Do some human beings just die and that’s it?  Two highly respected theologians I have been reading lately propose that the afterlife may not happen for everyone.  Their books affirm and support the reality of Christ’s resurrection and his promise of eternal life for Christians and other good persons, but the wicked may end up simply disappeared.

NT Wright, a noted Anglican scholar suggests in his study of the resurrection that those who have completely rejected their humanity through their evil acts will self-destruct at death. So no one needs to worry about individuals being damned and suffering torments in hell.  On reading this I couldn’t help picturing the melting down of the Wicked Witch at the end of The Wizard of Oz.  Pffft, and it’s over.

An equally distinguished  Roman Catholic theologian also proposes in his new book on Evolution in Christianity that those who reject their humanity and Christ will simply become extinct when they die.  Since extinction is the fate of all life on earth only those who participate in Christ’s victory over death will be able to enter with him into the new human evolutionary fulfillment of life with God.  The wicked will become as extinct as the Dodo or dinosaur.

Well surely these approaches to the after life are better than the dreadful scenario of the Saints rejoicing in the howls and torments of the justly damned, a la Jonathan Edwards and other Christian theologians.  Still, to my mind more thought needs to be given to our evolving understandings of heaven and hell. Those of us who believe that all will be saved, no matter how long it takes, see different possibilities ahead. 

First there needs to be a recognition of the interrelated communal nature of the human pilgrimage. We can believe that humans can love and help each other after death in the communion of saints.  The most depraved and evil torturer had to start out as a baby and has had some human relationship upon which to build remedial change and growth.

Here we need expanded thinking on purgatory and God’s maternal patience.  Can God forget, or ever give up on a lost sheep? The brevity of a single lifespan for learning to become  human is recognized in beliefs of reincarnation in other religions.  For that matter think how long  science informs us that it took cosmic  evolution to produce life, much less rational interdependent animals who can argue over the nature of God’s love and life after death.  Do I hear any responses?  

Sidney Callahan

Comments

J Cosgrove | 2/28/2012 - 10:31am
Fr. Rooney provided one section on hell from the Catholic Catechism.  Here are all of them


1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: ''He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.'' Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ''hell.''
1034 Jesus often speaks of ''Gehenna'' of ''the unquenchable fire'' reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he ''will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,'' and that he will pronounce the condemnation: ''Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!''
 

1035 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.
1036 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: ''Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.''
 
Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where ''men will weep and gnash their teeth.''


1037
 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want ''any to perish, but all to come to repentance'':

 
Father, accept this offering 
from your whole family. 
Grant us your peace in this life, 
save us from final damnation, 
and count us among those you have chosen.
And then there is the last judgment from the catechism.


1038 The resurrection of all the dead, ''of both the just and the unjust,'' will precede the Last Judgment. This will be ''the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man's] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.'' Then Christ will come ''in his glory, and all the angels with him. . . . Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'' 


Now for a personal feeling which I am sure most share.  What would it be like to be saved and a close loved one not be saved especially if you have watched that loved one in their life do a lot of good for others?  And one my wife feels is that heaven sounds boring, eternal bliss with no variation sounds dull.  But these are both human emotions so are they relevant?  The one thing that rings true in all this is the mind of God is not like ours and a lot of things are mysteries to us and always will be.
hugh maitre | 3/4/2012 - 11:41am
I have always wondered is the idea of heaven and hell real, a figment of the imagination. How did we come by these truths? Some churches preach that God is waiting to save his sheep from this evil world, those who are alive and those that are not even born. Wow I say, because with the scale at which people are born, and the different interpretations and practice of what is good or evil by individuals, I see God waiting indefinitely.
I wonder too, whether Heaven and hell are not right here on earth? Because as I see it we often pay for our missteps right here on earth, and reap our successes right here too.
So my question: Will earth as we know it ever come to an end? Here good and evil co exist contributing to a very harmonious dynamic. You mess up you die, or you  live up to expectations, and you may die too, or live for a while. We both eventually die.
C Walter Mattingly | 2/29/2012 - 8:40am
Beth,
You speak so eloquently about what is such a great part of our faith, an intensely beautiful and uplifting thing. You reference the Beatitudes, one of the most powerful expressions of Christ's love extended to humanity. But that is by no means all that Christ said, and even there-perhaps especially there-we find implicit our obligations. For example, if those who suffer because they stand up for social justice are blessed, what about those who see the suffering or injustices visited upon others and make no effort to alleviate it whatsoever? Or in your example, the last, say the mother who puts her family ahead of herself and attends to her interests last or not at all, shall be first in God's blessing, what about the one who put herself first and ignores her children and goes to the country club and hairdresser all day, neglecting her children who suffer as a result? Or to attend to the other half of your quotation, what about this first one, who if unchanged and unrepentent shall be last? And while we as Catholic Christians believe Christ's grace is freely offered, we all see both in our personal lives and in history that the one offered is free to, and sometimes does, freely reject that grace. Stalin comes to mind as such a public figure, although we of course are never privy to the soul of another.
These things are also true. And justice might well take on a different meaning in these situations.
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/29/2012 - 7:15am
PS - I should have added that one of the outcomes of knowing unconditional love is the ability to then see and accept all of the unpleasant and destructive ego games that we play.  This is what we know in ourselves (and others) as sin.

