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 Eternity in Hell
Our Blessed Saviour has asked us a question, which every one ought often to ask himself. "What," He says, "doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" (1) The answer is contained in the meditations, which we have made on the pains of hell. The soul that is damned, is cast out from God, and burns in hell for all eternity: - such is the profit gained by a man who loses his soul. But what is eternity? What does it mean, how does it affect a lost soul? This is what no one can fully tell us. And yet eternity is fast approaching. Let us see then, whether we cannot learn at least something concerning this great and awful mystery. O eternity, eternity! short word as it is, how much is contained within its dread embrace! What terrible realities, and what frightful forebodings, start up when there is question of eternity in hell!
First, then, we must remember that eternity has no end. Thousands of years may roll by, as many thousands as there are leaves upon the trees of the earth - as many as there are drops in all the oceans, rivers, and all the waters put together - as many as there are grains of sand by the sea shore: and after this, what will it be? Eternity! The half of eternity will not have been passed over, nor the hundredth part, nor yet the thousandth. Eternity begins again, and will last so much more: and still it will go on a thousand times as long, yea a ten thousand and a million times as long. And after all this shall have gone by, the hundredth part of eternity is not yet accomplished, nor the thousandth - there is as yet nothing done. The unfortunate souls that are damned to hell, have been burning and enduring unknown torments all this long while, and now they must commence their sufferings anew! O mystery of all mysteries! O, of all thoughts, most fearful! Eternity! who is able to comprehend it?
Let us descend, as we have done before, spiritually into hell, and contemplate the state of one of those lost souls suffering there. Let us take Judas. Suppose it to be the lot of Judas, to shed one tear in every thousand years: and now behold that fallen apostle - already he has been near two thousand years in hell, and as yet he has not shed his second tear. What an immense number of years must still roll on, before he can fill one small river with his tears! But who can count the time which must pass, before his tears can mount so high as the waters of the deluge, before they can fill up every town and city, and cover the very mountains, before they can occupy the entire space between the earth and the sun. The distance between the earth and the sun is ninety-five millions of miles. What a tremendous number of years would be necessary to accomplish such a task! And yet - O great mystery! incomprehensible but true, true as that God Himself is truth - and yet a time would come, when the tears of Judas might have overflowed the whole earth, when they might have reached up to the very heavens, and still more, when these very tears might have been dried up again one by one, and when Judas, notwithstanding, must begin to weep again and to fill up the weary space as if he had never shed one tear. And this he might do hundreds, thousands, and millions of times: and what then will it be? Eternity! The half of eternity has not passed, nor any part of it - nothing has passed. The fallen angels, Cain, Judas, all those who have been condemned to hell from the creation of the world, how long have they not burned in the dreadful flames! But now, this very instant, they must begin to burn afresh, as if they had but just entered there.
In eternity, there is no pause. Hence the miserable souls in hell, cannot so much as comfort themselves with the hope of a little ease or refreshment. The gates of hell are shut against all this. Hope is a beguilement to every evil. There is no toil or suffering, which the possession of hope does not make tolerable. The most afflicted persons in this life are ever alive with the expectation that their miseries will end or change: but that solace is denied to the damned, whose wretchedness will never come to an end, and whose torments will never alter. What a priceless happiness Would they not esteem it, if it were announced to them, that at some definite period, say thousands of years distant, a single drop of water - the drop that the rich man asked through Lazarus - should be dealt out to each of the souls in hell. Yet not this even shall they obtain: and after so many millions of years, those unhappy souls shall still be enduring the same tortures of body and mind, and as much devoid of alleviation as ever. O terrible eternity! for when a damned soul shall perceive that all relief and all hope of change is impossible, then it is that his heart will be rent asunder with rage and despair at the horrible fate before him.
To enforce this more strongly, let us imagine that we are looking at some particular place in hell, and that in that place are enclosed three of the damned. The first is swallowed up in a sea of sulphur, which suffocates him, and from which he is endeavouring vainly to extricate himself. The second is chained to a piece of rock, and is being tormented by two demons, one of which pours molten lead down his throat, whilst the other is sliming his body over with the same horrid material. The third is a prey to two monsters, in the shape of huge serpents: and whilst one, being wound about him, is gnawing his flesh and crunching his bones, the other creeps into his mouth, and tears his heart out. Let us suppose, if such could be, that Almighty God takes a little mercy on these three unfortunates, and orders, that every thousand years they should be freed for one hour from their agony, a drink of fresh water given them, and that then they should be sent back to their punishment for another thousand years. What a poor consolation! to suffer for a thousand years, and to rest but for one hour! Nevertheless, not even this exists in hell. To burn in those flames, and to obtain no repose, and this for ever! to be worried and torn by spiteful demons, to be lashed all round by ferocious serpents, to be covered all over with loathsome reptiles, to have no relief or ease, and for ever! to be always enduring the most horrible thirst and hunger, and yet unable to eat or drink, and this for ever! to be hated by God and by all His creatures for ever, to be cast out of heaven, and cursed into hell, for ever, for ever, and for ever - such, though feebly we conceive it, yet portrays to us in some way the awful truth of Eternity in hell.
