life in order that we might forever dwell with him in heaven. The heavenly union with God is a perfect union that can begin on Earth, but it can also be inhibited by sin. Since it acts against this union, sin is the greatest evil of all. In the words of the Catechism, “nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world” than sin (CCC 1488). When we sin, we cloud our consciences, build vices, and harden our hearts. Sin hurts our relationships with each other and with God. God’s mercy blots out our sins, but it does not automatically fix the ways in which sin warps us.

Over time, growth in grace and virtue can put our inner selves back into order. Throughout the course of life, the Holy Spirit takes repentant sinners and makes them radiant with divine life and estranges them from sin and vice. He especially effects this through prayer, the sacraments, and redemptive suffering. This process is one of purification. Those who fully embrace the Spirit’s actions live with hearts that seek God alone, and they immediately enter heaven when they die. Not all who revere God, however, come to such a point in life. Their time runs out before they’re fit for the heavenly union; they are united with God, but imperfectly so. Hope is not lost, however. In his mercy, God gives us an intermediate state between heaven and Earth where he purges away the sins and impurities that still inhibit our union with him. He gives us purgatory.

In purgatory, God puts men and women face to face with their sins. There, they fully understand how they acted against God, and they cannot grasp for any distraction or rationalization in facing even the smallest things that still separate them from God. Saint John Henry Newman puts this reckoning in stark terms in “The Dream of Gerontius.” In the poem, a guardian angel addresses his charge, an old man who just died a holy death with his sins absolved:

And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself; for, though now sinless, thou wilt feel that thou hast sinn’d, as never thou didst feel.

His state now allows him to see his past sins on a spiritual level; he hates that he committed such acts. This is a painful realization because sin is a painful reality. If we could see sin as it truly is—an offence against God⁠—we would never sin. Purgation is like physical therapy after surgery, it’s painful but ultimately it heals. God reveals sin in order to remove all traces of it and to bind up our injured souls.

Dante expresses the healing of purgatory beautifully at the end of the “Purgatorio”—the second part of his Divine Comedy. There, Beatrice chastises Dante for abandoning the love he had for her and God and for choosing to obsess over futile things instead. Faced with the shame and gravity of his sins, he weeps and then gets plunged into the waters of the Lethe. The Lethe, according to Greek mythology, makes one forget the whole of life. Dante, however, adapts this river to suit his higher vision. His Lethe makes one forget his sins and the warped mentality they gave him in life; it restores lost innocence and heals interior wounds. It makes a person like a little child, ready to enter the kingdom of heaven.

That purgatory purifies, heals, and brings souls to holiness is a great mercy and a source of hope. Even men and women who have struggled with sin all their lives, but not yet reached “sainthood” in this life, can be made perfect after death and thereafter dwell with God. Let us thank God for the gift of purgatory and pray for those who dwell there, that God’s work in them may be complete.”

Love,
Matthew

How demons deceive us

Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith. -1 Peter 5:8–9

“‘Spiritual combat’ is another element of life which needs to be taught anew and proposed once more to all Christians today. It is a secret and interior art, an invisible struggle in which we engage every day against the temptations, the evil suggestions that the demon tries to plant in our hearts.” -Saint Pope John Paul II, May 25, 2002

“This generation, and many others, have been led to believe that the devil is a myth, a figure, an idea, the idea of evil… But the devil exists and we must fight against him.” -Pope Francis, Halloween 2014

How Demons Deceive Us

Although the powers of demons are infinitely weaker than the powers of God, they are still greater than those of humans, and their powers can fool us if we are not careful. For example, only God knows all things, including the future. God does not see time in a linear fashion as past, present, and future; rather, he sees all times at once. Everything that ever has been, is now, and ever will be, is present to him at once.

Demons, however, exist in time as we do, so they do not know the future. However, they are very intelligent and can make it appear that they know the future. One might think of them as extremely accurate weathermen: they don’t know the future, but they can make very good predictions.

Demons also have knowledge of human beings throughout history, and thereby know all human languages, including ancient ones. As we will see later, signs of demon possession include knowledge of things that the possessed individuals could not have known on their own, as well as the ability to speak languages that they have never heard.

Demons have the power to communicate with other demons and with human beings. However, being pure spirits, they communicate in a spiritual rather than a physical way.

Aquinas maintained that demons could affect our imagination. This ability does not differ greatly from our powers of communication. We communicate ideas to one another all the time through speaking and writing. Every time we turn on the television, read a newspaper or magazine, or search the Internet, we see advertisements. These are nothing more than someone trying to plant ideas or images in our imagination.