But, in my opinion and experience, the ability to see and acknowledge this sin in ourselves, does not happen until we know that we are loved.
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/29/2012 - 6:59am
There is a deep soul sickness in us that cannot believe that God loves us - especially our bodies and our sexualities - just as we are.  This self-self hatred goes to great extremes, intellectual and otherwise, to condemn ourselves and others of "sin besotted lives".  What is sad is the extent to which "religion" participates in this sickness.

The only healing I know of is come to know this unconditional love in ourselves and to offer it to others.
Jeanne Linconnue | 2/28/2012 - 5:08pm
Beth (#15), you are so right -  ''And then there is the insight that we are each and all unworthy, and that there is absolutely nothing that we can do, on our own, to inherit eternal life.''

    Yes. All is gift. 

Chris, (#20) LOL!  Excellent comment - ''I don't think that God is in the business of destroying souls, no matter how evil they might be.''

    If God created human beings whom he knew would be weak, would be sinful, would sometimes  be truly evil -  and created them this way and planned to to ''destroy'' some for the very nature God knew they would have, would an eternity with this kind of God  be a ''heavenly'' experience?.

Is ''mortal'' sin even possible?  It requires ''full knowledge'' and ''full consent''.  Can those who commit the most horrible of evils actually have ''FULL'' knowledge of what they are doing?  A ''mortal'' sin means deliberately choosing with ''Full knowledge'' and ''full consent'' to turn away from God's love. Can those who have never really known God, or have never had an experience of God's love in their lives truly have the ''FULL'' knowledge needed to reject it?   Are those who commit evil simply at the end of the continuum of sins that all of us occupy in some part of the range. Few are at the truly heinously ''evil'' end of this continuum, but why are some and not others?  How many gifts did most of us receive at birth that gave us a bit of an advantage in where we started on this continuum?  Some evil is so horrible we can't even stomach thinking about it, and we can't understand how someone can do these things to other human beings. But this same kind of horrible cruel evil was committed by the church itself, whose leaders ordered ''heretics'' and those of other religions to be cruelly tortured and then turned over to the state to be burned alive in the most horrible pain at the stake.  A lot of evil was done under orders by the church - are those popes and bishops and cardinals who ordered this evil to be done "burning in hell" for all eternity for it?  Or did God understand their human limitations that led to such horrors - face them with their actions at some point (purgatory?) so that they wept in utmost despair when realizing the evil what they did out of their twisted understandings?  Twisted because perhaps even though they were "religious" they didn't actually know God nor had they actually had a lived experience of God's love?  A lot to think about.

 If we were born to try to help build the Kingdom of God  (on earth as it is in heaven), perhaps that should be our focus, without worrying about what comes next, as Norma so wisely observes in #18.


Thomas Rooney OFS | 2/28/2012 - 1:16pm
JR - Thank you for explanding on the Catechism's section on Hell - although I only used what I thought germane to the discussion, it's better to have it all in context.

By the by, I am not a priest.  The 'OFS' abbreviates Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis - the Secular Franciscan Order.  In the past the title has been abbreviated 'SFO', but beginning in October of 2011, the International Council of the OFS decreed it was to be abbreviated in the Latin, when using it as a title after one's name.
NORMA NUNAG | 2/28/2012 - 1:06pm
During this season of Lent (and all the days of our lives), I think it would be better to busy ourselves to doing what Jesus asked us to do: feed the hungry (lots of people are hungry for love and affection, acceptance and affirmation); clothe the naked (many out there are suffering the sense of shame of their very existence, feelings of utter worthlessness and meaninglessness, despair and hopelessness, numbnes (some do hurtful acts to themselves or others  just to prove they are still breathing (alive);  etc.etc. we know the rest.  The Kingdom of God is at hand Jesus said.   We just have to open our eyes and ears to experience it.   For starters, notice the smiles of babies, the giggles of toddlers, the grandeur and sounds of nature, the sounds of laughter over a good joke, the sight of couples or parents and children making up after a long painful estrangement, the list can go on and on.  To me, these are all signs of God's presence (heaven) in our world today. 

