In the previous issue of MICHAEL, we quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church on hell. Sadly, today, not every Catholic and Christian believes that hell exists and that the souls of the damned will suffer in hell for eternity. People say: "Oh, hell was invented by priests to scare people", or "Hell exists, but there is no one in it", or "Good people will go to heaven, but bad people will not go to hell, they will simply be annihilated". Well, no, hell really exists, it is a truth of faith, and there are souls in hell.
As the Catechism explains, after physical death, the soul immediately passes into judgment before God. Following this judgement, one will go either to heaven or to hell for all eternity. One can also go to purgatory for purification and eventually be in heaven for eternity, but if one dies in a state of mortal sin, he goes immediately to hell.
Hell is a dreadful place where the human being is permanently tortured and where his suffering will never end. It is therefore very important to know how to avoid eternal damnation after death. It is indeed the most important thing to know.
Jesus' words about hell
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us 15 times that hell exists. Three striking passages follow.
— The parable of the darnel (Matthew 13:36-43): "The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth."
— On the Last Judgement (Matthew 25:31-46): "Next he will say to those on his left hand,'Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels… I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me'. And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life."
— The parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31): "Now the poor man (Lazarus) died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In his torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his bosom. So he cried out, 'Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames'. 'My son,' Abraham replied 'remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.'
"The rich man replied, 'Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father's house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too'. 'They have Moses and the prophets,' said Abraham 'let them listen to them.'. 'Ah no, father Abraham,' said the rich man 'but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.'
"Then Abraham said to him,'If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead'."
Jesus has spoken, the Catechism has spoken, but still many are not convinced of the existence of hell. Well! God, in his great goodness, has allowed many saints to visit hell in spirit, and sometimes in body, to bear witness to it, such as St. Teresa of Avila, St. Frances Romana, St. Faustina Kowalska and St. John Bosco. Damned souls have appeared to humans, and the Virgin Mary, in apparitions recognised by the Church, has shown children what hell is like. Will this be enough to convince the sceptics? Only God knows, but here are some testimonies.
St. Theresa of Avila's vision of hell
A Carmelite nun, St. Theresa of Avila (1515- 1582) visited hell through God's grace. In the following, she recounted her terrifying vision:
"A long time after the Lord had already granted me many of the favours I've mentioned and other very lofty ones, while I was in prayer one day, I suddenly found that, without knowing how, I had seemingly been put in hell. I understood that the Lord wanted me to see the place the devils had prepared for me and which I merited because of my sins. This experience took place within the shortest space of time, but even were I to live for many years, I think it would be impossible for me to forget it.
"What I felt, it seems to me, cannot even begin to be exaggerated; nor can it be understood. I experienced a fire in the soul that I don't know how I could describe. The bodily pains were so unbearable that though I had suffered excruciating ones in this life and, according to what doctors say, the worst that can be suffered on earth, for all my nerves were shrunken when I was paralyzed, plus many other sufferings of many kinds that I endured and even some, as I said, caused by the devil; these were all nothing in comparison with the ones I experienced there. I saw furthermore that they would go on without end and without ever ceasing.
"This, however, was nothing next to the soul's agonizing: a constriction, a suffocation, an affliction so keenly felt and with such a despairing and tormenting unhappiness that I don't know how to word it strongly enough. To say the experience is as though the soul were continually being wrested from the body would be insufficient, for it would make you think somebody else is taking away the life, whereas here it is the soul itself that tears itself in pieces. The fact is that I don't know how to give a sufficiently powerful description of that interior fire and of that despair, coming in addition to such extreme torments and pains. I didn't see who inflicted them on me, but, as it seemed to me, I felt myself burning and crumbling; and I repeat the worst was that interior fire and despair."
St. Frances of Rome on the topic of hell
St. Frances of Rome (1384-1440), by the will of God, visited hell. Following this visit, she wrote a book where she recounted what she saw. This treatise gives us much information about hell. Here are excerpts from Chapter II, titled "Tortures exercised on nine kinds of sinners".
1. Torture of those who have offended nature by their impurities. Frances saw in hell's lowest and most horrible section men and women who were submitted to horrible tortures. The demons who were their torturers would have them sit on steel bars, reddened by fire that penetrated their body lengthwise and exited through the top of the head. While one demon pulled the bar out and inserted it anew, other demons, using burning snips, cut through their flesh from head to toe. These torments were unceasing, not to mention other treatments such as fire, freezing cold, deep darkness, blasphemies and gnashing of teeth.
2. Torture of the usurers. Not far from where the first ones were being held, Frances saw another place where criminals were tortured in a different way, and she was told they were usurers. These wretched souls were lying down nailed on a table of fire, arms outstretched, not in the shape of a cross, and Frances' guide told her that any mention of the cross was banished from these infernal places. Each had a circular red iron on his head.
Demons drew melted gold and silver from containers that they poured in their mouth; they also poured some in a wound they had made to their heart while repeating: "Remember, you wretched souls, the affection you had for these metals during your lifetime; it is this affection that has brought you here." They would then submerge them in a basin filled with liquified gold and silver; this way, they would be submitted from one torment to the next, without reprieve. They also suffered all the other torments endured by all the other suffering souls; this led them to a horrible despair; which is why they blasphemed unceasingly the sacred name of the One who exercised upon them this just vengeance.
The other seven types of sinners included blasphemers, traitors, killers, apostates, those who committed incest, sorcerers, and those who had been excommunicated.
In a book titled Does Hell Exist?, Dom Joseph Tomaselli wrote: "Impurity is the sin that leads us easily to hell". St. Alphonsus Liguori stated: "We go to hell because of this sin, or at least we cannot avoid hell without having committed it".
Vision of hell at Fatima
The Fatima apparitions have been authenticated by the Catholic Church. On July 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin showed a vision of hell to three young children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco at Fatima. Here is Lucia's account:
"[Mary] opened her hands once more, as she had done the two previous months. The rays [of light] appeared to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a vast sea of fire. Plunged in this fire, we saw the demons and the souls [of the damned].
"The latter were like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, having human forms. They were floating about in that conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames which issued from within themselves, together with great clouds of smoke. Now they fell back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fright. (It must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me.)
"The demons were distinguished [from the souls of the damned] by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. That vision only lasted for a moment, thanks to our good Heavenly Mother, who at the first apparition had promised to take us to Heaven. Without that, I think that we would have died of terror and fear."
Vision of hell by Sister Faustina
St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), a religious sister from Poland, saw Jesus on many occasions during her lifetime. Jesus asked her to paint the now famous image of our Lord, known as His Divine Mercy. One day, she was transported to hell. What follows is an account of the experience.
"Today I was led by an angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw:
"The first torture that constitutes hell is the loss of God; the second is perpetual remorse of conscience; the third is that one's condition will never change; the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it – a terrible suffering, since it is a purely spiritual fire, lit by God's anger; the fifth torture is continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and, despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own; the sixth torture is the constant company of Satan; the seventh torture is horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies.
"These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of their sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the torments of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like.
"I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence. I cannot speak about it now; but I have received a command from God to leave it in writing. The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell.
"When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright. How terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God's mercy upon them. Ô my Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend You by the least sin" (Diary of St. Faustina, 741).
Dear reader, are you in a state of grace? Do you have on your conscience a grave sin that could threaten your eternity should you die unexpectedly? If so, do not hesitate to feel true repentance. Go to Confession on this very day or as soon as you are able. We must obey the Commandments, frequent the sacraments, pray, do good works, wear the scapular of Mount Carmel, etc. As we shall see in the following article God wants each of us to be saved and spend eternity with Him in Heaven.