After watching The Sentinel, you couldn’t blame a person for thinking about hell just a little bit. Well, at least those of us who still believe such a place exists anyway. According to the 2008 Pew Forum survey, only 59% of the general population still considers hell real, which isn’t all that surprising considering not everybody in the country is religious. But what is odd is that only about 60% of Catholics accept hell’s existence despite the fact that the Catechism makes it perfectly clear that “the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity.” Explain that one to me. Maybe part of the reason is that hell has been reduced in the public mind to images like this…
Satan. What a jerk, huh? Still, if you’re gonna work for a guy like that, you can’t really be expecting a nice benefits package can you? But even with that, there’s certainly not a whole lot in Disney hell to convince people of its reality, much less to try and avoid it. You know, maybe Cardinal Ratzinger’s Introduction To Christianity can offer a more sobering take on the subject. When considering how to explain what hell is, the future Pope Benedict XVI had this to say, “No one really knows the answer because we all live on this side of death and are unfamiliar with the experience of death… One thing is certain: there exists a night into whose solitude no voice reaches; there is a door through which we can only walk alone – the door of death. In the last analysis all the fear in the world is fear of this loneliness. From this point of view, it is possible to understand why the Old Testament has only one word for hell and death, the word sheol; it regards them as ultimately identical. Death is absolute loneliness. But the loneliness into which love can no longer advance is – hell.”
Whether it’s accompanied by a fiery pit or not, a hell of loneliness is definitely one people can believe in. In fact, it’s one we’ve all had a taste of right here on earth. And it’s one we can begin to fight, right here and now. Yes, the Church needs our tithes and our talents. But what it also needs is for us to notice the people around us who are feeling trapped and alone and to reach out to them, let them know someone is there, advance our love into their loneliness as the Pope would say. It really takes so little to turn a taste of hell into a touch of heaven.
Loneliness is one of the main reasons Mother Teresa established houses in the US. Amidst the plenty are those who are forgotten.
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