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One Hell of a Week

By Father James D. Zatalava
©Catholic Online 2005

I'm not trying to be trashy when I say the several days surrounding February 13, 2005 constituted one Hell of a week, at least for me. I had two funerals at the parish and that means I also had two wake services at which I invariably get dragged into a discussion of Purgatory. Some Protestant will inevitably demand to know why we are "selling" Mass Cards at the funeral home and why most of the vigil prayers are said "for" the decedent. I'm sure others can, but I can't discuss Purgatory without contrasting it to Hell.

One of those discussions continued out into the parking lot where it almost came to fisticuffs between a grandson of the deceased and me. He took great offence that I could even suggest that his beloved grandmother could be at that very moment any place other than at Jesus' right hand. His impression was that all those Mass Cards were just the Catholic way of getting off cheap ... you know, five dollars for a Mass instead of thirty-five dollars for flowers.

Preparation for the Sunday homily had me dealing with Jesus' temptations in the desert as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11. Well, who is doing the tempting? Where does he spend his down time? Right! Satan and Hell.

Three Masses later, it was early afternoon till I could kick back and get on line. What's the big news? Sister Lucia (Lucia dos Santos), the only surviving Fatima visionary, died Sunday, February 13, 2005.

It's probably important for you to know that the parish I'm currently pastoring is named Our Lady of Fatima. The congregation and I are working on a "mission statement" for this special faith community. All are agreed that our mission should flow out of the Fatima experience. Right now we are wrestling with concretizing the July 13, 1917 apparition (the third of six) at which Mary allowed the three children to see into Hell.

Lucia writes:
"She 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."

One of my parishioners, who has been deeply touched by "the spirit of Vatican II," has decided to become my Dutch Uncle. He pulled me aside and said: "Father, if you want people to fill the pews you've got to stop preaching all this gloom and doom. Just like the spirit of Vatican II (as opposed to the actual words of Vatican II), you have to preach a message of Hope."

Just like Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11, I resisted the temptation to whack this guy up the side of the head. I settled for calmly saying: "Vatican II also says Jesus Christ's words of heavenly Hope are not to be confused with Sigmund Freud's words of diabolical Denial."

Yes, it was one Hell of a week! Our Lady of Fatima, pray for Lucia (and us).

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