“Pray, pray very much and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to Hell because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.” (Our Lady of Fatima, 19th August 1917)
Humans have an ability to see only what we want to see, and to disregard or ignore that which we do not want to see – regardless of how clearly it might be staring us in the face. It is a form of denial – but of course, something does not cease to be simply because we deny it. Hell is one of those things we ignore. We don’t talk about it; we don’t reference it; we likely don’t give it a thought. And despite that – there it remains.
For the Christian, there is a real cost to this denial. Here is the argument.. ‘there is no Hell, so no-one is going there; that means we all go to Heaven’. I have seen glimpses of this in the messages written on the little cards left in the places where a person has died – “In Heaven with the Angels”. What makes them certain of this eternal beatitude? What if the person is not ‘in Heaven with the Angels’? There is a danger that we presume salvation – and that is something we should never do. Using the logic of this sense of universalism, why would we worry about our own salvation, as we are all going to Heaven anyway? And by extension, why pray for other souls – they, too, will all get to Heaven regardless, if this thinking is correct.
In the Gospels, Jesus spoke very seriously about Hell – “Go away from Me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels..” (Mt.25:41). There are a number of other mentions of this accursed place in the Gospels, particularly in Matthew and Mark, and also in several of the Epistles. For Jesus, then, Hell is real.
For the Catholic Church, too, Hell is real. The catechism is clear in describing what Hell is –
“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in Whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para.1035)
Perhaps one of the reasons we disregard Hell is that it is truly frightening. While it is a real place, it is also a state of being – and for the souls there, that state is one of unending despair at the loss of God, and the utter inability to change their situation, which will last forever. This is far worse that the eternal fire.
At Fatima, the three seers were shown a very brief vision of Hell by Our Blessed Lady. Here is how Sr Lucia went on to describe it –
“Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent, like burning coals. Terrified, and as if to plead for succour, we looked up at Our Lady..”
Lucia wrote that the Lady then said to them, with a look of great sadness – “You have seen Hell, where the souls of poor sinners go..”. She then gave them the means to avoid Hell – devotion to Her Immaculate Heart – and She also gave them a little prayer, one which is now repeated across the world countless times every day –
“When you pray the Rosary, say after each Mystery – ‘O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need’.”
Lucia wrote later that the reality of Hell and the loss of souls made such an immense impression on little Jacinta that she would spend long hours on her knees, praying that souls would not be lost. This thought consumed her and was the driving force behind the great sufferings she bore willingly until the end of her short life on earth. This was a direct response from the child to the words the Lady would speak to them later –
“Pray, pray very much and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to Hell because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”
And so, we see that for the Lord, for His Mother, for the Saints and for the Church, Hell is real. Why, then, do we deny it’s existence and reality?
At this point, you may be tempted to say that God is all merciful, that he does not desire the damnation of souls. And you would be correct. But there are some caveats to this position.
If we look at the Divine Mercy devotion, we see clearly that it is a message of love and compassion and forgiveness – but this is predicated on the acknowledgement of our sin and on our seeking forgiveness for it, for only then are we open to receiving mercy; and without this, there is the risk of eternity in Hell. Yes, the Lord is infinitely good and kind; and yes, He greatly desires the salvation of every single soul – BUT every single soul has the free will to make it’s own choices and the Lord will always respect those choices, freely made. But not every choice will lead to Heaven – many will lead to the other place.
In the second notebook of her Diary, St Faustina writes this –
“Today, I was led by an Angel to the chasms of Hell. It is a place of great torture.. the first torture that constitutes Hell is the loss of God; the second is perpetual remorse of conscience; the third is that one’s condition will never change; the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it.. the fifth torture is continual darkness.. and despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own; the sixth torture is the constant company of Satan; the seventh torture is horrible despair, hatred of God.. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the tortures of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned.. I would have died at very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no-one can say what it is like. I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to it’s existence.” (Diary, para.741)
The Church and the Saints tell us never to presume to know the eternal fate of any soul, and that is good and sensible advice. This also tells us that there is more than one possible fate, or else we would have no need to presume. Heaven is real; and so is Hell. Our job in life is to spend every moment working toward reaching Heaven, aware that we are to take other souls there with us – you can read more about this in Where The Souls Of Poor Sinners Go.
Finally, for those who still refuse to acknowledge the reality of Hell, here is what the great Padre Pio thought of it. Asked about those who do not believe in the existence of Hell, he replied – “They will believe in it when they get there”.
O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need.