Is Hell Empty, or is it Crowded?

Deadly sinsRecently, I was asked to write an editorial style article on the topic of sin.  In essence, the assignment was to share what is sin, from my perspective here at the back of the carpool line.

I began by pounding out paragraphs containing several fairly impressive adjectives essentially describing sin as whatever separates us from God.  I then consulted the Catechism as it relates to “venial” vs “mortal” sin.  Nothing in the writing moved my heart whatever.  I simply wasn’t “feeling it”.  Hmm.

My own struggle with this topic seems to be that I am interiorly restless as it relates to this fundamental question of sin—especially as it relates to eternity.  Do I believe we are all sinners?  YES.  Do I believe Jesus died to save us from our sin?  YES.  Do I believe we are FREE to choose God or choose to curse His holy name?  YES.

Assuming you are still with me, let’s engage in some speculative theology for a moment.  Is hell empty, or is it crowded?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “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 1035).

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Mt 7:13-14)

All of this is rather heavy stuff for a gal such as yours truly whose faith is strong but simple.  As a mom, I love my boys.  They make many mistakes, and still I stubbornly love them.  That inherent, God-given, and sometimes irrational, foolish love seems to me the example Christ provides in my life to help me grasp how much He must love me.   The words of Christ on the cross to the good thief are also a clear sign which moves my spirit to hopefulness as it relates to the great love of God and our hope for eternal life.

My small minded, baseball-mom thinking boils down to this.  “If I love these sweaty, stinky boys so much, and NO MATTER WHAT and can’t imagine not wanting them near me….how much MORE must OUR AWESOME GOD desire the same of all His children?”

Further, the Catholic Church has made numerous proclamations about people in heaven—the saints!  It has never made a similar proclamation of even one person being condemned to hell, because we Catholics commend all people to the mercy of God.

So, even though some of my Catholic “heroes”, who were clearly brilliant and divinely inspired people (examples such as Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Augustine) believed and wrote extensively about how few  the “elect”, and even though Jesus spoke about that narrow gate, I choose to put my trust in the love of God.

At the end of the day, here’s what I learned from my assignment on “sin”.  It makes a ton of sense that my tolerance of myself and my own sinfulness is very much a pendulum which runs from nearly presumptuous patience to fairly reproachful scrupulosity.

After all, part of me wonders if only the “lucky” who live a good life and who quit breathing shortly after the perfect confession will see God forever.  HOWEVER, the larger part of me is much more Universalist.  Perhaps that’s naïve, overly hopeful, or presumptive.  Perhaps it’s just my way—BUT– as the simple and usually sunny mayor of “Shellyville”, I choose hope.  I hope that I will live in eternal happiness with God.  I hope He will fill me with enough grace that I will love Him enough to repent for my sins large and small.  I hope I will do so more out of love than fear.

Bishop Fulton Sheen said this, “Conscience tells us when we do wrong so we feel on the inside as if we have broken a bone.  The bone hurts because it is not where it ought to be.”

With all the authority I have as mayor of (very) sparsely populated Shellyville, I move that we all pray for properly formed consciences, through which the Holy Spirit will encourage us after each mistake to turn towards our God and walk in HIS light once more, like little children, submitting to the will of our loving Father, simply because He is our Father and He knows best.

I choose hope.

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