Here then, we have hell and its terrors before us. We see that it is a place of ceaseless mourning, a place of intense suffering, a place of gloomy despair, the very place where perhaps we might have been long ago, had not the wonderful charity of God preserved us from so great a misfortune. Oh, let us exclaim a thousand times, "the Sacred Heart of Jesus has loved us, otherwise we might now be in hell: the endless mercy of Jesus has spared us, otherwise we might now be in hell: the Precious Blood of Jesus has procured grace and forgiveness for sin, otherwise at this very moment we might all be in hell." Let us never forget to repeat this, and to praise Jesus for all eternity. And what is there we ought not to do, to redeem the time we have lost? O that precious gift of Time! what would not a poor condemned soul give, but for one half-hour of those whole days and weeks, which men mis-spend in this life, to come back and do penance for their sins! what contrition would they not excite themselves to, in the brief space of that one half-hour, and where would the penance be, rude enough or fervent, with which they would not rend their hearts and crucify their bodies? what tears for the past: what thanks to God, for having given them that short time more: what a firm resolution for the future! "O Lord Jesus, we make that resolution now, namely, to die a hundred times rather than offend Thee again. O merciful Jesus, help us to keep our promise, and so to use the time still allowed us, that our Eternity, instead of being where our sins have so often deserved, may be passed with Thee in Thy kingdom."
And, in the midst of such thoughts, can we forget Our Blessed Lady? what converted sinner can forget her? for if our hearts are now touched, and we start back afright at the punishment prepared for mortal sin, at the bare idea of eternity in hell, is it not certain that much, if not all, of this we owe to Mary? Has she not prayed for us? Doubtless she has, at all times; but particularly during this most sweet month of hers. Mary is, indeed, the Gate of heaven, which she is ever opening to poor penitent sinners: also, because Almighty God has so disposed that all graces should pass through her hands. And exercising this privilege in regard to us, what graces and blessings has she not showered upon us whilst we have been pondering over our sins, these last few days, and praying for pardon, Mary has looked on and carried our prayer to the throne of her Divine Son; and in return we have had sorrowing hearts, and minds full of a wholesome fear of God. Oh, how good Our Lady has - been to us. "Mother of Our Redeemer," we should often cry, "continue evermore so to pray; and may thy holy intercession procure for us that, which our sins do not merit - the grace of final perseverance, and the happiness of meeting thee in heaven, who on earth hath been our protector."
Amongst the Sanctuaries of Our Lady in Italy, scarcely any is better known than that called "La Consolata" at Turin. It dates its origin mainly from the twelfth century, and was founded in consequence of some extraordinary prodigies and miracles wrought at the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. This Sanctuary has always been much frequented, and the sovereign and people of the country have been ever foremost in the love and honour displayed towards it. The princes of the house of Savoy have not been less zealous than other Catholic Sovereigns, in their devotions to Mary; and Duke Charles Emmanuel chose, in 1669, Our Lady della Consolata as the patroness of his states. For centuries, until lately, it was the custom of these princes to repair to the Sanctuary at certain times; and, naturally enough, so pious an example was well followed by their truly Catholic subjects. The people of Piedmont are quite as Catholic now as formerly: only, the sad persecution, which the Church endures there, is not unknown to us. Let us make up, by the fervour of a good spiritual visit to this once favoured Sanctuary, for all that is actually wanting there in love and respect for Mary. Let us especially pray to Our Lady della Consolata at Turin, to obtain from God that the veil which shrouds the hearts of the misguided men, who now rule that country, may be removed; and that so they may begin once more to fear God, and respect His Mother, as their fathers did of old.
PRAYER OF FATHER JAMES MERLO HORSTIUS
O Mary, Mother of God, Virgin of all virgins, undefiled, without example, for ever blessed, temple most pleasing to God, sanctuary of the Holy Ghost, gate of the kingdom of heaven, - incline, O Mother of Mercy, the ear of thy goodness to mine unworthy supplications, and of thy clemency be thou a kindly helper to me, a miserable sinner, in every hour of need. Amen.
1. St. Matthew, xvi, 26
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