Our starting point for today’s examination will require the concept of Hell.
Surprisingly, the Pope himself has a different version of hell than the one we learn from the lower echelons of the Holy Church. Somehow the message from the top didn’t trickle down to the laity.
I still remember the day, as a young devout Catholic who was considering the priesthood, when I read in the newspaper of all places that the Pope said that Hell is not a physical place but rather more of a psychological state of mind. I tend to agree more with this conception of hell over a place underneath us with demons and fire where somehow fragile life is now sustained for eternity for the sole purpose of suffering.
At the General Audience of Wednesday, 28 July 1999, the Holy Father reflected on hell as the definitive rejection of God. In his catechesis, the Pope said that care should be taken to interpret correctly the images of hell in Sacred Scripture, and explained that “hell is the ultimate consequence of sin itself… Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy”.
1. God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with him. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine explains when it speaks of eternal damnation or hell. It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. The very dimension of unhappiness which this obscure condition brings can in a certain way be sensed in the light of some of the terrible experiences we have suffered which, as is commonly said, make life “hell”.
In a theological sense however, hell is something else: it is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy, even at the last moment of their life.
I remember once reading a quote by a saint who said that it should be easy to tell who the true Christian is because of the huge eternal smile they would have on their face. After being filled with the love of God and knowing heaven awaits them, how could you do any but smile?
So how interesting for Pope John Paul II to speak of “the very dimension of unhappiness which… make life ‘hell.’ ” It is in life that we suffer, it is now that we experience hell… which raises the question if now is the only time to experience heaven instead of the afterlife, but that’s another topic for another day.
Quitting the papacy is committing suicide
In a strange way, I feel that it was my upbringing as a devout Catholic that may have led to my next life as a mathematician in the following sense.
I was looking for rules that always worked, that were always enforced, that were natural and just were. This is the search for Truth and first finding out what the rules are. This can be as simple as accepting gravity and the truth that I cannot jump to the top of a mountain by myself.
I found that rules in the Catholic Church, which were supposed to mean something, were always being bended and exceptions could always be made for the rich and powerful; for example those with the money to get a marriage annulled… but the marriage was still a VOW before God… can you really just “annul” that because you found a new lover?
Or something the rules were enforced beyond the call of duty, for example when some in the Church in 2004 thought to deny the Catholic John Kerry his Communion for being pro-choice. The issue has died but the year it was raised in is important, since 2004 is the year Kerry ran for President. So the Catholic Church was playing politics when convenient.
Suffice it to say that it seems all kinds of exceptions get raised when convenient. Heaven-forbid one have the political thought of being pro-choice, but heaven-overlook the major sins of those priests denying communion? Rather than spend the rest of life in jail, one gets to enjoy a peaceful retreat at some fancy castle while the consequences of those sins cause many children to live a life of real hell.
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