To choose evil is to close ourselves to God, & this has always been recognised by the theologians as the worst pain of hell. Never to know the God by whom & for whom we have been made, is to be alienated not only from him, but from our own nature, our own kind. Unfortunately, our fallen nature is such that we can contemplate such alienation quite calmly, a thick skin of indifference masks from us our incompleteness without God. The thought of losing God should make our flesh crawl, our souls turn sour. It mostly doesn’t, however, & that is why the tradition has piled on the agony, why the flames & flesh-hooks have been imagined, to get across to us just how devastating, agonising, such a loss would be. For above everything, we believe in hell because we can imagine ourselves choosing it. We cannot know the secrets of other people's souls, but we know enough of our own to recognise something within us which shies away from God, something which wants to close our hearts to others. There is no inevitability about our response to God or to other people: hate & fear, as well as love & trust, are close to hand. Hell, in that sense, is a perpetual calling within us, from which only the loving mercy of God holds us back. We can trust in that mercy, but to trust in God’s mercy is not the same as taking it for granted. We may hope for salvation for all humankind, even for ourselves: hell remains a terrible possibility, the dark side of our freedom. But the last word in all this belongs not with our freedom, but with God’s grace. The most passionate modern theologian of hell was the late Hans Urs Von Balthasar, who returned to the possibility of damnation again & again in his writings. For Von Balthasar, Christ himself has descended on Good Friday into the heart of human desolation; Christ himself experienced damnation as he entered the uttermost limits of humanity’s alienation from God. Rejecting absolutely the easy optimism which denied the possibility of such loss for every human being, Von Balthasar nevertheless insisted that the essence of Christian hope was the prayer that hell might be utterly empty, that the mercy of God was reached down even to those who willed damnation for themselves, plucking them despite themselves into the heart of love. Here he wrote, ‘lies hope for the person who, refusing all love, damns himself. Will not the man who wishes to be totally alone, find beside him in Sheol Someone lonelier still, the Son forsaken by the Father, who will prevent him from experiencing his self-chosen hell to the end?’ (Faith of our Fathers by Eamon Duffy) (Thursday is the Feast of All Souls when we pray specially for those of our deceased brothers & sisters still on their journey from purgatory to Heaven)
This coming week we have two important Feasts in the life of the Church, All Saints & All Souls, when we pray specially for our deceased relatives, friends & benefactors who have gone before us on their journey of faith. Please make the effort to join us for Mass on both days. The Monastic Community moves into Bolton House this weekend, where we will be in residence for the next 2 years whilst the Monastery is refurbished. Understandably it is an unsettling & anxious time for the Community & for those who work closely alongside us. Please keep us in your prayers, together with our guests who will no longer be able to join us for morning or evening Office in Bolton House. Our daily Conventual Mass has been rescheduled for 12.45pm on weekdays, with Prayer during the Day at 2.15pm to enable some daily sharings with our valued apostolate in Hospitality. With my love & prayers. Fr Bede.