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 "Sense" in Hell
We must not cease to examine the punishment prepared by God for mortal sin, without considering the pain of "Sense" in hell. We reflected in our last meditation on the dreadful torments, which are produced in a condemned soul by the pain of "Loss" but, it is not to be forgotten, that these are accompanied by other most terrible sufferings, working on the mind through the senses of man.
That we may allow this truth to impress itself more forcibly upon the understanding, after the example of King Ezechias, let us picture to our imagination the scene which the prison of hell presents even now at this moment. "I have said, in the midst of my days, I will go to the gates of hell." (1) Let us suppose, that for some good reason or other, perhaps through the prayers of our guardian angel, Almighty God has allowed us, as He allowed St. Teresa, to visit hell. And let us fancy that we are now standing upon a lofty hill, in the middle of a dark night, and that by the power which God has given us, we are looking down through the darkness into the very centre of hell, which opens out its dread expanse in the valley beneath. There lies before us an immense lake of burning fire, foaming and lashing itself about with inconceivable fury. - So great is the extent of this lake, that no man is able to measure it: yet upon all sides are visible, black impenetrable rocks, which rise up around like the walls of a fortress, and which present so dismal an aspect, as to preclude all hope of escape from the dreadful fire within. This sea of fire is composed of some dark and loathsome substance: brimstone it may be, or whatever else our minds may imagine it. It is never quiet, but always restless, rolling in all directions, and kept in continual motion by the breath of the vengeance of Almighty God for ever passing over it. Into this frightful dungeon have been hurled all those, who from the beginning of the world have died in mortal sin.
In order to make ourselves more surely masters of the subject we are meditating upon, let us try to fix our attention upon the sufferings, not of the many, but of one only among those lost ones. Who can describe the tortures which he is now enduring, the awful agonies and pains, compared to which the infirmities of this life are in truth laughable? See how, in the very words of holy Scripture, he is "delivered to the torturers," (2) who with a fiendish malice are tearing him and tormenting him - the fire the while burning into his vitals. Fire, and nought but fire, circles itself round that unfortunate being. The head, the eyes, the mouth, the hair, are all on fire: the arms, the feet, the back, the breast, are covered all over with fire: his whole body is one mass of fire, like a piece of iron taken red hot from the furnace. Whatever he touches is fire. And yet more, the fire is inside as well as out. Worse still: the fire is not content with the body, but, by the permission of God, it penetrates even to his soul: it fastens on his understanding, it rends in pieces his memory and will - the entire powers of his soul are enveloped in this woeful fire. If we place but one member of our body, an arm or a foot, into the fire - what insufferable pain is the consequence I what must it not be then to burn, not in one limb, but in every part of the body and soul at the same time!
And what is the fire of hell? not such as we see in this world, beautiful and bright, conveying warmth and cheering us, and adapting its various capacities to our every want. The fire of hell is dark, horrible, and filthy, with no agreeable or goodly influence, created solely for torture and pain - the fire of eternal punishment. St. Thomas assures us that the smallest degree of pain produced by this fire is greater than all the pains of martyrdom, greater than all the sufferings which disease or misfortune may bring about in this life: and if a passing spasm in the body, such as the decay of a tooth, causes such dreadful agony - if people have been driven almost mad, through a little straw having got into one of their eyes - who, think we, can rightly imagine what it is to endure a whole crowd of disorders and pains inflicted together upon a poor lost one in hell!
O dreadful fire of hell, which burns not by chance or at intervals: but continuously, and without intermission, without relief, without hope of comfort or mercy! Here on earth, every sickness, every pain, has its moments of alleviation: but in hell, never, never. Could any person bear to lie on the softest bed for a whole night, in one position, without changing? What then must it be, to find one's self, after thousands of years, still rooted to the same spot, where the same terrible torments have never ceased, with unremitting energy, to tear and worry the unfortunate sufferer in hell! Oh, may we not say with the prophet Isaias, "which of you can dwell with devouring fire? which of you can dwell with everlasting burnings?" (3)
There must be added to our considerations on the fire of hell, that also of the other indescribable torments, which assault, through the senses, those who are damned. The most disgusting stenches surround them. Their eyes meet with nothing but objects so revolting, that the most loathsome sights in this world are beautiful in comparison. Their ears ever listening to the most frightful blasphemies and curses, to furious howls and wailing most lamentable, and perhaps to the biting reproaches of those whose damnation has been brought about by their sins, such as a parent, or mayhap their own children, and this for all eternity I And then, as if nothing should be wanting to complete the full meed of suffering, there will be ever this maddening thought racking the brain of a lost soul - "I might have been saved," will each one exclaim to himself, "and now I am lost, lost for ever." Oh, how will not all the valuable opportunities of the life he mis-spent rise up then in judgment against him, the fostering care of his parents, the good instructions had received, the fervour of his companions, the pious books he read, the example he had, the many sermons he listened to, the inspirations God gave him, the Masses he heard, the sacraments he frequented, all the graces bestowed upon him, and refused to others - but which he despised and neglected, till it was too late. How often had he not heard the joys of heaven set forth, and the punishment of hell explained and described to him, just as he now feels it; hut he heeded not, and now he Is lost, and lost for ever. Oh, so terrible a state can no man on earth conceive. But we may imagine in some way the writhing and agony, with which his despairing mind will be forced to remember the precious occasions allowed for saving his soul, and how he would not take them, but went on always in sin, cursing and swearing, breaking the Lord's Day, perhaps blaspheming the doctrines of the Catholic Church, impure, hateful, passionate and proud, committing every sin in the face of God. And how patiently did that good God bear with him, and how long, till it was past endurance. The sentence, therefore, is most just. But, what a horrid fate!
