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"And I beheld, and heard the voice of one eagle flying through the midst of heaven,
saying with a loud voice: Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth....
[Apocalypse (Revelation) 8:13]

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Stories of Hell- How the holy fear of hell has made countless Saints

Stories of Hell- How the holy fear of hell has made countless Saints 
St Padre Pio (1887-1968) was once asked what he thought of people who did not believe in hell. He wisely replied: “They will very well believe in hell when they get there.”
God wills that we all be united with Him in heaven for all eternity. Yet, in the Gospels, Jesus often spoke of hell and eternal punishment, speaking of a place of “…external darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 8:11-12) and of eternal punishment of those uncompassionate and uncharitable persons placed on His left at the Judgement, stating to them: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt 25:41) or again “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.” (Matt 18:7-9)---and this is to name just a few of the many occasions Jesus spoke of hell.

Additionally, the teaching of hell is an infallible Dogma of the Catholic church. It is one of the “four last things” —heaven, hell, death and punishment-- which the Church presents to each of us to contemplate upon. In short, both Jesus and His Church have always encouraged a salutary fear of hell. And those who have studied the lives of the Saints and other devout persons have found that the majority of them had a very healthy and beneficial fear of hell that inspired and encouraged them to fight the evil temptations that came their way. Next, we will present a few stories to illustrate this important point, that we too may imitate and emulate them.

Fatima Prayer: "O My Jesus, ...Save Us from the Fire of Hell"

Stories of hell and its punishments –The Blessed Virgin Mary saves a soul from going to hell
We will begin with the testimony of Blessed Richard of St Ann- A Franciscan priest who was martyred by being burned at the stake in Nagasaki, Japan in 1622. This celebrated apparition of a damned soul which we are about to relate was attested by Blessed Richard as the primary reason which prompted him to enter the Franciscans. The testimony is related in three works: Adrian Lyroeus documented it in his “Trisagium Marianum, Book III"; Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who also cites the same facts in his “Glories of Mary”, and lastly the same occurrence is related in the authentic documents known as “The Annals of Franciscan Missions, for the years 1866-67.”

While Blessed Richard was living in Brussels in 1604 there were two young students who instead of applying themselves to study, thought only of how to live in pleasure and sin. One night, among others, when they had gone to indulge in sin in a house of prostitution, one of the two left the place after some time, leaving his companion in sin behind him.

Having reached home, he was about to lie down in bed, when he remembered that he had not recited that day the few “Hail Mary’s” which he had the habit of saying every day since childhood in honor of the Holy Virgin. As he was overpowered by sleep, it was very difficult for him to recite the short prayers; however, he made an effort and said them, although without devotion; then he fell fast asleep. Not long afterwards he heard a sudden, a rude knocking at the door; and immediately afterwards he saw before him his companion, disfigured and hideous. "Who are you?" he said to him. "What? Don't you recognise me?" replied the unhappy youth. "But how are you so changed? You look like a devil?" "Oh, take pity upon me, for I am damned!" "How is that?" "Well, know that upon leaving that accursed house a evil person sprang upon me and strangled me. My body has remained in the middle of the street, and my soul is in Hell. Know, moreover, that the same chastisement awaited you, but the Virgin preserved you from it, thanks to your practice of reciting every day the three Hail Mary’s in her honor. And blessed are you if you know how to profit by this information, which the Mother of God gives you through me."

While finishing these words, the damned soul partly opened his garment, allowed the flames and evil spirits that were tormenting him to be seen, and he vanished. Then the young man, sobbing uncontrollably, threw himself on his face on the floor and prayed for a long time, thanking the Holy Virgin Mary, his deliverer. Now, while he was praying in this manner he began reflecting upon what he ought to do next to change his life, and at that moment he heard the Matins bell ring at the Franciscan Monastery.

That very moment he cried out, "So there is where God is calling me to do penance."

Very early the next morning he went to the convent and begged the Father Guardian to receive him. The Father Guardian, who was well aware of his bad life, was not at all interested in accepting him. The young student, shedding a torrent of tears, related to him all that had taken place. The good priest immediately sent two religious to the street indicated, and there they found the corpse of the wretched youth. The young man was soon admitted as a postulant among the Brothers, whom he soon edified by a life completely devoted to penance and reparation.