So, you could say, heaven begins here on earth.  We just have to follow Jesus.   He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  And He died  to demonstrate it to us.  The big challenge is, are we up to it?  Do, what He did, for our fellow human beings. 


C Walter Mattingly | 2/28/2012 - 10:55am
Beth (#7),
While no one could reasonably deny a Christ of Mercy and Love, most would add the word "Justice" to the list of His qualities. Therein lies the rub.
Marie (#8),
While Christopher Hitchens might be frowned upon on Judgment Day for his ruthless and unjust castigation of Mother Teresa as well as his purported casual, recreational use of womankind as objects of his pleasure, he may earn credit for his loyal, outspoken, and continuous support of our invasion of Iraq.
Let's give Jesuits a great deal of credit for scaring the bejesus out of millions of young men with their inexpressibility tropes concerning Hellfire, in my opinion the greatest inexpressibility tropes literature has ever seen, even Milton's Satan and his pitchfork pale by comparison. Joyce's retreat lecture in Portrait is pretty good, but the priest who gave us our Hellfire talk in my high school years at Jesuit High topped even that.
Composition of Place-school chapel, dimly lit except for the lighted candles, with class of uneasy 16 year old hormone-charged boys before an unknown retreat leader who looked pretty lean and severe. He prays while we have foreboding of what we are in for. He then addresses us, referring to all the tenth-rate pleasures of the world we have engaged in or imagined. So far so good; we did not consider those pleasures referenced 10th rate. Then he invited us to look at that little flame atop that small candle, asking us if we were offered all the pleasures of the world all our lives if we would only put the tip of our little finger in that flame for 10 seconds, how many takers would he have? Then he expanded that to everything, eyes, nose, lips, private parts, etc, not for a minute, hour, day, month, etc, but for, you guessed it, all eternity. Then the clincher: how long was eternity? Imagine a great immortal sea bird who, comet-like, ran his course caross the heavens, and a steel ball the size of the earth. Every hundred years, that sea bird on his journey would approach the steel ball earth, and each time as he circled back around, the tip of his wing brushed against the edge of that ball. By the time that the circles of that bird had worn the earth down to the size of a ball bearing, eternity would just be beginning.
Now he had our attention. The candle flame, greatly expanded, the length of suffering made concrete, we all walked to the street car line terrified. We lowered our heads and would attempt to avoid making eye contact with any of the high school girls who might walk by. And we were penitent.  Some even went home and threw away their hidden, dog-eared copies of Playboy, which were almost as risque as Victoria's Secret magazines which now come gratis in the mail to every household.
This terror-induced, humble chastity inscribed into our chastened souls lasted at least two weeks.
Back to hell.
One need not turn to anonymous priests to encounter difficulty on the subject. Karl Rahner likely agreed with Fr Rooney above, saying even an atheist might be saved as an anonymous Christian if he lived the values Christ proclaimed even if he could not accept God's existence in the integrity of his mind. Rahner only went so far as to say that we as Catholic Christians must accept hell as a possibility.
William Buckley, at the conservative end of the spectrum, questioned how a merciful God could condemn anyone to hell for all eternity. As he put it, isn't a thousand years in flames enough for Hitler? The kind of flames I became acquainted with at that retreat certainly would seem so. 
Finally, in addition to wailing and gnashing of teeth, the fire which is never quenched and the worm that is never satisfied, we have the image of being cast into Gehenna, the trash dump, or of landing on a rock and being blown away, wasted, vaporized, rather than punished. As one priest put it, we have reason to hope that Hell is vacant.
 
