Owing to our late arrival at Toodyay, having been delayed for various reasons - Fr Rowe and another retreatant being my passengers - the programme for the first evening of the Retreat, on Sunday the 5th of October, was somewhat reduced by omitting Vespers and Compline, and having Low Mass without sermon. However, the first Conference was given (starting about an hour late) after dinner following Mass, and, as I promised, I will now give my own write-up of the notes I took during it. So, herewith:
1st Conference: Sermon for the 21st Sunday after PentecostHellHell hath no exit, only an entrance!Consider the vision of Hell vouchsafed to the three holy children at Fatima: a sight so terrible that they would have died, had not Our Lady obtained a special grace for them.The Four Last Things (τα ἔσχατα) ought ever to be kept before our eyes:
- Hell.It is a thing most profitable to reflect on the reality of Hell, and its eternity of woe.The pains of Hell are threefold:
- The pain of loss: the loss of Heaven - for Heaven is so great that (as St Austin saith) one particle of Heaven transplanted into Hell would suffice to at once change Hell into Heaven; and so what a terrible torment it is to lose Heaven, definitively and for all eternity without any chance of attainment of it ever again - is a loss so dire that it is alone enough to make Hell a place of torment and despair. To lose something infinite - that is, God - is necessarily an infinite torment: hence (as Aquinas testifies) the pain thereof is infinite.
- The pain of sense is twofold. Firstly, the fire of Hell (as Scripture reveals) is fire unquenchable and inexstinguishable: "depart ye cursed into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels." Hell is as a lake of burning fire, whose flame goeth up for ever and ever (as the Apocalypse teaches). The Church Fathers all concur: for example, Pope St Gregory the Great says of Hell, "What terrible fires! 'Who can dwell with everlasting burnings?'" This unbearable fire by God's command is empowered to burn endlessly the damned souls, without respite or hope of an end. Secondly, there are the torments caused to each unhappy soul by the other damned souls (for even in this life, there is nothing worse that dwelling with the wicked), and moreover in Hell there are also most horrible demons - imagine!
- The torments of conscience - "their worm dieth not". These are threefold. Firstly, being plunged into eternal Hell for a trifle, a vain thing, a mad sin whose pleasures were transitory and most valueless. Secondly, the knowledge common to all the damned of the ease of winning heaven - if only they had laboured for Heaven as much as they slaved to win Hell, how different would their eternal state have been: what lamentation and useless, hopeless regret is the lot of these wretches. Thirdly, being in Hell through their own fault, knowing for a certainty that they abused the means of grace and salvation to their eternal loss.Still further, it must be believed that the damned will suffer torments in their very bodies after the General Resurrection, for the body, being the occasion and instrument of many sins, must share in the endless punishment of the soul. The eyes shall be tormented evermore by the frightful darkness of Hell; the nose, by the appalling stench of Hell; the ears, by the hideous howlings and cursings of the devils and of the damned without end; the taste, by ceaseless thirst and hunger; the touch, by the fearful flames of hellfire.The pains of Hell last forever, as Our Lord many times solemnly testified: there is in Hell truly "unquenchable fire". The Church, obedient to the teaching of her Divine Master, has always taught this. St Cyprian states that our reason itself shews Hell to be endless, for sin demands an infinite punishment, being an offence against the Infinite God. Human justice is necessarily finite and limited, and cannot punish forever; but Divine Justice is infinite and boundless in rigour and execution of a most strict and just sentence. After death, the state of existence of the damned is fixed forever and cannot ever change: the wicked soul after death being fixed in its malice and sin, it demands an endless punishment - "Where the tree falls, there it shall lie." The time of grace is over in Hell - no grace, no time for amendment, no repentance, no escape! Only an endless Hell suffices to persuade us not to sin (and it hardly avails even for that, alas): for else we would sin and sin again and never be converted, if we could exit Hell if the time for punishment of our crimes ever ended, even after countless ages. If Hell were not eternal, the world would be filled with vices and crimes - as has come to pass, given the multitudes who no longer believe in Hell and the few who do.Doubt not the endlessness of Hell! Descend in mind into Hell now, that you not go there hereafter! (So says St Bernard and many others.) We should oft reflect on these truths."Work out your salvation in fear and trembling" - there are so many souls in Hell already, for far less than what you have done!This Retreat is a time of grace; let us ask ourselves with St Ignatius:
- What have I done for Christ?
- What am I doing for Christ?
- What shall I do for Christ?Beware grievous sin, and do penance. Better to suffer a little in this life, than suffer forever in eternity. Flee Hell, and advance by grace to Heaven.☩In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.