It was these terrible facts that struck a deep chord of both the holy fear of hell, and the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary into Blessed Richard himself, so he too immediately consecrated himself entirely to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary in the same Order into which the young student, so wonderfully protected by Mary, had just been received. 



A burning handprint from hell -A lifelong reminder
The next incident is from an honorable priest and superior of a religious community. This priest had the particulars of the story from a close relation of the lady to whom it had happened. At the time of the writing, Christmas Day, 1859, this person was still living and was roughly forty years old, therefore no name is mentioned in the recording of this event to protect the persons identity.

The woman concerned in this story was living in London in the winter of 1847-1848. She was a widow, about twenty nine years old, quite rich and worldly. Among the young men who visited her there was young lord of bad conduct who courted her and of whom she eventually committed a variety of sins with.

Late one night she was in bed reading a novel when one o'clock struck on the clock; she blew out her taper and was about to fall asleep when, to her great astonishment, she noticed strange glimmer of light coming from the door of the drawing-room, which spread by degrees into her chamber. Stupefied at first and not knowing what this meant, she began to get alarmed, when she saw the drawing-room door slowly open and the young lord, the partner of her disorders, enter the room. Before she had time to say a single word, he seized her by the left wrist, and with a hissing voice, said to her in English: "There is a Hell!”  The pain she suddenly felt in her arm was so great that she immediately passed out.

When she came to again about a half an hour after she immediately rang for her chambermaid. The latter, on entering, noticed a strong smell of burning. Approaching her mistress who was frantic and could hardly speak she immediately noticed on her wrist a burn so deep that the bone was laid bare, and the flesh almost consumed. Moreover, she remarked that, from the door of the salon to the bed, and returning from the bed to that same door, the carpet bore the imprint of a man's steps, which had burned through the fibers. By the directions of her mistress, she opened the drawing-room door and there she found more tracks on the carpet.

The following day, the unhappy lady learned, with a terror easily imagined, that on that very night, about one o'clock in the morning, her friend the lord had been found dead-drunk under the table, and that his servants had carried him to his room, and that he had died of alcohol poisoning in their arms.

I do not know for certain, added the Priest-Superior, whether that terrible lesson converted the heart of that unfortunate lady, but what I do know is that she is still alive and that, to conceal from sight the traces of her ominous burn, she wears on the left wrist, like a bracelet, a wide gold band, which she does not take off day or night. I repeat it: I have all these details from her near relation, a serious Christian, in whose word I give the fullest belief. She states that this story is never spoken of, even in the family; and that she only confided it to me, suppressing every proper name.

Notwithstanding the anonymity beneath which this apparition has been revealed and must be enveloped, it seems impossible, states a writer, to call into doubt the dreadful authenticity of the details. 


'I am damned! And if you do not wish to be like me, leave this place of infamy and return to God.'
Here is a third fact related by the writer Monsignor de Segur in his book “Opuscule on Hell”:

"In the year 1873," he writes, "a few days before the Assumption (August 15), there occurred again one of those apparitions from beyond the grave, which so efficaciously confirms the reality of Hell. It was in Rome. A brothel, opened in that city after the Piedmontese invasion, stood near a police station. One of the unfortunate girls who lived there had been wounded in the hand, and it was found necessary to take her to the hospital of Consolation. Whether her blood, vitiated by bad living, or brought on an infection of the wound, or from an unexpected complication, she nonetheless died suddenly during the night. At the same instant, one of her companions, who was completely ignorant of what had happened at the hospital, began to utter shrieks of despair to the point of awaking the inhabitants of the locality, creating a frenzy among the wretched creatures of the house, and provoking the intervention of the police. The dead girl of the hospital, surrounded by flames, had appeared to her and said: 'I am damned! And if you do not wish to be like me, leave this place of infamy and return to God.'

"Nothing could quell the despair of this girl, who, at daybreak, departed, leaving the whole house plunged in confusion, even more so when the news of the death of her companion at the hospital was made known.