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/28/2012 - 10:54am
And then there is the insight that we are each and all unworthy, and that there is absolutely nothing that we can do, on our own, to inherit eternal life.
TOM QUIGLEY | 2/28/2012 - 10:51am
Thomas Rooney's comment about the possible emptiness of Hell calls to mind the story that, on taking instructions from Msgr. Fulton Sheen, Claire Booth Luce proclaimed her inability to accept a place of eternal punishment. Sheen is reputed to have said that, yes, one must believe in Hell but not necessarily that there is anyone there.
KEN LOVASIK | 2/28/2012 - 9:56am
Last year, during Lent, Rob Bell, an Evangelical minister, rattled a lot of orthodox folk with his book, "Love Wins", by suggesting that there is no hell.  God wills that all be saved.  Bell raises the question, "Can God's will be fulfilled?"  Could it be that there are "second chances" beyond our physical deaths?  If it is God's will that all be saved (and we say that we believe it is), then will God be satisfied until every being he has created is "saved?"  It's a question that deserves some prayerful pondering.

I don't accept the question is "settled" ... even official pronouncements by the Church are human attempts to talk about realities that are truly beyond our grasp.  If the value of Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross - God-become-human - is infinite (as we say we believe it is!), then, truly, "nothing is impossible with God." 

I often wonder if every sin committed in the world is an expression of a person's rejection of God's love.  I believe that there are people - more than we'd like to think - who have never experienced the love of God in their lives.  Indeed, there are people within the Church, I believe, that have not experienced the love of God among us.  I cannot reject what I have never experienced.  We 'religious types' are prone to be a bit too judgemental at times!

As Beth beautifully pointed out, the contemplatives and mystics throughout the Church's history, and even in our own times, have pointed to a much more inclusive notion of salvation.  Sometimes, even in the Church, "our God" - the God of our theology is too small!
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/28/2012 - 8:57am
Marie says (#8) "Further, I thought that this means we could clone ourselves another Jesus."

Hilarious. This reminds me of the Star Trek Next Gen episode in which Kingon priests clone the legendary hero Kahless in order to sieze power.

"They grew you in a test tube, like some kind of bathhouse fungus."

- Worf, to the cloned Kahless
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/28/2012 - 8:51am
I'm not sure how relevant it is whether this is a settled question in Catholic theology. N.T. Wright is a priest of the Church of England. The mere fact that he is speculating about it suggests it is not a settled question in Anglican theology.

But in fact I believe Catholic theology accepts the possibility of universal salvation. On the other hand, it is also permissible for a Catholic to speculate that different human souls attain different gradations of happiness in the life to come.

So the Catholic version of this hypothesis may be that Christ saves what he can. If somebody is a great Saint, the vast majority of his soul will be found in a condition capable of sustaining the Beatific Vision. If he is a genuinely rotten or even just consummately mediocre person, there will be very little or possibly nothing at all.

I am not, however, a theologian.
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/28/2012 - 8:38am
It's settled as far as I am concerned, David.  Everything that I have come to know in Catholic theology points toward a God of Mercy and Love.  You know of any Catholic theology that says otherwise?
JIM MCCREA | 2/27/2012 - 10:17pm
I think the unnamed RC theologian is Jack Mahoney, SJ, a British Jesuit.
6466379 | 2/29/2012 - 9:47pm
No Afterlife? How then can one logically explain  the Spring? Is vegetation the only element in all creation that has the ability of regeneration?  If so, why? Vegetation, obviously, is not the only element in creation demonstrating characteristics of an “afterlife” never truly dying in its ability to “return to life” over and over again in a predetermined “sameness.” The entire evolution-process does it, species after species, one proceeding (rising) from the other, casting focus on the reality of an everlasting , never ending afterlife. Isn’t it true that all  creation tends to continually regenerate itself, which wonderously is  the primal characteristic of the Triune God? Each Divine Person mysteriously  PROCEEDING in a type of profound  Divine Evolution without beginning, without end, One from the Other in never ending life, modeling  in harmonious contentment and creativity, the reality of the Afterlife in which humanity in particular definitely shares!
Once I experienced the reality of the immortality of the soul, in other words, the reality of the Afterlife. No, it didn’t involve a near death experience. Rather,  suddenly I became absolutely AWARE of SELF realizing that I truly EXISTED and more marvelously would LIVE FOREVER!  This experience never happened before, as for the most part I tended to simply be content with the assurance that I really existed and that I would live forever. This unexpected experience convinced me of what I simply accepted as true, leaving me indelibly KNOWING, not just BELIEVING that there is an Afterlife! No doubt there are moments when many, if not everyone, suddenly realizes the truth of the immateriality and immortality  of self and everlasting life, a startling, yet not frightening experience!
Now when it comes to an everlasting Hell of fire and torment, I’ve always found that difficult to understand. But once I realized that Jesus (the Bible) uses a lot of hyperbole in getting across central truths, then I began to wonder that,  maybe  the teachings of Jesus were hyperbolic in keeping with the conversational style of his day. At Fatima Blessed Mother showed the children a vision of hell, fire and torment et all. Horrid scenes! Was this a case of revelational hyperbole, sort of a “Like Mother, like Son” kind of thing?
Interestingly, Jesus also spoke of Hell as “eternal death.” His most accurate explanation? I would have no trouble in understanding damnation as “eternal death” meaning that those of us who unfortunately die hating God unrepentantly get exactly what they have chosen, the rejection of God by their choice.  The Deity then confirms that choice by MERCIFULLY granting them eternal death, knowing that to allow such people in His presence would be an intolerable and worse Hell for them. Something like what people say when they strongly dislike someone “I can’t stand to be in his/her sight!” So, everlasting death for them would be God’s last favor for them. Everything that God does is Mercy!
The promise that St. Faustina in her Divine Mercy Revelations records that Jesus said, at the hour of death He come one last time to everyone needing them to to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe!  If a soul soaked in hate turns down that offer, Jesus has but one way left to show his everlasting Mercy – EVERLASTING DEATH!  At least so it seems to me.
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/27/2012 - 6:32pm
I have a good friend who has long proclaimed that "either we all go do heaven, or we all don't go".