A particularly frightening ability of demons involves how well they know our personal habits. We have only to think of people whom we know very well. When they talk to us, we often know more of what is on their minds than they say, due to hints in their affect: we notice their tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language.

Because of demons’ greater intelligence, memory, and powers of observation, they are much better at interpreting human behavior and thought than we are. The demons can listen to us and observe us carefully, and may be able to see or hear subtle physical signs that show our emotions. Therefore, even though God alone knows all of our thoughts, demons can readily analyze what we are thinking and feeling, and make accurate predictions.

Demons can also deceive us through their ability to move physical objects. An example of telekinesis by a demon can be seen in the book of Job (1:13–19). In that biblical account, the devil caused lightning to kill the shepherds and sheep. In the same story, demons also caused a great wind that destroyed the house of Job’s children, thus killing them. The Gospels tell us that demons caused a herd of pigs to run off a cliff, fall into the lake, and drown (Mark 5:1–13).”

Love & Lord save us!!
Matthew

Is eternal punishment in Hell just?


-half panel, The Crucifixion & The Last Judgment, Jan van Eyck, ca. 1440–1441, oil on canvas, transferred from wood, 22 1/4 × 7 2/3 in, 56.5 × 19.5 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


-by Karlo Broussard

The Eternity of Hell

Okay, someone may concede that punishment in general is not inconsistent with God’s goodness.

“But,” they’ll say, “eternal punishment? Doesn’t that seem unjust, since eternal punishment would be disproportionate to the sin that’s committed only in a small moment of time?”

Here are a few ways we can respond.

First, the objection assumes that a punishment has to be equal or proportionate to a fault as to the amount of duration. But this is false. If the duration of punishment had to correspond to the duration of an offense, then it would be unjust to give a murderer a prison sentence any longer than the time it took for the murderer to kill his victim.

But that’s absurd. As the Jesuit philosopher Bernard Boedder writes, “[T]ime cannot be the standard by which punishment is to be determined” (Natural Theology, 340).

The measure of the punishment due for sin is the gravity of the fault. Aquinas explains, “The measure of punishment corresponds to the measure of fault, as regards the degree of severity, so that the more grievously a person sins the more grievously is he punished” (Summa Theologiae suppl. III:99:1).

In other words, it is the internal wickedness of an offense that is the measure of expiation for it.

Now, as Aquinas points out in several places within his writings, the gravity of an offense is determined by the dignity of the person sinned against. For example, punishment for striking the president of the United States is going to be greater than punishment for striking a fellow citizen in bar brawl.

Since God is ipsum esse subsistens (subsistent being itself), he is infinite in dignity and majesty. Therefore, his right to obedience from his reasonable creatures is absolute and infinite. There is no right that can be stricter and every other right is based on it.

A willful violation of this right, which is what a mortal sin is, is the most severe offense a human being can commit. Boedder explains it this way: “A willful violation . . . of this right implies a malice which opposes itself to the foundation of all orders” (Natural Theology, 340).

For Aquinas, it is an offense that is “in a certain respect infinite” (Compendium Theologiae, 183). And because it is infinite in a certain respect, Aquinas concludes, “a punishment that is in a certain respect infinite is duly attached to it.”

But, as Aquinas points out, such a punishment can’t be infinite in intensity because no creature can be infinite in this way. Therefore, Aquinas concludes, “[A] punishment that is infinite in duration is rightly inflicted for mortal sin.”

Now, it’s important to note that for Aquinas an infinite duration of punishment can be just only if the sinner no longer has the ability to repent and will the good. Well, the sinner after death no longer has the ability to repent, since the soul can no longer change what it has chosen as its ultimate end after death. Therefore, we can conclude with Aquinas that the infinite duration of punishment in hell is just.

The Alternatives Don’t Work

Another way that we can respond to the “Eternal Punishment is Unjust” objection is to see the alternatives to eternal punishment, temporary punishment or annihilation, don’t stand up to the scrutiny of reason.

Consider temporary punishment. Perhaps the soul receives an intense dose of punishment and then enters heaven upon being relieved of it. This would be an injustice. For example, let’s say I find out that my fourteen-year-old son ditched school and went to a party with his older teen friends and got drunk and smoked a joint (this is merely hypothetical, mind you).

Suppose further that I punish him by saying, “Son, you’ve been a bad boy, and as a result you’re going to stay in your room for ten minutes. But when that time is up, pack your bags because we’ve got tickets to spend the weekend at Disney Land and visit the new Star Wars Land.” (He loves Star Wars).

How does this register on your justice monitor?

