Words of St. Ignatius – With the eyes of the imagination observe the length, width and depth of hell…
"Beg a deep appreciation of the pains which the damned suffer, so that if, through my fault, I become forgetful of the Eternal Father's love, at least the fear of punishment will help keep me from sin."
Jesus Christ's words according to St. Luke's Gospel (16:19-31) – "There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen; and feasted sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores, desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table, and no one did give him; moreover the dogs came, and licked his sores.
"And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. And the rich man also died and he was buried in hell. And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried, and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue for I am tormented in this flame.
"And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you, there is fixed a great chasm so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither.
And he said: Then, Father, I beseech thee, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments. And Abraham said to him, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. But he said, "No, Father Abraham, but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance. And he said to him, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead." (Luke 16:19-31)
The house of the rich glutton is the world. His father is the devil. His five brothers are sensual people – those whose lives are dominated by the five senses. Woe to one who would not believe he would be damned! (Cf. Mark 16:16) Do you want the testimony of someone who has died? Here you have one who tells you: "Remember my judgment, for thine also shall be so – yesterday for me, and today for thee." (Eccles. 38:23)
The pain of sense in hell is essentially very dreadful. Picture yourself, my soul, on a dark night on the summit of a high mountain. Beneath you is a deep valley, and the earth opens so that with your gaze you can see hell in the cavity of it. Picture it as a prison situated in the center of the earth, many leagues down, all full of fire, hemmed in so impenetrably that for all eternity not even the smoke can escape. In this prison the damned are sprawled out and packed so tightly one on the other like bricks in a kiln. Consider the quality of the fire in which they burn.
(1) The fire is all-extensive and tortures the whole body and the whole soul – A damned person lies in hell forever in the same spot which he was assigned by Divine Justice, without being able to move, as a prisoner in chains.
The fire in which he is totally enveloped, as a fish in water, burns around him, on his left, his right, above and below. His head, his breast, his shoulders, his arms, his hands, and his feet are all penetrated with fire, so that he completely resembles a glowing hot piece of iron which has just been withdrawn from an oven.
The roof beneath which the damned person dwells is fire; the food he takes is fire; the drink he tastes is fire; the air he breathes is fire; whatever he sees and touches is all fire…But this fire is not merely outside him; it also passes within the condemned person. It penetrates his brain, his teeth, his tongue, his throat, his liver, his lungs, his bowels, his belly, his heart, his veins, his nerves, his bones, even to the marrow, and even his blood.
"In hell," according to St. Gregory the Great, "there will be a fire that cannot be put out, a worm which cannot die, a stench one cannot bear, a darkness one can feel, a scourging by savage hands, with those present despairing of anything good."
A most dreadful fact is that by the Divine Power this fire goes so far as to work on the very faculties of the soul, burning them and tormenting them. Suppose I were to find myself placed at the furnace of a blacksmith so that my whole body was in the open air but for one arm placed in the fire, and that God were to preserve my life for a thousand years in this position. Would this not be an unbearable torture? What, then, would it be like to be completely penetrated and surrounded by fire, which would affect, not just an arm, but even all the faculties of the soul?
(2) The fire is far more dreadful than man can imagine – The natural fire that we see during this life has great power to burn and torment. Yet this is not even a shadow of the fire of hell. There are two reasons why the fire of hell is more dreadful beyond all comparison than the fire of this life.
The first reason is the Justice of God, which the fire serves as an instrument in order to punish the infinite wrong done to His Supreme Majesty, which has been despised by a creature. Therefore justice supplies this element with a burning power which almost reaches the infinite.
The second reason is the malice of sin. As God knows that he fire of this world is not enough to punish sin as it deserves, He has given the fire of hell a power so strong that it can never be comprehended by any human mind.
Now, how powerfully does this fire burn? It burns so powerfully, O my soul, that, according to the ascetical masters, if a mere spark of it fell on a millstone, it would reduce it in a moment to powder. If it fell on a ball of bronze, it would melt it in an instant as if it were wax. If it landed on a frozen lake, it would make it boil in an instant.
(3) Pause here briefly, my soul, and answer a few questions. First, I ask you – If a special furnace were fired up as was customarily done to torment the holy martyrs, and then men placed before you all kinds of good things that the human heart might want, and added the offer of a prosperous kingdom – if all this were promised you on condition that for just a half hour you enclose yourself within the furnace, what would you choose?
"Ah!" you would say, "If you offered me a hundred kingdoms I would never be so foolish as to accept your brutal terms, regardless of how grand your offer might be, even if I were sure that God would preserve my life during those moments of suffering."
