33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 17, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Have you ever been so depressed, so sad, so caught up in fear and anxiety
that you begged God just to make it stop?
Or have you ever been in so much physical pain, that you couldn’t bear it
—you hurt so much you begged for some painkiller
to just make it go away?
Have you ever been so desperate with pain, whether emotional or physical,
that you thought, even in passing, about suicide—just to end it all?
If so, you have had a small taste of what Hell is like.
We don’t like to talk about Hell.
But we need to talk about it, because it’s real,
and if we’re not careful, we may go there.
So, as we come to the end of the liturgical year,
the Church calls us to think about what happens at the end of our lives.
We talk about Heaven a lot, but this week we need to talk about Hell.
And so consider our first reading today that tells us,
“Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the… evildoers will be stubble,
…[it] will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch.”
I actually don’t think many Catholics, really believe in Hell anymore.
And if they do believe, they think it’s someplace other people might go.
And really only a few really bad, really horrible people,
like Judas Iscariot or Adolph Hitler.
The thing is, if you believe in Jesus, you have to believe in Hell.
Because He does.
In fact, He talks about it a lot in the Gospels.
Maybe this sounds familiar:
“…the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction,
and those who enter by it are many.
[But] the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life,
and those who find it are few.
“Many” go to Hell, because it’s so “easy,”
but only a “few” go to Heaven, because it’s so “hard.”
Think about that for a moment.
Then think about this: Jesus also says,
“If you would enter life, keep the commandments….
You shall not murder, …commit adultery, ….steal,
… bear false witness,…
[You shall] Honor your father and mother….”
You say, “but I don’t break the commandments…
I mean, I don’t murder anyone or commit adultery.”
How about this:
“You have heard that it was said …, ‘You shall not murder…
But I say to you that … whoever says, ‘You fool!’
will be liable to the Hell of fire.”
You never curse anyone, call them ugly names in anger or just for fun?
Or how about this:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
…better [to] lose one of your members
than your whole body be thrown into Hell.”
You never looked at someone with lust?
No, no, you always have a pure heart, like an innocent child!
There’s no stolen glances, no “inappropriate” internet browsing, going on here!
Or how about this:
“…I was hungry, and you gave me no food,
…thirsty and you gave me no drink,
…a stranger and you did not welcome me,
….naked and you did not clothe me,
…sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
…as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’”
“…‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire… “
Okay, now that I have your attention….
It’s easy to go to Hell because we tend to be easily attracted
to the sins that take us there.
We enjoy getting angry at the guy that cuts us off in traffic
—at least for the moment.
And, guys, you’re enjoy being attracted to women, in the good ways,
but also in the bad ways.
And those are just 2 sins.
How many really honor their parents the way they should?
How many steal or lie by cheating on their taxes.
And how many envy the rich, or ignore the poor?
Or stay comfortably at home, rather than visiting a sick friend.
It’s so easy for us—it is so appealing so often—to sin.
And on the other hand, it’s hard to love,
really love your neighbor as yourself,
much less love God with all your heart mind soul and strength.
Now, that being said…
The Church teaches some very important things about sin we should all know.
First all, not every sin will send us to Hell.
In St. John’s first letter, in speaking of sins, he explains:
“I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death.
[but] There is a sin that leads to death.”
Remember, in Scripture “life” equals “Heaven, and “death” equals “Hell.”
So there are sins that do not lead Hell,
but there are deadly sins that do lead to Hell.
We also call those deadly sins “mortal” sins
which comes from the Latin word, “mortus,” or “deadly.”
And the sins that are not deadly, we call “venial.”
But how do we know what’s a mortal sin and what’s venial?
The Church teaches that 3 things have to be present for there to be a mortal sin:
the thing you do has to be “grave matter…
which is …committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”
So, first, you have to do something really bad—what we call “grave matter.”
Let’s look at 2 clear examples, black and white.
You tell a lie under oath, that’s leads to a man being imprisoned.
That’s a big deal—or grave matter.
But let’s say you tell a lie about taking out the trash.
That’s wrong, it’s sin, but it’s not that big of a deal—so not grave matter.
Second, you have to know that it’s bad.
Now there are some things everyone should know is wrong.
So, for example, everyone should know that it’s wrong to lie under oath.
But some things might be harder to know.
For example, some Catholics were never taught that missing Sunday Mass
is grave matter, and that’s not something you could know on your own.
So if a Catholic like that misses Sunday Mass
because they genuinely don’t know it’s a sin,
the lack of knowledge means it’s not a mortal sin.
And third, you have to freely choose to do the bad thing—deliberate consent.
So, if someone blackmails you into lying under oath, you’re being forced,
so you’re not freely choosing, so there’s no mortal sin.
And the same applies if you’re insane, or asleep, and you commit some grave act
—you’re not using your free will then either.
So, if it’s a really bad thing, and you know it, and freely choose to do it,
it’s a mortal sin.
But if even one of those is missing, it may still be a sin, but not a mortal sin,
it does not lead to Hell.
Some say, this sounds like a lawyer’s set of rules.
No; it’s a set of reasonable, merciful and just principles
that describe how God judges us.
And through the mercy and justice won for us
by Jesus’s offering his own suffering on the Cross as payment for our sins, we can receive forgiveness, if we will only sincerely ask for it.
And to show us this in a dramatic way,
Christ gave us the Sacrament of Penance or Confession
as, rising from his death on the Cross,
He appeared to His Apostles on Easter, and:
“He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
whose sins you hold bound are held bound.”
But if we reject this, we continue down the road to Hell.
And we do not what to go to Hell.
Because the eternal pain of Hell is indescribably horrible.
But when Scripture, including Jesus Himself,
tries to describe it, it calls it things like:
“eternal fire,” “blazing like an oven,”
“the fiery lake of burning sulfur,”
“the blazing furnace,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,”
“where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,”
Again, image the worst moments in your life,
the deepest depression, the darkest grief, the most terrifying anxiety,
the most horrific physical or emotional pain…
Image those moments, going on and on and on with end,
or without any hope of even the slightest diminishing…
and then multiply that by a million… and that is Hell.
Now, some would say,
“how could a loving God allow this?”
But remember, one of the greatest gifts that flows from his love,
that makes us truly created in his image, like God,
is His gift of free will.
So it is His choice is to allow us the freedom to choose.
It is our choice to do those things, to enter the gate, to walk down the road
to Heaven or to Hell.
Our choice, not His.
And even then, he loves us to much that he gives us every grace
to help us to live the life that leads to Heaven.
And he even forgives us so quickly and totally when we repent as he has taught us.
And he gives us Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s magisterium
to guide us in virtue and know what is a sin, and what is a mortal sin.
If only we will listen, and accept and follow.
I don’t preach at length about Hell very often.
But my job as your pastor boils down to really 2 thngs,
which are actually 2 sides of the same coin:
one, to get you to Heaven,
and two, to save you from Hell.
We talk about Heaven a lot, as we should.
But sometimes we need to talk about Hell,
because is real, and horrible, and forever.
As we continue now with this holy Mass, as Christ descends to this altar,
and offers us His Crucified, Glorified and Heavenly Body,
the Bread of Heaven,
let us allow Him to join our lives to His,
filling us with the grace to follow Him to Heaven,
and flee from all things that lead us to Hell.