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Going to Hell | Catholic Life

Going to Hell

At the end of last September I realized that I was headed toward hell.1 I sat in Adoration reading random chapters from Schönborn’s My Jesus and wondering what on earth I was doing with my life.

Schönborn quoted Matthew 25:31-46 and then he wrote:

It is God’s Final Judgement. But how will it come about? What standard will be used to measure; which criteria will be used to judge? Two big surprises:

The Judgement has already taken place. Only at the end will that which was decided long ago become clear. Everything was decided where we might have expected it too little or not at all: in the attitude toward my neighbor. How I ultimately stand before God one day is decided today by the question of whether I was aware of my ill neighbor and visited him. Jesus names six instances of need: the hungry, the thirsty, strangers, the naked, the sick, and those in prision. They stand for all forms of need and suffering.

And now the second surprising thing: Jesus identifies himself with all those who suffer such deprivation. Whoever notices them finds him. Whoever does them good also does it to him. “When did we see you and help you?” to this amazing question Jesus gives the decisive answer: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethern, you did it to me.”

What counts with God is the love and attention given selflessly and as a matter of course to the neghbor who needs my help. On this, Jesus tells us, your eternal salvation is decided. The decision to do this is made daily, and the importan thing is, not whether we are aware of it, but that we do it.

One thing frightens me about Jesus’ discussion of the judgement of the world: the “goats” on the left who are given over to eternal punishment, did not at all realize they had failed to see God when they did not turn their attention to those suffering need. How easily our neighbor is overlooked! In God’s sight, failure to do good weighs more heavily than doing evil. I might comfort myself with the fact that I hve not killed anyone. But that is not enough in God’s sight if I have nevertheless found no time for the sick, have not noticed the hunger and thirst of my neighbor, have not given shelter to strangers, in short, if I have been unaware of the needy.

Sins of omission should frighten us. For whatever good I have failed to do is irretriveably past. My neghbor, who might have needed me, whom I failed to see (maybe because I was too preocupied with myself and my wishes), was Jesus himself, who was waiting for me. My God, help me so that I will be able to show in my last hour at least a few moments when I served you in my suffering neighbor.

I was shocked in a stomach-in-knots way to think that I was headed to hell because, well, I live in a sort of ongoing communion with God. As one with stronger evangelical tendencies might say, I had a personal relationship with Jesus.  He would not send me to hell! Does it really matter that much that the communion is on my terms, so long as I am a fairly good person who follows all the rules?

Yes, yes it does. To the extent that the communion is on my terms, it is not fully communion with God. And as for following all the rules… I could only think that I was obedient when I conveniently forgot about the most important Rules of love and self-sacrifice. It was pretty clear that I was headed toward hell. The truth was screaming at me from the pages and it seemed that the Real Presence of the Lord was there in a sort of head-tilted-to-the side, hate-to-tell-you way with the affirmation that it was true. I was not loving God. I was doing what worked for me. And since what works for me happens to line up rather well with going to Mass and Reconciliation, following the Ten Commandments, and all the other things popularly associated with being Catholic; I could actually sit in Church struggling over what to confess.

But I had forgotten about the works of mercy. I had forgotten about living as Christ. I knew that Christ has no body on earth but mine, but I did not really believe it.

For Catholics, living like Christ is summed up in a short list that many of us like to forget so quickly that most non-Catholics do not even know that the Church cares about anything other than contraception and gay marriage. But Catholics are required to:

Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead

Instruct the ignorant
Council the doubtful
Admonish the sinner
Bear wrongs patiently
Forgive all injuries willingly
Comfort the afflicted
Pray for the living and the dead

I could handle the burying the dead part since I did not have any dead people to worry about, but otherwise I solidly failed both lists. And I knew it.

It has been a little over four months, and this story does not have a happy ending. Yes, I took action in early October. I started looking for Jesus in those around me and taking little things more seriously. But I did not really understand the ramifications of my insufferable, unbearable privilege. I kept thinking in vague terms about how my actions impacted others in their suffering, but did not focus on my suffering savior and what I could do to live most fully with God right now.

This past week has given me the chance to understand a bit more of what this all really means, but it still seems worthwhile to try to process these things in chunks rather than waiting for the complete picture. It is quite likely that I will need to spend the rest of my life remembering my inclination toward hell. And honestly, that is not a bad thing for me.

1. I do not even believe in hell in the way that most people understand the word, but ThePlaceWhereGodisNot is not where I want to be.

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8 Responses to “Going to Hell”

  1. Kathleen 06. Feb, 2010 at 8:26 am #

    These are good things to remember, to direct our day-to-day lives, but don’t forget about the mercy of God, either. These two Heaven/Hell factors exist in balance with each other.

    • Rae 06. Feb, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

      You are quite right, and I think that it is the mercy of God that is reminding me of the very real possibility of choosing evil through some combination of laziness and self-centeredness.

  2. Dawn Farias 06. Feb, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    This is such an excellent reminder all around. I think about this a lot but fear and selfishness always stop my efforts in their tracks. But I’m feeling inspired now. Thank you!

  3. Katie 06. Feb, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    This is the most honest, insightful post! I’ve actually been thinking more and more about sins of omission, and your post was a refreshing wake up call. :)

  4. Sarah 09. Feb, 2010 at 11:19 am #

    uh, yeah. I get a big F. and F- probably. Talk about a kick in the pants!

  5. Fr. Christian Mathis 12. Sep, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    I am hoping to build a six year parish mission around Matthew 25. It seems that taking them one year at a time could remind us of the way Christ says we will be judged.

    • Rae 12. Sep, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

      That sounds like a great idea!

    • Samy 31. Jul, 2014 at 8:29 am #

      Hi Yenifer,Thank you so much for your interest. You can very eaisly be involved in any of our activities just come. You can come to our church services on Sunday. We now have two services or meetings one at 9:30am and the other at 11:30am. You can attend Our Wednesday night service at 7pm. We simply teach through the Bible in our church services and Worship God in song. Of course it is all in English. You can also attend our English conversation clubs that meet on Wednesday mornings at 10:30 till noon and on Friday 2:30 till 4:30. You also might be interested in out Coffee Shop Nights. They are a time to come hang out, meet new people, and practice your English. We have music in English, table games, and conversation questions. We have these events on the last Friday night of each month. All of this is free and there is no need to sign up just come.I look forward to meeting you soon.

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