The Battle in which we are all engaged
Whether we know it or not, there is a battle going on in each of our lives between good and evil. Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) used to say that at the end of this battle, meaning the end of our earthy lives, we will hear one of two voices say to us, “You are mine”. And it will either be the voice of Our Lord or the voice of the Devil. We hope it will be the former! By His Passion, Death and Resurrection Our Lord has already won the battle and won all the graces we need to be saved. But we have to choose Christ and the salvation He offers by fighting against sin and temptation. This is an ongoing battle and one which we will be engaged in until the day we die.
It is important to say that although the topic of Hell and its punishments is very unpopular today and is often just dismissed, it is a revealed doctrine, and JESUS speaks of it many times in the New Testament. It is a sobering reality and He clearly wants us to know about it. JESUS loves us all very much and doesn’t want anyone to spend eternity separated from Him (which is what Hell is), but at the same time He respects our free will. Hence the many warnings He gives us including the one in today’s Gospel. If a priest were never to mention this topic it would be a serious omission however much the thought of it might repel us.
When Our Lord says today, “If your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out…” (Mark 9:43), He means that if anything impedes your entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, or if there’s some obstacle to you being united with God forever in eternal joy and happiness, you need to repent now, root out the sin and avoid the occasions and circumstances that can lead you to this sin. Our Lady of Fatima came with the same message in 1917. So this is something we need to take seriously. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire’.”The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” (CCC #1034-1035).
So knowing about the judgement every human being faces at death, and knowing we have to give an account to God of all our actions – of every thought, word, deed and omission should spur us on. Now is the time of repentance and amendment of life while we have the opportunity. If we have sought God’s mercy and forgiveness in this life and tried our best to be faithful to Him, our sins will be cast aside. So do make regular use of the Sacrament of Confession. But let us not allow presumption of salvation to lull us to sleep. As St Augustine (354-430) put it, “Do not despair – one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume – one of the thieves was damned.”
Let us each reflect then on our own lives to see if anything is leading us in the wrong direction and away from God, and if so to take steps to remedy the situation and live in the grace of Christ, particularly through confession of our sins, so that when we are called from this life we may hear the voice of JESUS say to us, “You are mine”.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC