Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Dear Father:
What is the Church’s teaching on what can lead to eternal damnation, hell? Most practicing Catholics if not all, when they die, usually have a Mass of Christian burial. Also, many of these Catholics have Masses and prayers offered for them after death. Does this imply that all these Catholics have been spared from eternal damnation, if not, are these prayers wasted since once in hell there is no redemption?
Salvador Borrego
St. Phillip Neri Church, Oklahoma City, OK

In the Gospel of St. Matthew we read, "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14)." This is only one example of the many times where Christ speaks of our eternal destiny. There are only two outcomes of this life: eternal life or eternal death, a way of destruction. While the outcome is clear for those who follow or reject Christ, we need to know what makes the road narrow.
The Church teaches that one guilty of committing mortal sin and unrepentant of that sin receive the punishment of Hell. This means going to Hell is our choice and not some form of malicious predestination by God. Because we have been given, not only the fullness of Truth as revealed by Christ and which is taught by the Church, but also the freedom of the sons of God through Baptism, we have a profound responsibility to live by the way of Christ. Furthermore, the punishment of Hell is eternal. In our life on earth, it is possible for us to change and to return to Christ. We live immersed in the swirling tides of time itself. At the moment of death, the time for choosing Christ ends. We move into the realms of eternity, where there is no time. The person we are as we cross that spiritual line of demarcation is the person we are for all of eternity. It follows then that those who live a life where even in one aspect was turned from Christ, they are not fit for Heaven. It also suggests that God treats us with great mercy for He gives us time to learn and to assent to His way (CCC #1033-1037).
This insistence on the reality and the eternity of Hell speaks to the profound depth of human actions. Because we have been given a free will, we can freely choose to love God and serve Him or to turn from Him. It further shows that the choices we make, make us into the people we are. The virtues and goodness of virtuous people radiate from them because these good choices have become "second nature" to them; they will them without having to fight their fallen tendencies as strongly. The viciousness taints and clouds those who surrender to it so much so that we can often sense that something is off.
Your second question raises some interesting issues. In the history of the Church, I can find only one person (or persons) whom the Church teaches are definitely in Hell. This is Satan and His fallen angels. Otherwise, no one else has made the list, not even Judas. It would seem then that we should hold out hope that our loved ones are in Heaven, but at the same time, remember that even those who are fit for Heaven, may have some purification to undergo before entering that blessed state.
Through the Funeral Mass and Christian burial, the Church re-states her firm hope in the Resurrection of the Dead and the firm hope that our loved one is at rest in Heaven. But to hope for something doesn’t make it so. Certainly, funeral homilies should avoid saying that someone is definitely in Hell or in Heaven because quite frankly, it’s God’s task to judge the living and the dead, not ours. Instead we should be encouraged to pray for the dead and to remember them through having the Holy Mass said for the repose of their souls.
If the person in question were in Hell, the prayers and sacrifices wouldn’t be wasted, as they go to build up the Body of Christ, the Church. The Catechism puts it this way: "In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all. Every sin harms this communion (CCC# 953)." Even if our prayers and sacrifices don’t liberate another from the suffering of Hell, it can help to strengthen the Body of Christ as a whole. We should also take note that our sins have the opposite effect. Our actions are not isolated moments; they reach out to all our brothers and sisters, both in this world and in the world to come.


Blogger Hannah said...

I don't understand how, on death, our characters become static, given the possibility of Purgatory. I thought that Purgatory was where people are purified, those who will be allowed into Heaven, but "as through a fire." So, how does Purgatory fit into all that?

12:44 PM  
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