I tend to reach for her vision, in the sense that "we" are really all one being (in Christ).  I also like to think that our individual natures are preserved and recognized in the afterlife, as necessary parts of the whole.  We will be reunited with our loved ones and recognize them.
Walter Sandell | 2/28/2012 - 11:31am
''All will be well'' Julian of Norwich

Dorothy day said that we cannot love God any more than we love the person we love least.

I have a tough time with Hitler, bin Laden, and some of the 'American' leaders responsible for the genocide of the Natives of this land, and many others.  But I cannot envision 'eternal' punishment, given that the age of the universe is said to be about 13 billion years
Anne Chapman | 2/29/2012 - 11:23am
Beth, thank you for your thoughts. Your post (29) reflects insights from Henri Nouwen (Bread for the Journey) -

Jesus came to us to help us overcome our fear of God. As long as we are afraid of God, we cannot love God. Love means intimacy, closeness, mutual vulnerability, and a deep sense of safety. But all of those are impossible as long as there is fear. Fear creates suspicion, distance, defensiveness, and insecurity.

The greatest block in the spiritual life is fear. Prayer, meditation, and education cannot come forth out of fear. God is perfect love, and as John the Evangelist writes, ''Perfect love drives out fear'' (1 John 4:18). Jesus' central message is that God loves us with an unconditional love and desires our love, free from all fear, in return.

It took me decades of life to consciously realize that my religious upbringing instilled a lot of fear in me and most of us in my generation from earliest childhood, starting when being forced into that first ''confession'' to a priest - it's all about sin, all about penance, all about ''dying in mortal sin and going to hell forever'', all about a vengeful God just waiting to judge and condemn - all about fear, indoctrinated into children at a young age and too often internalized and carried through a lifetime.

Today, tens of millions of Catholics and other christians have rejected fear-based religion, and many have rejected all religion with it.  Some know this kind of religion can be spiritual poison yet seek to live a spiritual life in relationship with God, but it's hard on your own - the path is not as clear. Meditation, (centering prayer) can lead spiritual seekers beyond this kind of religion to a spirituality that frees people to finally trust in a God of love. People then seek to avoid sin  because of love rather than because of fear of damnation - Jesus's two great commandments are to love.
Crystal Watson | 2/29/2012 - 4:13am
Bad enough to believe there's a place like hell and that God sends people there - I'm a universalist, I guess - but Jack Mahoney is talking about God annihilating people/souls that don't "participate in Christ’s victory over death."  God isn't evolution personified and I find it repulsive to believe God would extinguish anyone.   Many theologians have embraced evolution - Denis Edwards is one - but I don't think they've gone so far as to posit an ahhihilating God.
JIM MCCREA | 2/28/2012 - 9:44pm
Does ANYONE lead a "sin besotted life?"
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/28/2012 - 5:27pm
Walter (#17), when I think of the justice of God, I think of "the last shall be first", the beatitudes: those who mourn will be comforted, those who are persecuted will inherit the kingdom of heaven ... I don't think of a God who punishes.

