Monday, 3 February 2014

What Is Hell?

In 1973 and in 1983, two books hit the best seller lists for a very odd reason. These two books dealt with the mystery of sin and evil.

The first one, Dr. Karl Menninger's famous Whatever Became of Sin? highlighted the problems with modern psychiatrists preoccupation with guilt and the setting aside of the age-old shared values which marked Western Civilization. Dr. Menninger clearly stated that immorality had become a question of what was legal, rather than what was right. He was the first major psychiatrist to reveal the growing relativism of moral standards in America. 

He wrote of conscience and love of neighbor. His book was popular, but then succumbed to the "you're ok, I'm ok" genre of subjective morality.

In 1983, M. Scott Peck wrote the startling book, People of the Lie. This psychiatrist explored the reality of evil, and even more fascinating, the fact that some people actually choose evil on purpose, rather than the good. Peck pointed to self-deceit, laziness or sloth, and narcissism as some of the roots of evil.

Both of these good men warned us of the coming age of evil, which, so many years later, we must admit we are witnessing. What I learned from these books helped me to avoid not only certain lies which we can all adopt under selfishness and other destructive behavior, but to make better choices in my life. 

The nature of evil is to dominate, to subjugate and to avoid detection. Being a Catholic and raised on the old Baltimore Catechism, I knew deep down inside that the main sources of sin were the capital sins-"The chief sources of sin are seven: Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth; and they are commonly called capital sins." The CCC states this: "1780 The dignity of the human person implies and requires uprightness of moral conscience. Conscience includes the perception of the principles of morality (synderesis); their application in the given circumstances by practical discernment of reasons and goods; and finally judgment about concrete acts yet to be performed or already performed. The truth about the moral good, stated in the law of reason, is recognized practically and concretely by the prudent judgment of conscience. We call that man prudent who chooses in conformity with this judgment.

1781 Conscience enables one to assume responsibility for the acts performed. If man commits evil, the just judgment of conscience can remain within him as the witness to the universal truth of the good, at the same time as the evil of his particular choice. The verdict of the judgment of conscience remains a pledge of hope and mercy. In attesting to the fault committed, it calls to mind the forgiveness that must be asked, the good that must still be practiced, and the virtue that must be constantly cultivated with the grace of God:"

One learns as a Catholic moving into adulthood, that each one of us is responsible for seeing the root causes of sin in ourselves and asking God to purify us in order to be free of these "predominant faults".

That we are forgiven is a tremendous relief.

But, what of those who refuse forgiveness, or who have allowed the "truth about the moral good, stated in the law of reason" to be lost? Those who fall into mortal sin, the serious sin which causes death to the soul and destroys sanctifying grace in the soul, also fall into a darkness of the mind, a clouding of reason, one of the results, by the way, of Original Sin.

The two most common heresies in England are those of Pelagianism, which denies the need for grace for salvation, and that of universal salvation. These two heresies block the good discernment of those who deny that one can judge actions, and even intent, as intention without action can be a serious sin.

What serious sin does, as the two eminent psychiatrists above knew, is to divide the person into two-to allow a lie to separate a person from reality. The reality of immoral actions dictates guilt and demands a clear evaluation of how the soul, the psyche, reflects on the person and others. Ironically, in 2014, denial of guilt and denial of sin cause more mental illness and depression, as M. Scott Peck described. The unnaturalness of sin destroys the balance in the human of the interplay of the soul, which is the form of the body, and the mind.

Odd that two men who were not Catholic could come to the same conclusion medically as the Catholic Church morally; that free will in order to be free must be clear of sin, of deceit, or manipulation, and that to live in serious sin, in mortal sin, is mental suicide.

Dying in mortal sin is a reality to many people in our sad world. The real sadness is that they are already dead, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically.

When I was twenty-one and twenty-two for about a year and a half, I fell away from the Church by believing the lies of Marxism. I was an arrogant college student who was supposedly throwing off the constrictions of thought of my long line of Catholic forebearers. I doubted that Christ was God. I lived in an existential hell. To fall away from the Church is to fall into mortal sin. I became depressed.

Visiting a convent of sisters who had a retreat house, all friends of mine, and some former theology professors, I expressed that I was suicidal and going to kill myself. Sister Elizabeth said to me "You might as well, as you are dead already."  I was shocked into the reality that the form of my body, my soul, was indeed dead, so that the eternal death and separation from God was the logical result.

Thankfully, she suggested I repent, and go to confession and start over again, with Christ. I had to choose then and there either to follow Christ and His Church, or remain in the stubborn darkness of sin, doubt and "isms".

I chose life. The resulting immediate reconciliation to God and the Church not only filled me with joy and new purpose, but healed the darkness of doubt, depression, and separation. Indeed, after absolution, I heard the voice of Christ clearly, "Never doubt that I am God."  To this day, I have not.

Dying in mortal sin brings about the logical consequence of eternal death. People think that hell is only a punishment for sin, which it is. But, more than that, it is the choice of living away from God and His ways. Hell is merely the extension of the choices one makes on this earth. It is a mere continuation forever of self-hatred, hatred for God, and a rage against His Will.

Those who deny hell or that anyone is in hell do not understand sin or evil. They do not understand that we are all called to be one with God in love and peace forever, but that our own stupid choices, the preference of the lies of evil, lead us away from the loving God.

It is ironic that as one who stood on the edge of the abyss and looked into that eternal darkness, I can say 43 years later, that one can either have heaven on earth or hell on earth, and that death just makes the situation permanent.

Pray for those who may be dying in mortal sin. God is always there to forgive and give life. But, death decides the fate of all of us. We live the fate forever into which we die.

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