from the annals of history unto our current day
Meditations by Rev. John Wyse
from the book
'Devout Exercises: Compromising Meditations and Visits to the Sanctuaries of the Blessed Virgin for Every Day in the Month of May'
On the Pain of "Loss" in Hell
Our meditations upon the great evil of sin have occupied us chiefly in considering the malignity of its nature, at first by means of the example of those who have fallen into sin, and again by contemplating the effects it produces in the soul of man. Such however is our weakness and misery, that even these truths, soul-stirring as they are, may yet fail in exciting us to a true horror for sin, unless we furthermore arm ourselves with the "fear of the Lord," which, as the prophet tells us, is the "beginning of wisdom." (1) To become wise unto salvation, we must fear, not those who can only kill the body, but Him "Who, after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell." (2) The fear of hell, therefore, is presented to us, that by remembering the dreadful punishment which awaits in the next world the commission of mortal sin, we may begin to hate sin and everything that leads to it.
The first pain we should think of in hell, and no doubt the greatest, is the pain of "Loss." By this we mean the loss of Almighty God. So great is this loss, that it is as surely impossible for our minds to comprehend it, as it may be to know fully in this world the infinite goodness of God Himself. Still, we possess sufficient reason and understanding, to form to ourselves some faint idea of what it is to lose God in hell. Proceeding with this thought, let us consider that a soul condemned to hell, loses for ever the pleasure of possessing and enjoying God. The moment it passes the threshold of that infernal dungeon, Almighty God infuses into that soul such a light as to enable it to understand wholly the infinite beauty and perfection of His being, as far as any creature may, together with a desire to possess Him so great and drawing, that the mere deprivation of such pleasure for a moment becomes an infinite source of pain. In the same instant, the frightful truth flashes upon that unfortunate soul, that for ever and ever he is cast out from his God - never, never, to enjoy Him.
The torments of hell are inconceivable; but there is no torment like to this.
Further: - a soul condemned to hell, loses altogether the care and protection of God. So long as a man remains upon earth, Almighty God keeps him and shelters him. He puts good thoughts into his mind, He awakens holy desires in his heart, He almost drives him to do good, He comforts and strengthens him. The moment the soul enters hell, all this comes to an end: God, so to speak, lays him by - and regards him as a thing not worth caring for. Hence, during all the long night of eternity, that soul never receives one good thought into his mind: he never has a holy inspiration, nor a pious desire, nor as much as one single wish to do something good. His imagination becomes filled with the most terrible pictures; his understanding is black and clouded; he wills nothing, but that which is prompted by rage and passion, the whole powers of his soul, are nought but darkness and the most bitter despair.
Again: - a soul condemned to hell, when it loses God, loses together with Him, the love and solicitude of all His creatures. Whilst we remain in this world, the Blessed Virgin, the Angels, and Saints, and our Angel Guardians, love us; but, once a man has been rejected by God, he is abandoned likewise by the holy spirits of heaven, and that for ever and for ever. So also with all those, who have loved us on earth. If a mother has been saved, she will have no compassion for her children who are lost: if a child is saved, it will not heed the torments and punishment awarded to its own parents. And if such is the feeling of those who are saved towards those who are lost, what must it be in hell itself! Husband and wife, brother and sister, the nearest relations, the best friends, fathers, and sons, will all burn with such an infernal frenzy and hatred towards each other, as those alone can know who have been sent for ever to hell. Amongst the countless multitude of souls confined in that terrible prison, not a single one will there be, whose presence will not add pain and torment without end to every other lost soul. We should never forget, besides, that the master of hell is the devil, who hates a human soul with the hatred of eternity: and to him is given a power and strength unknown here on earth, with the mind of a fiend, artful and keen in devising every manner of torture and pain for his victims. What an awful thing for a poor soul, to fall into such hands!
One more thought on the pain of "Loss." Having lost the enjoyment of God, what does the condemned soul find in His Almighty presence? It finds a deadly and eternal enemy. - But how, it may be asked, can God, Who is the highest Good, and Who is in Himself the greatest happiness of man, how can He become the enemy of man? And yet He can, and does. Let us then mark well how this happens. 1. God keeps up in the lost soul the most lively knowledge of His infinite beauty, and the strongest desire to possess Him: but this, far from being in the least satisfied, is but the cause of endless rebuffs and disappointment, so that the more the poor unfortunate is irresistibly drawn towards God, the greater the desolation which fills his heart. 2. The face of God, so lovely and amiable to the good, so entrancing, that the saints could have died to behold it but once - that face, wears to a lost soul the continual aspect of terrific anger. Hence, it will be ever seeking to flee from the divine presence: but, the further it goes, the nearer do those awful eyes approach. Oh, who can withstand the anger and rage of the living God? Nobody is able to tell us how great that pain must be. 3. The most welcome boon to a lost soul, would be to kill and destroy it. To pacify the just anger of God having become plainly impossible, the thought of death would then be a relief: - but no: as long as God lives, so long will live the unhappy souls in hell, and ever and again will commence their dreadful torments.