My guess is that it doesn’t rate very high—especially if my son refuses to apologize for his misconduct. The duration of the punishment is much too small relative to the reward he is given.

Similarly, a temporary stint in hell—no matter how long the term—is much too small of a punishment relative to the everlasting happiness of heaven. It would be unjust for God to give heaven as a reward to a person that committed the most grievous offense of all, the permanent rejection of God’s absolute right to obedience, worship, and love.

Annihilation is also an unreasonable alternative.

How could a person experience the punishment justice demands for permanently rejecting God if he were annihilated? The gravity of violating God’s absolute right would be reduced to nothingness if there were no punishment for it. Justice would not be served.

Furthermore, it would violate God’s wisdom to annihilate the human soul.

Why would he create a human soul with an immortal nature only to thwart it?”

Love & His mercy,
Matthew

Ghosts & Demons


-by Jimmy Akin, a former Presbyterian, Jimmy is a convert to the Faith and has an extensive background in the Bible, theology, the Church Fathers, philosophy, canon law, and liturgy.

Question: Is it sinful to want to learn more about ghosts and demons?

Answer: Learning about ghosts and demons is part of our Catholic Faith. The key is not becoming unduly curious about or preoccupied with either, especially demons.

Ghosts are disembodied human beings, something we all become at death. Praying for the repose of the faithful departed and others who have died is a good thing. In addition, asking the prayerful intercession of the saints is also a good thing.

What is not good is seeking out communication with the dead, e.g., through séances. This is an example of divination, which is strictly prohibited (see CCC 2117-19). These are the problematic activities people often have in mind re: learning about ghosts, not praying for the dead, learning about the saints or asking for their intercession.

Demons are fallen angels and thus pure spirits who have irrevocably chosen against God and His people. They are powerful and malevolent, and we must not make ourselves vulnerable to their nefarious machinations.

Rather, we must be wary of their activity and resist them as Sts. James and Peter counsel (Jas. 4:7-8; 1 Pet. 5:6-10). In that light, it’s good to know ourselves and our weaknesses, and how the devil operates in general in trying to lead us away from God, and how he might try to tempt us in particular.

At the same time, we must not become preoccupied with either ghosts or demons. Instead, our minds, as St. Paul reminds us, should be focused on that which is good (Phil. 4:8).”

Love,
Matthew

Where’s Purgatory in the Bible?

“Any Catholic who is familiar with apologetics knows to answer with 1 Corinthians 3:11-15:

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Paul is talking about the day of judgment that comes after death (see Hebrews 9:27). And in light of the “fire” that tests the quality of a person’s works, Catholics argue that the person is being purified. Fire is used metaphorically in Scripture as a purifying agent—in Matthew 3:2-3,11 and Mark 9:49—and as that which consumes: Matthew 3:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8). This state of existence can’t be heaven because the individual has the defilement of bad works and is suffering loss. Nor can it be hell because Paul says the person “will be saved.” A state of purification in the afterlife that is neither heaven nor hell—that’s purgatory!

But for Protestants it’s not so clear. They offer a few reasons why they think this doesn’t refer to purgatory.

One is that Paul says these things will only happen at the final judgment—“for the Day will disclose it” (v.13). For this text to support the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, so the argument goes, it would need to speak of an intermediate judgment before the Second Coming. Since it doesn’t, a Catholic can’t use it to support purgatory.

What should we make of this Protestant counter? Is it a precious stone that would survive the fire of scrutiny? Or is it more like straw?

Let’s test it and find out.

It’s true that when Paul speaks of “the Day” he is referring to the final judgment—that is, the judgment at the end of time when Christ comes in glory (Matt. 25:31-46). But this doesn’t prevent a Catholic from using this passage to support purgatory.

Paul was not envisioning this passage for such an intermediate state because, as some scholars point out, Paul wrote this at a time (c. A.D. 53) when he thought the Second Coming was imminent, and that he and most of his audience would experience it. For example, he writes in reference to it, “we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17; Cf. 1 Cor. 15:51).

Given this, we wouldn’t expect Paul to think that these events take place during an intermediate judgment before the final judgment. But what if the time horizon shifted and most people died before the Second Coming? Could we say they received some kind of judgment prior to the last judgment? And would these events that Paul describes have taken place at that judgment?

The time horizon indeed does seem to shift for Paul. In 2 Timothy 4:6, he tells Timothy that he knows his death is imminent: “For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.” If he knows he’s about to die, then surely he doesn’t expect to be alive for the Second Coming.