"Just at this period, the mistress of the place, an exalted Garribaldian and known as such by her family and friends, fell sick. She soon sent for a priest to receive the Sacraments. The ecclesiastical authority deputed for this task a worthy prelate, Mgr. Sirolli, the pastor of the parish of Saint-Saviour in Laura. He presented himself and exacted of the sick woman, before all, in presence of many witnesses, the full and entire retraction of her blasphemies against the Sovereign Pontiff and the discontinuance of the sinful trade that she was managing. The unhappy creature did so without hesitating and consented to purge her house, then made her confession and received the Holy Viaticum with great sentiments of repentance and humility.

"Feeling that she was dying, she besought the good pastor with tears not to leave her, frightened as she always was by the apparition of that damned girl. Mgr. Sirolli of course was unable to satisfy her request on account of the public scandal spending the night in such a place would certainly cause, he therefore requested from the police two men who remained until the dying woman had breathed her last.

"Very soon, all Rome became acquainted with the details of these tragic occurrences. As usual in such circumstances, the ungodly and lewd ridiculed them, taking good care not to seek for any additional information about them; however the good profited by them and became more devout and more faithful to their duties.” 

To doubt the existence of hell is foolish bravery
In his book on Hell, Father F.X. Schouppe, S.J. relates the following:

“Natural reason confirms the dogma of hell. An atheist was once boasting that he did not believe in hell. Among his hearers, there was a sensible young man, modest, but who thought that he ought to shut the silly speaker's mouth. He put to him a single question: "Sir," he said, "the kings of the earth have prisons to punish their wicked subjects; how can God, the King of the Universe, be without a prison for those who outrage His majesty?" The atheist of course had not a word to answer. The appeal was presented to the light of his own reason, which proclaims that, if kings have prisons, God must likewise have a hell.”

Pascals wager and fire insurance
Additionally there is the well known story of  “Pascal’s wager”. Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician and physicist. Unlike many men of science and knowledge these days, he used his gift of reason to support his faith and belief in God, heaven and hell, and he developed a logical presupposition commonly known as “Pascal’s wager” which states thus:

If one believes in God, yet upon death one discovers that God does not exist, ones loses absolutely nothing in life or in death, whereas if God exists, and one believes in God, one gains everything upon death (eternal reward in heaven).

However, if one disbelieves in God, and finds upon death that God does not exist, one gains nothing in life or in death, whereas if one erroneously disbelieves and shuns God, and upon death finds that God exists, one loses everything (eternal damnation in hell).

In short, Pascals Wager operates under the very logical presupposition that it does not harm one to believe in God and to fear hell. But to not do so, one takes a very grave risk; a risk of potentially devastating consequences for all eternity. We take out fire insurance on our property—would it not be wise to do at least the same for our persons, especially when in this case the insurance costs absolutely nothing, and while in reality such faith in God normally makes one a more caring and compassionate person?

More on Saints and the beneficial fear of Hell
Some Saints and devout souls, like St Teresa of Avila and Sr. Josefa Menendez where taken in spirit to hell. Others like St Gemma Galgani were shown horrible vision of the devil and the demons: Writing to her spiritual director Gemma says: "...Come quickly, Father, or at least make the exorcism from a distance. The devil has pursued me in every possible way. Oh, if you only knew how I have suffered. How pleased he was this night. He seized me by the hair and dragged me about exclaiming, 'Disobedience, disobedience, now there is no more time to begin again. Come, come with me,' and he tried to carry me off to Hell. He tormented me like this for more than four hours, and thus I passed the night."  (More on St Gemma's heroic battles with the demons here)

The three children of Fatima, Blessed Jacinta Marto, Blessed Francisco Marto and Sr. Lucia Dos Santos where shown by the Blessed Virgin Mary a terrifying vision of hell when they were only ages 9 and 10 years old- and this frightening vision completely changed them to their deepest inner spirit. Even though they were but young children, after the vision given them by the Blesssed Virgin, they would not hesitate in the least bit to make great sacrifices to prevent souls from going to hell. Among other things that the Blessed Virgin Mary and the angel of God taught them was this important prayer:
“Oh my Jesus; forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls into heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy”.

Fatima: The Vision of Hell & the Torments of the Damned in Hell