As this blog develops, you will probably notice that much of what I have to write about are the books that I’m currently reading to deepen my knowledge and faith of our Lord. By putting my thoughts down in writing, I hope to meditate more on scripture and the wise thoughts of others.
Two books that I have read recently are Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism (based on the script from his recently released 10 part dvd series with the same name), and a selection of Sayings from the works of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman. Although Cardinal Newman began his Catholic ministry 164 years ago, and his Catholic writing dates between 1845 and 1885, I was surprised to find a number of similarities between Blessed Newman and Fr. Barron’s book which was published this fall.
I imagine that I will return a number of times to both writers, but I wanted to write about their thoughts on Hell, as this past Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mt. 25:1-13) echoes what both men have to say.
In his Parochial and Plain Sermons, Blessed Cardinal Newman states “Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man.” In Catholicism Fr. Barron writes that “Hell burns with the fire of God’s Love.” It’s not what both men say that jumped out at me right away, but rather the similarities in how both men explained their versions of hell. Both Cardinal Newman and Fr. Barron describe hell as an inability on unpreparedness on a human’s part to be exposed to and accepting of God’s love. Fr. Barron likens the searing pain on an unreceptive soul to being like the pain one feels leaving a darkened movie theatre into a bright summer afternoon, eyes unaccustomed to the bright light. Cardinal Newman describes the plight of an irreligious man in Heaven as being much like that of somebody who is at a party where they have absolutely nothing in common with the other guests, wishing they had prepared themselves to be able to relate to their companions.
Reading this, one couldn’t be blamed for falling into the heresy of Universalism – the notion that everybody makes it to Heaven whether they have led good or evil lives, and that some are better suited to accept God’s love than others. We need to remember, however, that Jesus tells us about the chasm that separates Heaven from hell in the parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). When we go back to Cardinal Newman’s writing we see that he said that “Heaven would be like hell to an irreligious man” and not that it is. Also, Fr. Barron tells us that “Hell burns with the fire of God’s love” but does not incorporate hell into Heaven.
How does this relate to this week’s Gospel, the parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids (or the 10 Virgins) (Mt. 25:1-13)? It is the sense of preparedness that is needed to be ready for the coming of God’s kingdom. The Gospel fittingly ends with the line: “for you know neither the day nor the hour,” a reminder to us that we must be continually preparing our hearts to accept God’s love. And what is hell, if not the absence of God’s love from our eternal lives. If we do not prepare ourselves accordingly, we will be like the bridesmaids without oil, left in the dark, shut out from the warmth of God’s love. When we do find our way into God’s presence, will we be burned by the radiance of His love or destined to the awkwardness of having noting in common with those we meet in eternal life?