Hell, devils, and sin are three things which make many modern Christians (including, sad to say, many modern Catholics) recall the ‘dark ages.’ Today, it is not uncommon to hear otherwise well intentioned Christians deny those teachings which were so prominent in Christianity only a few decades ago. As we prepare ourselves for the droves of ghosts and goblins knocking at our door on the eve of the feast of All Saints, it is wise to guard ourselves with the truth, in order to judge rightly about the night that quickly approaches.
Does hell exist, or was it an invention that the medieval Church conjured up to keep the ignorant faithful paying for indulgences? The Catechism of the Catholic Church witnesses to the authentic and historic Christian teaching:
“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” (CCC 1035).
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, writing in the middle of the fourth century, confirms this teaching,
“We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We blaspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future fruits of the past” (Catechetical Lectures 18:19 [A.D. 350]).
Many may respond to the above quotations with disdain, disregarding them as the fantasies of Catholic fanatics. Let us then consider the warnings of our Blessed Savior himself, “[I]t is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:47–48)
In a few days, our neighbors will adorn their houses with cobwebs and witches. In a few days, our neighbors will greet “trick-or-treaters,” with the prize of affirmation, and special sweets. In a few days, our neighbors will dress their innocent children, made in the image of God, in outfits which are made in the image of the Devil. Why?
For Christians, the Word of God became man, was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, died and rose from the dead, for one reason, and one reason only: in order to give us life. Jesus entered into death, not to glorify death, but that he might destroy its stranglehold on the children of God. This year, before preparing to celebrate the eve of All Saints, let us consider for a moment how we, the disciples of the Giver of Life, are going to honor the feast. Will our celebration reflect the goodness of the Lord, or will it glorify the powers of darkness?
Finally, let us sit again at the feet of the Master, and let his words echo in our ears, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13–14).
Many Catholic Churches will have an evening Mass on October 31 (November 1 is a Holy Day of Obligation for Roman Catholics) – what would the Holy Family do?