Tag Archives: christian doctrine

The definitive option for or against God — Hell

Learn a lesson from the Demons: A Follow up on the 1999 catechesis series on the reality of heaven, hell, and purgatory by Pope John Paul II. This installment: The Reality of Hell And The Danger of Damnation… [General Audience, Wednesday, 28 July 1999].

 “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’” (CCC n. 1033).

1. God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with him. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine explains when it speaks of eternal damnation or hell. It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. The very dimension of unhappiness which this obscure condition brings can in a certain way be sensed in the light of some of the terrible experiences we have suffered which, as is commonly said, make life “hell”.

In a theological sense however, hell is something else: it is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy, even at the last moment of their life.

Hell is a state of eternal damnation

2. To describe this reality Sacred Scripture uses a symbolical language which will gradually be explained. In the Old Testament the condition of the dead had not yet been fully disclosed by Revelation. Moreover it was thought that the dead were amassed in Sheol, a land of darkness (cf. Ez. 28:8; 31:14; Jb. 10:21f.; 38:17; Ps 30:10; 88:7, 13), a pit from which one cannot reascend (cf. Jb. 7:9), a place in which it is impossible to praise God (cf. Is 38:18; Ps 6:6).

The New Testament sheds new light on the condition of the dead, proclaiming above all that Christ by his Resurrection conquered death and extended his liberating power to the kingdom of the dead.

Redemption nevertheless remains an offer of salvation which it is up to people to accept freely. This is why they will all be judged “by what they [have done]” (Rv 20:13). By using images, the New Testament presents the place destined for evildoers as a fiery furnace, where people will “weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt 13:42; cf. 25:30, 41), or like Gehenna with its “unquenchable fire” (Mk 9:43). All this is narrated in the parable of the rich man, which explains that hell is a place of eternal suffering, with no possibility of return, nor of the alleviation of pain (cf. Lk. 16:19-3 1).

The Book of Revelation also figuratively portrays in a “pool of fire” those who exclude themselves from the book of life, thus meeting with a “second death” (Rv. 20:13f.). Whoever continues to be closed to the Gospel is therefore preparing for ‘eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thes 1:9).

3. The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather* than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell'” (n. 1033).

“Eternal damnation”, therefore, is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to his love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state.

We are saved from going to hell by Jesus who conquered Satan

4. Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying “yes” or “no”, which marks the human creature’s freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God’s love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council, DS 800-801). What happened to them is a warning to us: it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus who lived his life with a “yes” to God.

Eternal damnation remains a real possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. The thought of hell — and even less the improper use of biblical images — must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan, giving us the, Spirit of God who makes us cry “Abba, Father!” (Rm. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).

This prospect, rich in hope, prevails in Christian proclamation. It is effectively reflected in the liturgical tradition of the Church, as the words of the Roman Canon attest: “Father, accept this offering from your whole family … save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen”.

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The New Evangelization — I Don’t Need Your Catechism!

…the necessity of teaching doctrine to children.

EDITOR: The much-needed New Evangelization of America as proposed by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI will take courage and patience to implement. Mr. De La Torre and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are the example.

From the Catholic Exchange today:

Posted By Marlon De La Torre On July 22, 2010

I Don’t Need your Catechism!

A couple of years ago, a Pastor asked me to provide a catechetical training day for teachers in his Catholic school and CCD program. One of my first questions to him was what issues had developed requiring my assistance. The Pastor voiced to me his concern over poor doctrinal formation he suspected the children were receiving. I asked him how he finally came to this point. He said; “I knew things were off when all I saw was glue, crayons, construction paper and scissors during an eighth grade religion class.” Right there and then I realized what I had to work with.

The inevitable day arrives. As the catechists walked into the parish center, we began with prayer and introductions.  I typically begin with a short story reflecting on the catechetical formation for the day. This process helps to gauge the audience and determine when to run when they have had enough. Kidding aside, the first segment involved preparing them for the day, the aim of the instruction, purpose, goals, desires and application for the classroom. A good strategy when teaching teachers is not to patronize them. They are teachers and know everything. I know I am one of them. In reality, the heart of instruction here lies with an authentic witness of the living Gospel of Jesus Christ in a gradual loving way.

Knowing that many teachers resort to arts and crafts because of a genuine fear and ignorance in teaching the Catholic faith to students I began the training by asking the catechists for the one thing they would like to know about the faith they still had questions on. After a subtle pause (pretty typical) hands were drawn. The questions asked centered on sin, true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, confession, purgatory, mass participation, is the Church biblical, Mary, how to read the bible, other religions etc. My next question to them was why they wanted to know about these particular doctrines. Their response was nothing short of amazing.  They did not know how these particular teachings came to be! Keep in mind, these catechists are supposedly teaching children the Catholic faith. Right there and then I realized we needed to start at the very beginning e.g. Do you believe in God the Father the almighty?

If the teacher does not have a sound understanding of how their life reflects the Gospel let alone living within the Story of salvation, then how are they going to impart the story onto their students?  Hence, the focal point of the problem we face in the catechetical field. Our catechists lack basic doctrinal formation. I charted a different course of action realizing that this group needed a systematic engaging approach to learn and apply Catholic doctrine in the classroom.

