Over the last fifty years, the Catholic faithful have become increasingly more presumptuous, believing that if one is judged to be a “good person” by his fellow human beings, his soul would immediately go to heaven. The notion that he might be condemned to Hell or sent to Purgatory escapes them.
Their reasoning would be something like the following: “How could a good and merciful God send His beloved creatures to a place like Hell? This hardly makes sense. No! The deceased is ‘in a better place now.’ Hell, if it exists at all, is reserved for people like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao-tse-tung. Maybe a few other convicted felons who have committed heinous crimes against humanity would join them.” The ordinary person has come to believe that upon his death, he would go straight to Heaven. He might acknowledge that many people are sinners and that they might even be in a state of mortal sin when they die. However, the significance of this is rationalized away by contending that: “Nobody is perfect. To err is human. God understands this and will reward us because we are basically good, mean well, and are sincere.”
In the not so distant past, the over-rating of man’s “goodness” and sins of presumption were far less common than they are today. This occurred because sermons focusing on mankind’s errant human nature, avoiding the occasions of sin, and following the narrow not the wide road to escape Hell were passionately and frequently preached from the altar. During these times, the Church clearly understood that man’s sensual appetites were so powerful that once aroused, they could dull the intellect, weaken the will, and lead us into mortal sin. In order to curb our concupiscence, it would take an even more powerful incentive to keep our sensual appetites in check so that mortal sin could be avoided. This is where the reality of possibly going to Hell with all of its horrors entered into the picture.
The thought of actually being condemned to Hell naturally aroused great fear within us, especially in light of the fact that the fire is unquenchable, extremely painful, and that this would be a permanent state, lasting for all eternity. To make matters even more horrific, we would be given no second chance. There would be no possibility of escaping this fate if we died in a state of mortal sin. These thoughts alone were so frightening that they often over-rode and even suppressed our natural tendencies to give in to forbidden sensual pleasures. And it was this fear of Hell that caused us to think of the consequences of our actions and to curb our impulses that could lead to our damnation. Saving our soul was not an easy matter. Yes, God was all-merciful, but He was also all-just. We believed that He would hold us accountable for fulfilling every iota of His law (Matthew 5:17-20). He was viewed with awe and reverence and we had a healthy fear of His great power.
Those priests and members of the Church hierarchy who preached this truth were behaving charitably toward us in those days gone by. Life in this world was given to us for only a short while. Saving our soul was clearly identified as the most important task facing us during our time here. While those clergy preached about the Beatific Vision, the love of God, and doing good works, they understood that our nature, being in a flawed state, would more readily grasp and understand the notions of Hell, fire, and painful punishment. These were well within the ordinary sphere of human experience. Who among us has not experienced being burned by a hot stove or a lighted match? Yes, fire and the pain associated with it are realities to which we can relate. In fact, Jesus Christ preached on the importance of following His laws and those of His Church to avoid going to Hell. He stressed that the failure to comply with His teachings would lead to eternal damnation and Hell was the place in which this never ending sentence would be carried out. Even our Blessed Mother, who is the most gentle of God’s creatures, emphasized the importance of complying with God’s laws in order to avoid chastisements and being sent to Hell. It was She who allowed the children of Fatima to see a vision of Hell in the hope that this would serve as a warning to those who were offending God.
Christ said, “ by their fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:16).” Ignoring or downplaying the existence of the Devil and the presence of Hell, has produced some sour fruits indeed. If you doubt this, answer the following question: Does the current Catholic Church have more, less, or the same moral authority as it did fifty years ago? The answer to this question is obvious. Not only has the Church lost much of its moral authority, but seriously sinful behavior, which is most offensive to God, has significantly increased over the past half-century. Consider the following: The current sexual abuse scandal plaguing the Church is the worst in its two thousand year history; abortion has become the law of the land; “gay marriage” and civil unions have become a reality in a number of states right here in the USA; sacrilegious behavior mocking the Church, its Saints, and the Holy Family appears repeatedly in movies, television programs, and in the printed media; our youth have become foul mouthed, disrespectful, slovenly, and promiscuous; governments have increasingly become more secular, ignoring Christ the King and His commandments; divorce has increased to the point that over half of the marriages have failed; Mass attendance has significantly decreased; priestly vocations are at an all time low; and Catholics ignore Church dogmas, picking and choosing what they wish to believe. These are just a few of the bitter fruits which have been harvested over the past half century.
While the Church of bygone days was not perfect (not in its human element, that is), none of the above would have been allowed to occur without a major battle being waged by the popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, and laity. And as history shows, the Church Militant was often successful in thwarting many of the evils that our secular enemies attempted to thrust upon us and the society at large of which we are members. This was a time when the Church preached about Hell and stated emphatically that those who violated the laws of God would be eternally damned there. The Church Militant spoke with conviction and authority on these matters. As a result, the leaders of state, business tycoons, and the laity were more likely to fear God and the admonitions and sanctions that the Church could impose upon them. This realistic fear of Hell and the damnation of one’s soul kept what could be mortally sinful in check. Moreover, it preserved the common good, which would have been compromised without the Church Militant’s intervention.
While many would complain about returning to the Hellfire and brimstone sermons of the past, this is exactly what modern man needs to curb the sinful behavior currently corrupting Catholics and the society in which we live. Interestingly, the fans who attend professional baseball games, are asked to sing God Bless America at the midpoint of the seventh inning. This only emphasizes how presumptuous we have become. We sing “God Bless America,” expecting to be blessed by the Almighty while we abort the unborn, allow homosexuals to “marry,” mock the Church created by Jesus Christ, and violate His laws. We arrogantly assume that we are a good people, ignoring our sinful behavior and believing that our insults and transgressions will be over-looked by a benevolent God when we stand before Him on the final judgment. However, the teachings of the true Catholic Church, the Scriptures, and Christ’s own words contradict this erroneous notion, which is a common misperception today. The building of an earthly utopia and achieving social justice is not the purpose of life on this planet. Saving our soul is what Christ intended. As He stated, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his soul (Matthew 16:26).”
Those who have the courage to preach about the Devil and Hell and its horrors are not our enemies. They are our benefactors who care about our souls and their salvation for eternity. Rather, it is those “feel good” clergy who inflate our egos with flattery, down play our flawed human nature, and lead us to believe that few, if any of us, go to Hell who are doing the Devil’s bidding. They are the “the wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15) whom Christ said we should fear. Compare the fruits of the past and present Catholic Church. The answer to whom we should listen and the teachings that we should follow are obvious.