21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 13:22-30
“I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!” And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Saturday, August 24th, the Church celebrated the feast of St. Bartholomew, the apostle who gave his life in service of the Gospel through the most gruesome torment of being flayed alive. In this Sunday’s Gospel, our Savior tells us that many will strive to attain salvation but will fall short and, not taking the narrow road which only a few find, will instead take the broad road to eternal damnation.
As we consider the horrible pains which St. Bartholomew endured, we recognize that these sufferings are nothing as compared to the torments which the damned will suffer in hell. The reason is threefold.
Ought the damned to be punished, and punished eternally?
[cf. Aquinas, Supplement q.99, a.1 (here)]
As reward is related to merit, such that one who dies in the state of grace merits the reward of eternal life; so is punishment related to guilt, such that to one who dies in mortal sin is due the punishment of hell.
Now, punishment is rightly measured in two ways: first according to its severity, and second according to its duration. Therefore, insofar as the guilt of one is more or less severe, he deserves more or less severe punishments.
However, the duration or length of time in which a man persevered in his sin does not correspond to the duration of his punishment, but only to the severity of punishment. Thus, although one who persevered for one year in a sin would deserve a more severe punishment than one who committed that same sin for only one month, it does not necessarily follow that the duration of punishment would be either greater or less.
Indeed, though a sin be committed in a single moment, the punishment for that sin need not last only a moment – hence, though a man rob a bank in an hour, the punishment inflicted for that crime may last many years (in prison).
Likewise, though a man commit sins for only a determined length of time on earth, the duration of the punishment for such sins (if they be mortal) is rightly eternal, without end. Just as one may be exiled from a city on account of some great crime (and this exile would last forever, except that it be ended by death), so too the punishment of God for mortal sin is an eternal exile from the heavenly city into the fires and pains of hell.
The damned deserve this everlasting punishment for sins which they committed in time on account of the fact that they sinned against an eternal good (namely, God himself and eternal life).
Another reason is that, when one commits a mortal sin, he willingly puts himself into a condition from which he can never arise without the special divine assistance. Therefore, in sinning mortally, man chooses an eternity of sin, and is rightly given an eternal punishment for that choice.
And a better reason still is that, when a man commits a mortal sin, he places his end or whole desire in a creature, in a created good – his whole life is then directed to that end. From this it follows that he directs his whole life to that sin and is willing to remain forever in that sin, thus St. Gregory (on Job 41:23), “The wicked only put an end to sinning because their life came to an end: they would indeed have wished to live forever, that they might continue in sin foreer for they desire rather to sin than to live.” Therefore, their punishment is eternal to match their desire for an eternity of sin.
And finally, because the one who dies in mortal sinned has offended God who is infinite. He thus deserves an infinitely severe punishment. However, man is finite and thus is incapable of suffering infinite pains. Therefore, as the punishment is not infinite in severity, it is rightly infinite in duration and without any end.
And yet, in this eternity of punishment, the guilt of the damned remains forever and is eternally deserving of yet more pain and suffering.
The first reason: St. Bartholomew was joyful
Considering the pains endured by St. Bartholomew – having his flesh cut and torn from his body while he was still alive – we must recognize that this most hideous torture is as nothing compared to the suffering which the damned will endure after the resurrection of the flesh. And this on three accounts.
First, while St. Bartholomew endured these terrible physical pains in his body, his soul was yet most joyous. Indeed, he rejoiced to suffer for the sake of the Name. Truly, the pain inflicted on his body produced only greater pleasure in his soul – at least in the higher faculties of his soul.
While he suffered greatly in the flesh, his heart and mind rejoiced in the grace of God. He could recall the love of his Savior – perhaps he thought of the first time he met Jesus, how he was called, of the sermons of our Lord, of the Last Supper (the first time he received the Holy Eucharist), of the Passion, and of the Resurrection and Ascension.
In the midst of his torments, St. Bartholomew had much reason to rejoice.
For the damned, however, the pains of the body are as nothing compared to the pain of loss which they suffer in their souls. They are not joyful. They are not happy. No, they are most sad and lost in inner and outer darkness. They are consumed with hatred: They hate God, they hate each other, they hate themselves (at least, they attempt to wish to not exist).
The bodily suffering they endure is just the very beginning of their pains – for the soul is capable of feeling pain to a much greater degree than is the body.
The second reason: The sensible pain was less
Secondly, as terrible as the pains of Bartholomew were, the physical pains which the damned suffer are much worse. Indeed, it is only fitting that God should punish the damned with worse pains than the martyrs endured – for the damned defied the Lord and despised the faith for which St. Bartholomew died.
The third reason: St. Bartholomew’s pain ended with his death
Thirdly, and worst of all, the pains of the damned are incomparably (and, in a sense, infinitely) worse than the pains endured by St. Bartholomew because their pains are eternal and will never come to an end.
As terrible as Bartholomew’s passion was, it came to an end with his death. But for those who die in mortal sin, the second death will never come to an end. After seven billion years, their suffering has not even begun.
This is what seems most terrifying about the torments: They are eternal. For ever. Without end. The damned will never find a moment of respite, no release. There is no exit.
Why St. Teresa did not want to go to hell
In chapter nine of the sixth mansions, St. Teresa speaks of a vision of the Savior in his sacred Humanity which may be granted to some chosen souls. She herself received this grace and comments upon the beauty and the splendor of the Lord.
In particular, she directs our attention to the eyes of the Good Jesus and, overcome by the splendor of his glory, exclaims:
“O Lord, how little do we Christians know Thee! What will that day be in which Thou comest as our Judge, since now, when Thou comest as a Friend to Thy spouse, the sight of Thee strikes us with such awe?
“O daughters! What will it be when He says in wrath: Go, accursed of my Father? Let this impression be the result of this favour granted by God to the soul and we shall reap no little benefit from it, since St. Jerome, saint as he was, ever kept the thought of the last judgment before his eyes. Thus we shall care nothing what sufferings we endure from the austerities of our Rule, for long as they may last, the time is but a moment compared to this eternity of pain.
“I sincerely assure you that, wicked as I am, I have never feared the torments of hell for they have seemed to me as nothing when I remembered that the lost would see the beautiful, meek and pitiful eyes of our Lord turned on them in wrath. I have thought all my life that this would be more than my heart could bear.”
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy!