I have put up this picture of hell because the traditional picture of fire, Lucifer's forked tail and three pronged pitch fork doesn't translate the reality of hell. Mostly because like heaven, hell is not a place. it is a mode of being. Traditionally, fire has been the suffering of choice in descriptions of hell. This serves us well on the level of our imagination concerning the worst possible way to suffer, but is does nothing to make the reality of hell more understandable to us. No matter what we say or think, hell remains a mystery of faith. This does not make it any the less real, it just says that we will not understand its existence fully as long as we exist here on earth. Last week, in public, during a teaching session on purgatory and limbo, I said that the suffering in hell was caused by the absolute absence of God. One of the listeners in the audience promptly called my attention to the fact that if what I had just said were true, then hell would not exist, since God is the one who IS existence and who therefore maintains what IS, in existence. I was caught off guard, was a little surprised at myself. So, when you have your grass cut, you have to hope that the sun will shine and help you turn it into hay. Right? So that's what I've been trying to all week, all the while living with my mistake. One day, out of the blue, came the answer. Believe me, it was out of the blue. Someone in a room was talking about Beelzebub and someone else said, "Yeah, even he believes in God. Why isn't he saved?" Hey, I didn't get distracted by the undertones and overtones of that challenge. I had just found some consolation to my sadness. Now I had two proofs that I had made a real error. Not only was God present in some way in hell itself because of His support of its existence, but He was present there in the minds of those who are condemned to suffer forever. Let me say that if you ever make an error, it is always a good feeling to discover that you were only half wrong.
Allow me therefore to present you with the catechetical statement of the Catholic Church about the nature of suffering in hell: " Hell's principal punishment consists of eternal separation from God in whom alone man can have the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs." [1057 Catechsim of the Catholic Church] So now I know that I was only 1/3 wrong. God is in hell in some way because He supports its existence, he is known by those being punished and their punishment is caused by the fact that the longing that have for him in their hearts will never be fulfilled. In any and all events, and all things being equal, wrong is wrong and I stand corrected. I am now about to catch up on the sleep that I lost before bringing myself to this sincere apology. It really feels good. Therefore, no crying at my funeral.