What about an intermediate judgment before the final judgment? Scripture reveals that such a judgment does exist, and it occurs immediately after death when God determines a person’s final destiny—what the Catechism calls “the particular judgment” (CCC 1022).

Jesus makes this clear in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus is “carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22) and receives a fate of comfort (v.25). The rich man is taken to Hades where he experiences “torment” (v.23) and “anguish” (v.25). The different fates assigned to each man immediately after death imply a particular judgment.

Hebrews 12:23 speaks of our union with “the spirits of just men” as members of the New Covenant. That we approach their spirits suggests they are dead. And that they are a part of the heavenly reality that Christians participate in tells us that they exist in heaven, and thus have been judged.

Revelation 6:9 implies the same thing, for the martyrs in heaven beg God to avenge their blood on their persecutors who are still on earth. Revelation 7:9-14 describes those “clothed in white robes” who “have come out of the great tribulation” of the first century experiencing their eternal reward in heaven.

Now that we know there is such a thing as an intermediate judgment (“the particular judgment”) before the final judgment, the question becomes: “Can we apply the events that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 to the particular judgment?”

We have good reason to think that we can.

The events that Paul describes have no intrinsic relation to the timing of judgment, but to judgment itself. Works are being weighed, and the soul receives its final destiny (in this case it’s heaven).

This is what happens at the particular judgment. According to the Catechism, each person has his works weighed (CCC 1021) and receives his “eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death,” “either entrance into the blessedness of heaven—through a purification or immediately,” or “immediate and everlasting damnation” (CCC 1022).

Since the type of judgment that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (e.g., works are tested, the soul’s final destiny is determined) is the type of judgment that takes place for souls at the particular judgment, then it’s reasonable to use this passage to describe what happens at the particular judgment. And if the particular judgment, then purgatory.”

Love,
Matthew

Hell


(Ed. THAT is scary. Run away from any human who says that. That is not an offer of love. That is a lie. Born out of some pathological unsatisfied sinful need. Satan is the Prince of Lies. Secondly, consider the source, outside of the demonic origin of that statement. A sinful human, even a demonically possessed one, or just pyschopathic one is lying when they say they can do that as a consequence of some failure of action on the part of another. Then, consider God. When God speaks, it happens. God has merely to think it. It happens. Consider the loving, merciful Creator of everything, Who created out of pure love. We bring nothing to God by our existence. God brings everything to us by our existence. God lives in perfect beatitude. God needs nothing. Desires nothing, least of all us or our love. We OWE God, not the reverse. We OWE God because He brought us into being and maintains us in being by His very thought. If God stopped thinking about us, even for an instant, poof! No creation. The fact we remain in existence is proof of God’s perpetual love. Indifference, poof! To be separated from God, now, in an existential way, is Hell. To be separated from God, source of all hope, all light, all goodness, all life, all beatitude, etc. eternally is the very definition of Hell.

How do we know Hell, or Heaven for that matter, exist?  Jesus.  Mt 25:31-46.  Lk 16:19-31.  God will give you what you ask for. If it’s eternity without Him, well…)

“‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are My ways unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?” -Ezek 18:29


-by Karlo Broussard

“Obviously, the meme is meant to express the alleged incompatibility between the Christian doctrine of hell and its belief that God is all-good. How can God be all-good and all-loving, so the argument goes, and at the same time will that someone experience eternal torment?

There are two possible reasons why someone might think that God and hell are incompatible. One is that punishment itself is a bad thing. And if that were the case, then surely an all-good God wouldn’t punish someone.

The other possible hang-up is the eternal nature of hell.

They may say, “Okay, I can accept punishment as consistent with God’s goodness, but I can’t accept eternal punishment. That seems unjust and therefore contrary to God’s goodness.”

There are two objections here, so let’s deal with each in turn.

Let’s take the first objection from punishment.

Privation as natural punishment

Our first line of response is that the punishment of hell is primarily the privation of the ultimate joy that every human being longs for, which is a natural consequence that flows from a person’s rejection of God as their ultimate end, the source of all joy (see CCC 1057).

As St. Augustine taught, our hearts are made for God and they are restless until they rest in Him (The Confessions, book 1).

If a person chooses to separate himself from God for eternity, the state of restlessness or misery (Ed. euphemism) is simply a natural consequence. The torment follows from the way God has made human nature.

Consider these two scenarios.

Suppose a father tells his son, “If you want to go to the movies, then you have to clean your room,” and the son chooses not to clean his room. The result of his choice is that he doesn’t get to go to the movies. He throws a fit. His “pain,” the deprivation of not seeing a movie, is a consequence of his choice. But notice that the connection between the consequence and the choice is not natural. The father imposes it.