Here then, we have some slight conception of the torments, inflicted through the senses in hell: but after all, say what one may, it is but a representation, a picture, and that but a poor one. Who can depict in their true colours, or describe in adequate language, the direful pains and punishment of the damned? And for ourselves, what are we to think of them? As Catholics, we have always firmly believed these truths. But how have we lived? Probably, as though there existed no hell at all. We have committed perhaps sins without number, and have truly deserved hell a thousand times. How many of us might now be there, had not God, as we hope, dealt out to us a merciful pardon. We trust that with the sorrow we now have for our sins, God has forgiven us. We may sin again, however, and mortally too, and perchance die in our sins, and then be damned. So it is: for although the sin be forgiven, who can say that his disposition to sin is so dead, that he may not sin again? It is quite true then that we may commit mortal sin once more, and that one sin may be just one too many, and we may be lost for ever for it. What must we do, to prevent so dire a calamity to our souls as the eternal flames of hell? What can we do, in our sinfulness and nothingness, but turn our eyes towards heaven and beg for mercy. "O Jesus Christ," we should cry, "our God, our Redeemer, our all, do not abandon us. We have sinned, it is true, and deeply; but think on Thy sacred wounds, on Thy pains and sorrows suffered for our sake, on Thy Precious Blood which flowed for us. Remember, O Lord, the loving patience, the goodness with which Thou didst bear so long with us, the many times Thou didst forgive us, when Thou mightest with justice have cast us into hell. Must all this patient love and mercy go for nothing? Yet it must, if Thou dost not now take pity on us. Turn, then, O Jesus, in very compassion, Thy fatherly eyes towards us, spare Thy creatures once more, and bestow on us Thy grace, that we may never see in very deed those dreadful flames upon which we have this day meditated. And Mary, O sinless Virgin, full of grace, forget us not, though poor sinners we be. Faithfully believing all the Church sanctions with respect to thy wonderful patronage, we know that thou both canst, and art willing to help us. But still more, we feel that, as to enjoy thy presence and sit beside thee in heaven, is the next greatest reward to seeing and enjoying God Himself, so in proportion will thy loss be felt by those, who are doomed for ever to hell. O fatal loss, to lose the "Refuge of Sinners" in that awful place of punishment, never to see her who has helped us so often here on earth, and when all things around bode desolation and grief, never more to be able to look up for protection and mercy to her who was always the "Help of Christians." - O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Our Blessed Lord, that we may never experience so great a loss, do thou but look down upon us, and after this our exile ended, do thou show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb - Jesus."
VISIT TO A SANCTUARY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN
Let us transport ourselves to-day in spirit to the noble city of Madrid, the capital of that fine old Catholic country, Spain. And after admiring the churches, which the true Faith has there erected to Mary, let us stray for a moment outside the walls, to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Atocha. This is one of the oldest sanctuaries that exist of all those, which have been dedicated by the Christian religion to the honour of the Mother of God: and so ancient is the image therein venerated, that some have supposed it to be the gift of St. Peter himself, whilst all agree, that it is at least coeval with the celebrated Council of Ephesus, held in the fifth century, against those who had impiously denied that Mary was the Mother of God.
The veneration for Our Lady of Atocha, may therefore well be said to date from the very cradle of Christianity. The imago has always been held in the highest reverence by the Spanish people; and the Spanish sovereigns of every age have evinced their love and respect, by a wonderful accumulation of gifts and presents. The kings of Castille were especially devout to this holy sanctuary: and it is an historical fact, that no monarch of Spain has ever dared to undertake a voyage or any enterprise of importance, without first praying at Our Lady's sanctuary of Atocha: and on their return, they never failed to go and thank her. In like manner, when the State has been in danger, through any untoward event: as of late years, when the Queen of Spain went solemnly to Atocha to give thanks, and to make her offerings, on the occasion of her life having been attempted by an assassin. Let us in an humble way imitate such glorious devotion, and join the noble Spanish people in venerating Our Blessed Lady, at her sanctuary of Atocha near Madrid.
PRAYER OF ST. ILDEPHONSUS, ARCHBISHOP OF TOLEDO
I come to thee, O Mother of God, and implore thee to obtain for me the pardon of my sins, and that I may be cleansed from those of my whole life. I beseech thee to procure for me the grace to unite myself in affection with thy Son, and with thyself; with thy Son as my God, and with thee as the Mother of my God. Amen.
1. Isaias, xxxviii, 10
2. St. Matthew, xviii, 34
3. Isaias, xxxiii, 14
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