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By Fr. G. Peter Irving III

10/27/2012 (4 years ago)

Catholic Online (

To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice

The topic of hell is not a pleasant one. And yet in the Gospels Jesus speaks about hell more often than He does about heaven. This is because He came precisely to "save us from the fires of hell and to lead all souls to heaven."

Leap into Hell.

Leap into Hell.


By Fr. G. Peter Irving III

Catholic Online (

10/27/2012 (4 years ago)

Published in Year of Faith

Keywords: Year of Faith, homilies, Fr G Peter Irving III, Holy Innocents Long Beach, heaven and hell

LONG BEACH, CA (Catholic Online) - The beginning of today's Gospel sounds almost like a news report on any local TV station. "Riot police clash with protesters; fatalities reported." And "Local tower collapses; 18 people are killed." Here Jesus is using the current events of His day to make a point: those Galileans who lost their lives in an apparent act of rebellion against Roman rule and those people who were crushed to death when the Tower of Siloam collapsed, did not suffer these misfortunes because they were more wicked that everyone else. 

At the Pool of Siloam (was the Tower of Siloam a water tower?) where Jesus healed the man born blind, the disciples asked the question: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him (John 9:3)." 

In our fallen world, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. We have all known really good people who seem to suffer more than others. We can also think of really wicked people who seem to glide through life without a worry or a care. Clearly, God does not always punish sinners in this life nor does God always spare His faithful ones trials and tribulations. The lives of the Saints are evidence of that. 

Truth is we are all sinners, with one exception. The Blessed Virgin Mary by a singular grace and privilege remained free from sin from the moment of her Immaculate Conception until the day she was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven. The rest of us, even the best of us, are sinners who without God's grace merit nothing other than eternal punishment. To live and then to die without this saving grace, to live and to then die without God is indeed a tragedy far greater than any suffering or trial that one might experience in this life.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell'" (1033).

The topic of hell is not a pleasant one, I grant you. And yet in the Gospels Jesus speaks about hell more often than He does about heaven. This is because He came precisely to "save us from the fires of hell and to lead all souls to heaven."

In a song with a silly lyric (I am a Beatle fan, by the way), John Lennon crooned something about "No hell below us; above us only sky." I suppose that's a comforting, dreamy thought for people who don't want to face life realistically or who want to escape responsibility for their actions, but the Jesus who spoke, "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41), clearly meant what he said. 

The Catechism has more to say: "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 (1035)."

This is not bad news. It is, paradoxically, good news because it is saving truth. In the very next paragraph of the Catechism we read these inspiring words: "The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion (1036)."

The Year of Faith is an invitation for all of us to listen to the Gospel with new ears. It is also a time for preachers and catechists to communicate the faith with all charity but without watering down its content or by glossing over the hard teachings.

When one goes to the doctor with a troubling symptom he wants to hear the whole truth from his physician. What the doctor has to say may be hard to hear but the patient wants to and needs to hear it in order for the remedy to be applied.

In her "Diary," St. Faustina, provides a graphic description of hell and its many torments (Diary, 741). These writings come under the category of "private revelation" and no one is bound to accept the details therein. Nonetheless, I think it is very useful to ponder these words because they can help us take more seriously the reality of hell and the possibility that exists for anyone of us to ultimately and definitively reject God who is Love. They can also move us to grasp the urgency of turning away from sin in order to live a happy and holy life.

In his Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict tells us: "The Year of Faith . is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world." I pray that in this special time of grace all of us may open wide our hearts to the saving Gospel of Christ and that we may never stray from the path that leads to heaven.

May Holy Mary, Mother of Mercy and Refuge of Sinners, intercede for us!


Father G. Peter Irving III is a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and is pastor of Holy Innocents Church in Long Beach.


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