Have we now learned something of the pains of hell? have we now seen how great an evil is one mortal sin, if it brings forth so bitter a fruit? and if so indeed, what do we imagine will be the fruit of the seed we have sown in our own lives? have not we perhaps committed that sin; and if we have, how many times, and how often might we not have been plunged into hell? Oh, dreadful are the judgments of God, and severe His justice: to be for ever cast out from His presence, to be for ever delivered up to the power of the evil spirit - such are the wages of sin. But we have always believed these truths. Yes, - and for that very reason we are doubly to blame. We have believed with the Catholic Church, that one mortal sin was enough to separate us for ever from Jesus, enough to make us lose God for ever, enough to send us to hell for ever and ever; and yet how many amongst us have gone on without fear, blindly and madly - committing sin after sin? Oh, is not this blindness without example? He that has fallen into mortal sin, let him then turn to God and say, "O Jesus! I have sinned, it is true, and thus I deserved to lose Thee: but take not Thy mercy from me. I repent, I repent from the bottom of my heart. I might have been even now in hell: but Thou hast spared me. O good Jesus, I will never sin again, should it cost me my life and more. I desire to behold Thee face to face in Thy kingdom, and there I am determined to come through all troubles and temptations. O Jesus, grant me grace never more to commit a mortal sin."
And now, let us turn to Mary the Virgin Mother of Jesus, and demand her powerful protection against this great evil - sin. As we think of the flames of hell, there is nothing in truth we should not do in this life to avoid so shocking a fate, no labour we should not undergo, no help wo should not enlist on our behalf. But who can help us better than Mary? who can fight better for us against the devil? who is more pleasing to God, and who will sooner be heard by Him? Let us be devout to Our Blessed Lady, and if we have been so before, let us now redouble our devotion, that by continued prayer on our part she may obtain for us the grace never more to sin, and so avert the dreadful calamity of hell and its torments.
VISIT TO A SANCTUARY OF THIS BLESSED VIRGIN
There is no place in the world more justly celebrated for its devotion to Our Blessed Lady, than Rome. The Eternal City possesses no less than forty-six different churches dedicated to the honour of Mary, the largest and most beautiful of which is the Church of St. Mary Major. In Rome there scarcely exists a street, or even a single house, that does not boast at least of one image or picture of Our Blessed Lady, and not unfrequently of many more. A light is always burning before them: and, on feast days, several. The devotion of the Roman people to Mary is very affecting, and quite striking to visitors. They seem never to have forsaken her, even in times of trouble and revolution; and she, in her turn, has without doubt protected them in a wonderful manner, averting sickness and plague, and restoring peace after civil disorders. In the Church of St. Mary Major's is preserved the crib, which held Our Blessed Lord at Bethlehem: and nothing can exceed the beauty and devotion of the scene when, before the midnight Mass at Christmas, the sacred crib is carried processionally in its case of gold and silver, and exposed to the veneration of the faithful. In the same church there is also the original likeness of Our Blessed Lady, painted by St. Luke, which always claims its flock of worshippers. Let us go there to-day, and following the example of the devout people of Rome, who drink daily the waters of the Faith from the Rock of Peter, let us say a prayer in spirit before the picture of Our Blessed Lady, in the Church of St. Mary Major, Rome.
PRAYER OF ST. ANDREW OP CANDIA
I salute thee, O full of grace! O Mary, if I place my confidence in thee, I shall be saved. If I am under thy protection, I have nothing to fear: I implore thee then, O holy Virgin, to grant me the help of thy prayers with God; prayers, which are dearer and more precious to us than all the treasures of the earth; prayers, which render God propitious to us in our sins, and obtain us a great abundance of graces, both for the pardon of our offences, and the practice of virtue, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
1. Psalm, cx
2. St. Luke, xii. 4,5
Return to the Sixth Meditation... Proceed to the Eighth Meditation...