The notion of a God who eternally damns an individual soul doesn't jive with anything that I know, or have ever learned, of "God".  Sounds more like a human projection. 

As for mortal sin and hell, these are states to describe the soul of one who is alienated from the awareness of an ever loving and merciful God.  But grace is always available, and it behooves me that this awareness would not be freely offered to anyone and everyone at the moment of death. 
Mary Wood | 2/28/2012 - 2:17pm
We're all in it together:
.
"God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all."
 Romans 11 : 32
Chris Sullivan | 2/28/2012 - 1:55pm
I don't think that God is in the business of destroying souls, no matter how evil they might be.

That would not be very pro-life.

God Bless
Thomas Rooney OFS | 2/28/2012 - 10:04am
David Smith asks "Is this really an unsettled question in Catholic theology?"

As far as official Church teaching it is settled.  From the Catechism:

"1035 ...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."

That doesn't mean it cannot be discussed.  Just because the Church says iit is so doesn't necessarily make it easy for the faithful to wrap our reasoning minds around.  The concept of Purgation makes sense to me, in that I have a problem with eternal punishment - a concept humna beings can't possibly comprehend-  being allowed to occur by an all-loving God.  But that's just me. 

Is it eternal punishment in the "unquenchable fire"?  Is it simply annihilation, as this article posits -  blinking out of existence without ever experiencing the Beatific Vision?   Dunno.  And I would suggest that neotehr does the Church.  There is not one of us that can say who is damned and who is not.  To my knowledge, the Church, while routinely proclaiming Saints as people who are definitively in Heaven, doesn't proclaim one person in all of history as definitively damned in Hell (if I am mistaken, could someone please provide a source?)

I struggled with the concept of Hell for years, as I mentioned above.  My first spiritual director put it to me this way: "Tom, as a priest I must tell you: Yes, there is a Hell.  I cannot say with any authority if anyone actually resides there, however."
 
We simply can not imagine the depth of the mercy of God. 

Marie Rehbein | 2/28/2012 - 8:39am
When Christopher Hitchens died and people were declaring that he was destined for hell because he claimed to be an unbeliever and said many disparaging things about organized religion, particularly the Catholic Church, I said that he could just have ceased to exist.  I would still hold to that except I think he is actually rolling in his grave given the USCCB contraception obsession.

Allow me to explain.

Our diocesan newpaper ran an ad that claimed that scientists had isolated "Flesh and Blood, Human DNA, and Heart Muscle Tissue containing White Blood Cells", presumably of Christ, in the "Consecrated Bleeding Host" "that can only exist if fed by a living body".  After I finished gagging at the thought, I wondered how it was possible for them to do experiments on the consecrated host.  Would this not be a violation of Catholic teaching?  Further, I thought that this means we could clone ourselves another Jesus.  Then, I realized this was bunk, and I wondered how it was that our diocesan newspaper would publish such an ad.  Once again, I had visions of Christopher Hitchens rolling in his grave, giving me the impression that we definitely do not cease to exist, but continue to be tormented by the stupidity of our fellow human beings even after death.
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/28/2012 - 6:13am
It seems to me that what we're dealing with here is the ego-self, or false self - who we think we are - that part of ourselves that goes through all sorts of contortions to insure its survival (and superiority etc).  Individual salvation would be of prime importance to the ego self.  Does the ego self vanish with death?  Absolutely.  The good news is that there is a deeper self - Merton and others refer to it as the "true" self.  Contemplative prayer and other forms of meditation seek to quiet the chatter of the ego so that one can come to know oneself and live from this deeper self that is who we are before (and with) God.  Eternal?  If God is eternal, this self is eternal.

Everyone has a deeper, true self, that is united with God, whether they know it or not.  Otherwise they would not exist.  Wickedness, merit, "evil acts", and all the rest have little relevance.  The relationship between the Creator and Creation is integral to who God is.  Isn't this what theology tells us?  The Word was made flesh?
Matthew Erickson | 2/27/2012 - 7:50pm
Does this finite existence really have ultimate significance?

I don't see how the choices I make matter at all if the outcome of the game is already predetermined. I don't like predetermination when it says everyone is going to hell, and I don't think it's any more helpful when it says we all go to heaven no matter what choices we make.

Everybody going to heaven is nicer, but I don't think our faith is about what is nice. I would contend, rather, that our faith affirms the centrality of love, and that love demands respect, even respect when it comes to a decision to reject love in an ultimate way.