Contrast this with the scenario of an individual who intentionally puts a plastic bag over his head and is asphyxiated. The painful effect of death is a natural consequence of stopping his supply of oxygen. It belongs to his nature that he needs oxygen to live. If he doesn’t have oxygen, then he doesn’t have life.  (Ed.  Good example, however, when religious discussions start throwing around the word “natures”, check your philosophy.  It means so much more, metaphysically, then we mean when we say “it’s all natural!”  Distant cousins in meaning, but not the same.  There’s more to it.  Mr. Broussard is providing the non-philotechnical kiddie example.)

Similarly, it belongs to human nature for a person to be united to God in order to have complete and perfect happiness. If he’s not united to God, then no happiness and only misery.

Why would it be contrary to God’s goodness to allow human nature to function according to the design He created? If God decides to create something with a particular nature, then it belongs to his goodness to treat that thing according to its nature.

God made humans to be in union with Him for an eternity (Ed. out of love, never necessity). Therefore, if anyone chooses to reject such union (free will) and end up separated from God for an eternity, which is the essence of hell (CCC 1033), his misery would be the natural result given his nature. And there is nothing contrary to God’s goodness to allow nature to take its course-whether it takes it in free will, we, to choose it in beatitude with God in Heaven or misery without Him in hell.”

Love,
Matthew

Divine Invitation & Rejection – Mt 22:2-14

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O my God, give me the sovereign grace to respond to all Your invitations with generosity.

MEDITATION

(Matthew 22:2-14) outlines the sad story—so true even today—of human ingratitude which rejects God’s mercy and is indifferent to His gifts and invitations.

“The kingdom of heaven is likened to a king, who made a marriage for his son, and he sent his servants to call them that were invited to the marriage; and they would not come.” The king is God the Father, the son is the eternal Word Who, becoming incarnate, espoused human nature in order to redeem and sanctify it.  God invites all men to the great banquet of the divine nuptials at which they will find their salvation; but submerged in the materialism of earthly things, they reject the invitation and the messengers. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee” (Matthew 23:37), will one day be the lament of the Son of God as He denounces before the world, not only the obstinate resistance of the chosen people but also that of all souls who have stubbornly and ungratefully rejected His love and His grace. The prophets, St. John the Baptist, and the apostles are the “servants,” the messengers sent by God to call men to the banquet of the Redemption, but they were all taken and killed. They “laid hands on his servants, and having treated them contumeliously, put them to death,” the Gospel says. [The] parable ends there, but unfortunately, human ingratitude has gone much further: not only the servants and messengers were killed, but even God’s very Son. Yet God’s mercy is so great that it cannot be vanquished; He still invites all men to His feast and even offers this divine Son, whom they have killed, to be their Food. The banquet is prepared; Jesus, the divine Lamb has been immolated for the redemption of mankind and, if many fail to accept the invitation, others will be invited. “The marriage indeed is ready, but they that were invited were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as you shall find, call to the marriage.”

We too have been invited. How have we responded to the invitation? Have we not also shown more interest and concern for earthly matters than for the things of God? Have we not been like the men in the parable who “neglected, and went their way, one to his farm, and another to his merchandise?”

COLLOQUY

“O Lord, this is what You say to my soul: ‘Why are you so far away from Me, detained by useless pursuits? Why do you not hasten to prepare a beautiful wedding garment? I suffered death to take you for My spouse. I became man for you, to preserve your life from corruption, I preferred your salvation before all My works. I prepared a nuptial couch for you in heaven, and I commanded the angels to serve you. Would you despise Me, your heavenly Spouse? And whom would you prefer to Me, who in My mercy saved the whole human race? What father could give you life as I have? What father or what spouse can love you as much as I?’

“O my God, what shall I answer You?

Pardon me, save me, O patient, long-suffering Lord! Save me, O Christ, Son of God, who alone are without sin! Grant that my heart may have no desire but to respond to Your invitations, and that with the help of Your grace, I may always do Your will, and be prompt and willing to carry out Your orders, so that, with the talents I have received from You, I may be able to trade and acquire the good things of Your kingdom. Grant that I may praise You trustfully and tell You joyfully when I see You: ‘I am blessed because You have come to clothe me with the worthy nuptial garment which Your grace has purchased for me.’

I shall light the lamp, O Christ, given to me by Your grace and bounty. I shall meet You joyfully, blessing, praising, and glorifying You, O my immortal Spouse” (St. Ephrem).

Love, sincere invitation, and gracious welcome,
Matthew