Second, I ask you – If you already had possession of a great kingdom and were swimming in a sea of wealth so that nothing was wanting to you, and then you were attacked by an enemy, were imprisoned and put in chains and obliged to either renounce your kingdom or else spend a half-hour in a hot furnace, what would you choose? "Ah!" you would say, "I would prefer to spend my whole life in extreme poverty and submit to any other hardship and misfortune, than suffer such great torment!"
Now turn your thoughts from the temporal to the eternal. To avoid the torment of a hot furnace, which would last but a half-hour, you would forgo all your property, even things you are most fond of, you would suffer any other temporal loss, however burdensome.
Then why do you not think the same way when you are dealing with eternal torments? God threatens you not just with a half-hour in a furnace, but with a prison of eternal fire. To escape it, should you not forgo whatever He has forbidden, no matter how pleasant it can be for you, and gladly embrace whatever He commands, even if it be extremely unpleasant?
(1) Fear – All these truths were already made known to me and I have believed them, O my God! But how have I been living? Oh, what a painful question this is to me! I have sinned and deserved hell. And why? Did someone offer me a kingdom if I would sin, or threaten me with death if I would not sin? Ah, no! I know and Thou knowest the reason for which I sinned, and I blush with shame.
I sinned for a very worthless reason and deserved hell – so great was my blindness and my foolishness, so cruel was I to myself! But I hope Thou hast forgiven me now for my past, O my most merciful God! What fills me with fear and dread is the future. I can sin again; I can die in sin and be damned!
Many evil inclinations in me have not yet died which at other times have made me fall. The mortification I have done is very little, and Divine Justice is not entirely satisfied. I cannot yet flatter myself that I have fully met the terms of God's kindness. My fervor is very weak. Alas! It is all too certain that I can die in sin and can be damned!
(2) Humble prayer to obtain grace – O my God, in this uncertainty about my salvation, I know of nothing else to do but raise my eyes, my heart and my hands to Thee, and with sighs I beg Thy Mercy. O my Jesus, my God, my Redeemer, my All! Remember those wounds which Thou let men inflict upon Thee for my sake, those pains Thou didst suffer for me, that precious Blood which Thou didst shed for me.
Remember the patience with which Thou hast put up with my sins for so long. Remember that mercy that in a fatherly way has called me to repentance. Remember that kindness with which Thou hast so graciously forgiven me. Remember that goodness with which Thou, preferring me to thousands of souls, have called me to these holy Spiritual Exercises, and be mindful of that long suffering with which Thou hast borne up with my unworthy behavior until now.
Remember that love with which Thou called me again to perfection after I had abused so many graces. Ah! Is it possible that all this becomes wasted, as far as I am concerned? Yes, O Jesus, it will all be lost if Thou have no mercy on me…Ah! Turn, then, Thy Fatherly Eyes toward me, O Jesus, and save me. Perhaps Heaven will have no greater reason to bless Thy Mercy if Thou grant this to me after so many sins.
The pain of sense in hell is dreadful in its duration – A most terrible thing about hell is its duration. The condemned person loses God and loses Him for all eternity. Now, what is eternity? O my soul, up to now there has not been any angel who has been able to comprehend what eternity is. So how can you comprehend it? Yet, to form some idea of it, consider the following truths:
(1) Eternity never ends – This is the truth that has made event greatest saints tremble. The final judgment will come, the world will be destroyed, the earth will swallow up those who are damned, and they will be cast into hell.
Then, with His Almighty hand, God will shut them up in that most unhappy prison. From then on, as many years will pass as there are leaves on the trees and plants on all the earth, as many thousands of years as there are drops of water in all seas and rivers, as many thousands of years as there are atoms in the air, as there are grains of sand on all the shores of all seas.
Then, after the passage of this countless number of years, what will eternity be? Up to then there will not even have been half of it, not even a hundredth part, nor a thousandth – nothing. It then begins again and will last as long again, even after this has been repeated a thousand times, and a thousand million times again.
And then, after so long a period, not even a half will have passed, not even a hundredth part nor a thousandth, not even any part of eternity. For all this time there is no interruption in the burnings of those who are damned, and it begins all over again. Oh, a deep mystery indeed! A terror above all terrors! O eternity! Who can comprehend thee?
