According to the Catechism, “[t]o die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell.’” In just a few words, the Catechism succinctly explains that Hell is the place reserved for those (mortal) sinners who deliberately choose to die in their sin without wanting to repent and be received back into God’s merciful love. It is a total and utter rejection of God’s Love and Truth, and, as such, it a place of endless, fiery suffering which outdoes any sort of pain we could ever experience on this earth or in this life. There is no relief, no escape, no end. This is the “reward” for those who choose to sin and separate themselves from God.
In Hell, the punishments are two-fold. The first is called “pain of sense.” This pain is in proportion and relation to the unrepented sins that one may commit in this life. The fires of Hell come in here. The second punishment is called “pain of loss,” which can basically be summed up as an eternal separation from God. Since sin is just that—separation from God—Hell is the eternal state of that reality. With these two modes of punishment, the soul is forever tortured by the demons, who never relent, and in fact rejoice, in the misery of those souls they have convinced to turn away from God.
Thanks be to God, however, we do not have to go there! There are so many ways to avoid going to such a terrible place. As we always emphasize, regular prayer, confession, and penance go a long way to keeping us on the path to heaven. As the year winds down, then, I can only encourage you once again to make a good confession, especially if you haven’t been in a while. God is giving us time and opportunity here and now to avoid Hell. Will we take it?
Hell is real. Any one of us can go there. But not a single one of us has to. As our Lord says, “Repent and believe in the Gospel! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”