The result was a mini-RCIA course where I went through Salvation History and presented to them their role in light of Jesus Christ the Divine Teacher (Heb 11:6). In other words, they needed to see how the Church came to be, their role within the Church and the graces given to us by Christ at Baptism to continue His work in the Church He founded. A basic outline of the curriculum for this training session looked something like this:

  1. Introduction to God’s plan for salvation in our lives.
  2. Creation and God’s love for us.
  3. Original Sin and the fall from grace because of the first sin.
  4. Proto-evangelium (First Gospel)
  5. God’s covenants with his people i.e. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses
  6. The role of our Blessed Mother as the “New Eve.”
  7. Summary on Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture
  8. Summary on Apologetics
  9. Summary of the Seven Sacraments
  10. Summary of the Ten Commandments
  11. Summary of Mortal Sin and Venial Sin
  12. The Incarnation
  13. Liturgy and the Mass
  14. The Church
  15. Lives of the Saints
  16. The Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Apostles Creed.

It was important the catechists saw the biblical basis for these doctrinal pillars. In addition, how the Catechism references the teachings of the Church through the footnotes. A short primer on how to use the Catechism of the Catholic Church and view the references, cross-references, and articles numbers to find a particular teaching gave the catechists a better grasp of the information.

This experience is common. A generation of uncatechized faithful over the past thirty-years has drifted throughout their Catholic life not knowing the graces they received through their Baptism. The recitation of our Baptismal promises appears as an afterthought to many. When asked within the Rite of Baptism, Do you reject, sin, and all his empty works, and all his empty promises . . . it begs to ask the question to these teachers whether they truly understand what sin is in order to reject it.

When I posed this very question to one of the teachers in the training session, the response was a common one. Why do we need to concentrate on sin, it is more important to focus on the works of Jesus? Do you see where this particular catechist has quietly misaligned the purpose of Christ and His Church. Whether its ignorance, issues with the doctrine of sin, or a personal experience initiating this response, the opportunity to discuss the nature of sin was difficult. Now, we must be careful when discussing the doctrine of sin from this pastoral perspective; we do not know what the person has gone through personally where a certain sinful act may have caused negative, spiritual harm or drawn out a bad experience. It is vital that a catechist be carefully aware of the audience they are instructing. However, we cannot shy away from addressing the dangers of sin itself.

Another teacher, noting her frustration in sitting through a dreadful class in her opinion said these magic words:You can keep your catechism, how do you expect me to apply it in the classroom?” Moreover, there you go, this brave soul echoed the sentiments of others who had resisted on using the catechism in the classroom. This “shot heard around the classroom,” reflected the genuine mentality of many teachers viewing the catechism as a useless tool because it probably did not provide cutouts for the kids to “draw” and “cut-out.” This comment troubled me because of an apparent ignorance towards the application or appreciation of the Catechism. There is fruit to the argument that it is not the teachers fault. From one perspective, this may be true; nonetheless, it does not negate the fact of what we are dealing with now. St. Augustine-the Father of Catechetics describes catechizing the ignorant in this way:

“The best method for instructing ignorant men in Christian doctrine, one that will bear much fruit is to ask questions in a friendly fashion after the explanation; from this questioning one can learn whether each one understood what he heard or whether the explanation needs repeating. In order that the learner grasp the matter, we must ascertain by questioning whether the one being catechized has understood, and in accordance with his response, we must either explain more clearly and fully or not dwell further on what is known to them etc. But if a man is very slow, he must be mercifully helped and the most necessary doctrines especially should be briefly imparted to him.”

As the Catechist trainer in this situation, you cannot scold nor demean these individuals. In many ways, ignorance is rooted in their responses due to a lack of formation. Thus, a gentle but firm disposition serves us well in this type of situation because we do not want to lose them.  Our hope rests in a genuine conversion for these teachers (1 Pt 3:15). The “you can keep your catechism” statement by the teacher mentioned earlier should not detract anyone from teaching the faith. My call for this person was to help her find God. An opportunity arose to present the Gospel, reveal the importance of Christ in our lives and provide her with an open opportunity to seek Him.

It is very important that the catechist reveal the relevance of doctrine in the lives of the faithful. Our faith is naturally explicit (1 Thess 2:13) because God has made Himself visible through His Church. Man naturally seeks what is visible and revealed. For instance, when we are able to observe and recognize a moral act the exercise of the doctrinal action takes effect on our senses. We are able to witness doctrine exercised.  The liturgy – a public work, provides a visible reality of the existence of faith and the exercise of doctrine.

By the end of the day, the teachers who survived my training session realized in a small way the necessity of teaching doctrine to children. The success of the day came not by how much doctrine I could expose them to, it was helping them realize how little they knew about the faith and what to do about. Not only for their souls but also for the souls of the children they teach.

The religion instructor must be prepared to proclaim the truth of the Catholic Church. His/her responsibility is to aid the development of the person they are instructing by explaining Church teaching carefully and appropriately through a careful transmission rooted in Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The door to the nourishing a soul in Catholic doctrine must be convincing so the person applies these doctrines to everyday life. The need for the Catechism of the Catholic Church is more relevant than ever if we genuinely desire to impart the Catholic faith. Our duty and responsibility is to answer the questions our students have. Clarity of truth is primary in our instruction.


Marlon De La Torre is the Associate Director of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.