In response to a letter accusing the Pope of heresy on the Four Last Things ...

Dear Jennifer,

Thanks for the letter and enclosure you sent me a while back. In them you suggested a dialogue about the popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. You also implied that perhaps they were not popes at all.

Your main problem was that they emphasised universal salvation and thereby effectively denied all the Church’s doctrine about sin and the need for redemption from it.

You took issue with the idea that “hell is not God’s initiative”; that souls send themselves to Hell.
My response is not going to be sophisticated, I’m afraid. I think that if you want to find texts to hang the popes with, you can find them. I have plenty of texts that people have sent me that do this, if you ignore all the other evidence. Taken in context, and in a spirit of docility, they are not for me a source of impossible dilemmas.

The Second Vatican Council asks us to give an assent of our intellect and will the frequent and clearly expressed teaching of the Pope. You complain that texts you have seen are doctrinally unclear. Seek clarification from the official doctrinal pronouncements and teachings of these same popes, and especially the Catechism, which John Paul II intended as an authoritative text.
Another key point is that it is the CCC that is in the hands of all the faithful now. I had never before read the extracts you sent me, and I doubt many others have. But I have many times consulted and studied the CCC. It seems to me the most natural place for a Catholic to go to find out what the Church (or its errant leaders, if you prefer) is saying.
I do not find it unclear on these matters.

You say that John Paul II and Benedict XVI give us a religion where man is not free. I say the same of the religion you seem to propose in your letter. You suggest that man is not free because he is forced to go to Heaven whether he likes it or not.

Well, I typed in Hell in a search engine for the Catechism and this is what I got:

1035 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.

Does God take the intiative on damnation? No, says the Catechism:

1037 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance":
Father, accept this offeringfrom your whole family.Grant us your peace in this life,save us from final damnation,and count us among those you have chosen. (Roman Canon)

What is mortal sin, any way? What does the same book say?

Well, there are all the classic definitions of full knowledge and full consent etc, as well as gravity of matter, but then the Catechism also speaks of our freedom to chose everlasting hell, by our un-repented rejection of God through sin:

1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

You speak of the drama of sin and repentance, of privation of grace and the return to it, a drama, which according to you, the new popes would take away from us. Yet the Catechism is rich with talk of this, and almost always mentions hell or the death of the soul every time it mentions mortal sin. It also reminds us of the importance of our final moments:

1014 The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: "From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord"; to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us "at the hour of our death" in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death.
Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience. . . . Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren't fit to face death today, it's very unlikely you will be tomorrow. . . .
Praised are you, my Lord, for our sister bodily Death,from whom no living man can escape. Woe on those who will die in mortal sin! (My italics)Blessed are they who will be found in your most holy will,for the second death will not harm them.

Consider also that in canonising St Pio of Pietrelcina dn St Faustina, the Pope also refers us to their writings. Even a superficial knowledge of their writings confirms one in a holy fear of Hell and its torments. I don’t know why the SSPX has recently taken against Faustina, because she certainly clears up the confusion on Hell:

Sister Faustina's Vision of Hell
"I, Sister Faustina Kowalska, by the order of God, have visited the Abysses of Hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence...the devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God, What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: That most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. ...
Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God's mercy upon them. O My Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend you by the least sin." (Diary 741)

Padre Pio is said to have told a penitent who said “I don’t believe in Hell,” “You will when you get there.”

Eternal damnation is not an initiative of God. As the Catechism of Trent has it:

And yet most justly shall this very sentence be pronounced by our Lord and Saviour on those sinners who neglected all the works of true mercy, who gave neither food to the hungry, nor drink to the thirsty, who refused shelter to the stranger and clothing to the naked, and who would not visit the sick and the imprisoned.

Our Lord issues damnation as a response, not an initiative. The initiative to sin is man’s, not God’s. The result is the just punishment that awaits the unrepentant sinner.

Cardinal Journet speaks of our eternal destiny like an arrow being fired by God. He aims the arrow at eternal life (cf. La Marche de l’Humanité vers le Père.) The initiative is God’s calling us to eternal life. We can knock God’s arrow off-course if we wish.

The whole concern for true doctrine must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love. This is the sense of Cardinal journet's arrow, and - to my mind - the heart of the teaching of Benedict XVI too.

I am praying for you.

God bless,
Yours ever,


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