Suppose that, in the case of unhappy Cain, weeping in hell, he shed in every thousand years just one tear. Now, O my soul, recollect your thoughts and suppose this case: Fro six thousand years, at least, Cain has been in hell and has shed only six tears, which God miraculously preserves. How many years would pass for his tears to fill all the valleys of the earth and flood all the cities, for all these tears to fill towns and villages and cover all the mountains so as to flood the whole earth?
We understand the distance from the earth to the sun is thirty-four million leagues. How many years would be necessary for Cain's tears to fill that immense space? From the earth to the firmament is, let us suppose, a distance of a hundred and sixty million leagues. And even this is not half the space to Heaven (according to certain traditions), where the blessed are. O God!
What number of years might one imagine to be sufficient to fill these tears this immense space between earth and Heaven? And yet – O truth so incomprehensible, yet as sure as it is that God cannot lie – a time will arrive in which these tears of Cain would be sufficient to flood the world, to reach even the sun, to touch the firmament, and fill all the space between earth and the highest Heaven.
But that is not all. If God dried up all these tears to the last drop and Cain began again to weep, he would again fill the same entire space with them and fill it again a thousand times a million times in succession, and after all those countless years, not even half of eternity would have passed, not even a fraction. After all that time burning in hell, Cain's sufferings will be just beginning.
(2) This eternity is without interruption and without relief – It would indeed be a small consolation and of little benefit for the condemned persons to be able to receive a brief respite once every thousand years.
Picture in hell a place where there are three reprobates. The first is plunged in a lake of sulphuric fire, the second is chained to a large rock and is being tormented by two devils, one of whom continually pours molten lead down his throat while the other spills it all over his body, covering him from head to toe. The third reprobate is being tortured by two serpents, one of which wraps around the man's body and cruelly gnaws on it, while the other enters within the body and attacks the heart.
Suppose God is moved to pity and grants a short respite. The first man, after the passage of a thousand years is drawn from the lake and receives the relief of a drink of cool water, and at the end of an hour is cast again into the lake.
The second, after a thousand years, is released from his place and allowed to rest; but after an hour is again returned to the same torment. The third, after a thousand years, is delivered from the serpents, but after an hour of relief, is again abused and tormented by them.
Ah, how little this consolation would be – to suffer a thousand years and to rest only for one hour. But there is not even that in hell. One burns always in those dreadful flames and never receives any relief for all eternity. He is forever gnawed and stricken with remorse, and will never have any rest for all eternity.
He will suffer always a very ardent thirst and never receive the refreshment of a sip of water for all eternity. He will see himself always abhorred by God and will never enjoy a single tender glance from Him for all eternity. He will find himself forever cursed by Heaven and hell, and will never receive a single gesture of friendship.
It is an essential misfortune of hell that everything be without relief, without remedy, without interruption, without end, eternal, eternal.
(1) Thanksgiving – Now I understand in part, O my God, what hell is. It is a place of extreme pain, a place of extreme despair. It is where I deserve to be for my sins, where I would have been confined for some years already if Thy Immense Mercy had not delivered me. I will keep repeating a thousand times: The Heart of Jesus has loved me, or else I would now be in hell! The Mercy of Jesus has pitied me; for otherwise I would be in hell!
The Blood of Jesus has reconciled me with the Heavenly Father, or my dwelling place would be hell. This shall be the hymn that I want to sing to Thee, my God, for all eternity. Yes, from now on my intention is to repeat these words as many times as there are moments that have passed since that unhappy hour in which I first offended Thee.
(2) Repentance – What has been my gratitude to God for this kind mercy that He showed me? He delivered me from hell. O Immense Charity! O Infinite Goodness! After a benefit so great, should I not have given Him my whole heart and loved Him with the love of the most ardent Seraphim? Should I not have directed all my actions to Him, and in everything sought only His Divine pleasure, accepting all contradictions with joy, in order to return to Him my love? Could I do less than that after a kindness that was so great? And yet, what is it that I have done?
Oh, ingratitude worthy of another hell! I cast Thee aside, O my God! I reacted to Thy Mercy by committing new sins and offenses. I know that I have done evil, O my God, and I repent with my whole heart. Ah, would that I could shed a sea of tears for such outrageous ingratitude! O Jesus, have mercy on me; for I now resolve to rather suffer a thousand deaths than offend Thee again.
St. Faustina Kowalska's Vision of Hell
"I, Sister Faustina Kowalska, by the order of God, have visited the Abysses of Hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence. 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." (Diary 741)
"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 the sufferings.
Indescribable SufferingsThere 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.
No One Can Say There is No HellLet 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...how terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God's mercy upon them. O 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 741)