The Reality of Hell
The Twenty Sixth Sunday of the Year, October 1, 1995, Carmel of St. Joseph, R.R. #1, St. Agatha, On. NOB 2L0, Homily of Father William Lloyd Ryan
In todays Gospel we have another of our Lords parables, the parable of the rich man, and Lazarus the poor beggar. Our Lord was speaking to the Pharisees who were very much attached to their riches, and was warning them that love of the riches of this world could lead to eternal damnation. In the parable this is, in fact, what did happen to the rich man. He had great wealth, lived luxuriously, and was very much attached to such worldly possessions. His selfishness was brought out by his lack of compassion towards others, especially the suffering. One of these was a poor beggar, named Lazarus, who was lying at his gate, starving, covered with sores, but who received no help from the rich man.
Both men eventually died; Lazarus went to Heaven; the rich man went to hell. In the parable, which is, as we know, a story told by our Lord to teach a lesson, our Lord has the rich man carrying on a conversation from hell with Abraham, with whom is Lazarus. He pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames. Abraham has to tell him that this was impossible.
Then the rich man asks him to send Lazarus to his five brothers (the rich mans brothers) to warn them so they would not also come to hell. But again Abraham has to refuse because he said it would do no good - if your brothers wont listen to Moses and the other prophets, they wont listen, even if someone rises from the dead to warn them. This seems to be the sad situation today for those many people who do not believe in hell. That is the end of the parable. There is a tragic finality about the situation, for hell is forever.
So, let us spend these few brief moments thinking about what our Lord in this parable taught about hell. That there is a hell is one of the hard sayings of Our Lord. It is often avoided in our homilies. But this should not be. Hell is a reality! We should think about it often. We should think about the terrible pains of hell, the eternity of the punishments, the despair of those in hell, and their realization that it could so easily have been avoided - Heaven could have been gained. It would have been so easy when they were here on earth to have turned back to God, to have gone to confession - and now it is too late.
For all eternity the condemned souls will be cut off from the happiness of Heaven, because they chose to turn away from God and to seek their happiness in sin, which can never bring happiness even in this life, which will last for only a few brief years, and which can rob them of their eternal happiness. The thought of hell reminds us of the truth of those solemn words What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul.
There are people today who try to dismiss the idea of hell. But pretending that hell does not exist will not make it cease to exist. You may find yourself speaking on this subject to some who deny its existence. It may be helpful to point out that the Scriptures refer to hell often, ninety times in the Old Testament, and fourteen times in the New Testament. Our Lord spoke of hell many times. Just to choose one of those times - when he was describing the Last Judgment. He will then say to the wicked: Depart from Me, you accursed into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels.
Twice in this century Our Blessed Mother showed hell to persons. In 1917 she showed it to the three children at Fatima. A few years later she showed hell to Blessed Faustina Kowalska. In both cases the sight of sufferings of those in hell was so terrible that it was only by the special strength given to them by God that they were able to look at it. Blessed Faustina gives a detailed description of the terrible scene in her book on the Divine Mercy.
The Church has always taught the reality of hell. She has taught about mortal sin, by which a person cuts himself off from God, and which, if the person is unrepentant, will condemn the person to hell. In this regard, she has consistently taught that God is always willing and anxious to welcome the sinner back into His Grace, to forgive him only if he will repent of his sins. God wants all men to be saved. That makes the loss of souls all the more tragic. They could so easily have been saved.
So let us pray for ourselves and for others. For ourselves that we will always have a real fear of hell, that we will never just take it for granted that we will get to Heaven, but continue to work with all diligence for our salvation, using the means of Grace that our Lord has given us, fervent daily prayer, regular Confession, Holy Communion and the Mass. And we must pray for others, especially for sinners, that they may turn back to God and accept His Mercy and forgiveness. God is a God of Mercy Who does not wish the eternal death of a sinner but that he will be converted and live forever in Heaven.
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