Third Sunday after Epiphany
“I like to think Hell is empty; I hope it is.” So said recently a well-known religious leader. As one astute commentator observed, what it boils down to is that the one who said it hopes that Jesus is wrong. Indeed, Our Lord Jesus Christ is abundantly clear on the subject of hell’s existence and the fact, not the possibility, that many go there. Today’s Gospel gives us just one of the many instances in which He does precisely that, debunking the myth – for that’s what it is – of an empty hell.
After the request of the centurion to come and heal his servant, Our Lord is moved by his faith. He then proceeds to make a double prophecy. The first is that many people from east and west, that is to say, from all over the planet, and therefore who are not Jews, will be saved. The second is that many of the Jews will not be saved, but thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
As in other passages of Scripture in which the Lord speaks of the end results of the world, He speaks in the future tense, not the conditional tense, and He affirms two things, both of which we must accept on faith, under pain of having no faith at all. In chapter 25 of St Matthew, at the end of the parable of the Last Judgment, He concludes: And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting. (Mt 25:46). As far back as St Augustine, people with brains have pointed out that either both of these things are true, or neither is. Either there are those who go to Heaven and there are those who go to Hell, or no one goes to Hell and no one goes to Heaven either. If you empty Hell, you empty Heaven. So in all rigour of logic, the author of the quote at the beginning of this homily, if he is consistent with himself and with logic, also thinks: “I like to think Heaven is empty; I hope it is.”
In today’s Gospel, we have the same thing. Either there will be Jews and Gentiles in the Kingdom of Heaven and there will be Jews and Gentiles in Hell. But if there are no Jews and Gentiles in Hell, then there are none in Heaven either. What we cannot have, if we follow the rules of logic and actually listen to Our Lord and believe His word, is a Heaven with Jews and non-Jews and a Hell with nobody.
Let’s be clear: even the suggestion that Hell might be empty is already an egregious attack on the faith for three very simple reasons: the first is that Our Lord left no room for doubt. He repeats it over and over again. The second is that the entirety of the Church’s Tradition believed that He meant exactly what He said. Indeed, He left us no other option. The third: to suggest such a theological monstrosity is to lull souls to sleep in sin, giving them the false hope that it doesn’t matter how they live, for we all will end up Heaven. The most devastating heresy that was ever told in the Church, for it leaves them no way of going to Heaven and therefore condemns them to Hell .
Those therefore who obstinately persist in saying such things, if they are shepherds, are not only guilty of error and logic and heresy, scandalising the faithful, they are also committing the awful crime of betraying their flocks, persuading them to believe an obvious falsehood, that they perhaps have already fallen for in the past. But that makes no difference. If you allow yourself to be deceived and believe error, you might be very sincere in preaching that error, but you are responsible for what you preach.
What can we deduce from all this? Many things, but one alone will suffice for today. If it is true that God has not revealed to us exactly how many people are in hell or their names, we can be confident that to lead the faithful astray by saying there is probably no one there is one of the best ways of going there yourself. St Faustina Kowalska actually saw, when she was taken to Hell, many who had disbelieved in hell.
One final point, to say there is no hell and to say there is no one there, are equally false, equally heretical, because they make Our Lord Jesus Christ out to be a liar, a trickster, and that is one of the most grievous sins a man could commit. Like the Pharisees who, while seeing Our Lord’s miracles attributed them to a demon, this is getting awfully close to the sin against the Holy Spirit.
May the Lord have mercy on His Church.