"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]

Saturday, March 26, 2016

They are Gone Down to Hell

They are Gone Down to Hell
Sermon by Fr. Paolo Segneri, 1892

Where are the princes of the nations, and they that rule over the beasts that are upon the earth? that take their diversion with the birds of the air. That hoard up silver and gold, wherein men trust, and there is no end of their getting? who work in silver, and are solicitous, and their works are unsearchable? They are cut off and are gone down to Hell, and others are risen up in their place (Baruch iii. 16 -19). 

I. Consider first seriously, how great the vanity of this mortal life is, and say within thyself, "Where are the princes of the nations?" Where are now all the princes of the earth, such as Augustus, Tiberius, Trajan, and Caligula, and all the other royal Caesars? "They are all cut off." Not only are they no longer in our world, but they are "cut off," so that not even their ashes are to be found. Go to their tombs, seek them, call upon them; thou wilt not find one to answer thee. How truly indeed are they cut off? They have lost relations, friends, flatterers, palaces, thrones, sceptres, posterity; in a word, they have lost all that they possessed in the world. It is indeed, a cutting off, an utter ending. And yet there are men who value a greatness, a glory which vanishes like smoke before the wind! How foolish thou art if thou carest for it.

II. Consider secondly, that it was not without reason that I said that all these persons are no longer in this world; for it is but too certain that they are in the next? And where are they--unhappy that they are? In Hell: "They are cut off and are gone down to Hell." "Cut off," as to the body; and "gone down to Hell," as to the soul. And why are they said to be cut off (exterminati)? It is because they have been driven out of their bounds (termini). Their bounds in this world were to be continually in the midst of splendour and amusement; they were unable to go even a step beyond these things. And now they have so gone out of them, that it is not possible for them to go farther: "They are gone down to Hell:" that is, to the land which is truly a "land of destruction (Wisdom xviii. 15)." Far beyond the destruction of Egypt. Alas for thee who readest these words if ever thou incurrest the risk of being exiled to that fatal country! There is no returning thence: "He that shall go down to Hell shall not come up, nor shall he return any more into his house (Job vii. 9, 10)." For this is yet a further meaning of this terrible word (exterminium) which is here translated "cutting off," it denotes an evil which is fatal, irreparable, irremediable. Such is the evil which these princes now suffer in Hell.

III. Consider thirdly, more particularly, the very great contrast between the state which these persons enjoyed on earth and that which is now their lot in Hell, that you may perceive more clearly how utter was the destruction that fell upon them when they "went down to Hell." Here it was their delight to "rule over the beasts that are upon the earth," by their continual hunting of wild animals, and keeping dogs and horses. And now, in Hell, not only do they no longer rule over those beasts which live on the earth, but they are ruled over by those which lurk beneath it, for they are the prey of disgusting worms, of scorpions, and serpents which devour them: "I will send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the fury of creatures that trail upon the ground, and of serpents (Deut xxxii. 24)." Here they delighted in amusing themselves with the birds of the air; and in Hell they have become the sport of demons who are like ferocious birds, and whom they see surrounding them like so many harpies: "Birds shall devour them with a most bitter bite (Deut. xxxii. 24.)." Here they took pleasure not only in becoming rich, but were insatiable in heaping up wealth: "They hoard up silver and gold, wherein men trust, and there is no end of their getting." Keeping their money lying idle by them rather than bestow it on their subjects, their servants, and those in need, and now nothing remains of all their treasures but a heap of rust kindled to burn them alive: "Your gold and silver is cankered, and the rust of them shall eat your flesh like fire (St. James v. 3.)."

And oh, what poverty is theirs! The miserable glutton begged in vain for one drop of water. And yet what relief would it have afforded him in those raging flames? None whatever. Nay, rather it would have rendered them fiercer, like a little water sprinkled on red-hot iron. Here it was their delight to have all kinds of splendid vessels, caskets, statues, and the like made, so that every material was exhausted in their manufacture: "They work in silver, and are solicitous, and their works are unsearchable." In Hell there is no more need of their solicitude. Every day new furies rise up, without any labour of seeking for them, terribly ingenious in finding out more and more fearful ways of torture, so that there is no end to it, but pain succeeds pain through all eternity. "There is success in evil things to a man without discipline, and there is a finding that turneth to loss (Ecclus. xx. 9. )." See, then, what a contrast is here. Well may it be said that these unhappy men have been driven beyond the bounds (exterminati) of the state which was theirs in the world, since they have passed into one which is its opposite. But what need is there to say more ?" They are gone down to Hell." That is enough to show thee that they are subject to every sort of evil. And canst thou be so foolish as to envy their past happiness, and not to dread their present misery? See, by the example of these men, how easy it is to be lost for ever. It is not said that they indulged in irregular excesses, that they were assassins, that they shed streams of innocent blood in revenge. It is merely said that they were addicted to excessive amusement and show, a thing about which hardly any one in their position has a scruple. And yet how full of danger is this state! "Woe to you that are wealthy in Sion (Amos vi. 1)."

IV. Consider fourthly, what is the most astonishing thing of all. It is to see that after these persons have been cast down from their thrones into the depths of Hell, others are to be found willing to take their place. One would think that rather than do this, they would all hasten to bury themselves in woods, caverns, and tombs. But no: on the contrary, the men of this world every day vie with each other in striving to attain these thrones: "They are cut off, and are gone down to Hell, and others are risen up in their place." This is so startling a marvel, that it is enough to astonish and bewilder a man for a whole day. And these words may also plainly show thee the utter emptiness of temporal goods of which I told thee at the beginning, when thou seest that these great and envied rulers succeed one another and vanish like the waves of the sea. Hardly has one mounted his throne than he sees his successor ready to push him from it as quickly as possible. Such is human greatness; it has no solidity: "Samaria hath made her King to pass as froth upon the face of the water (Osee x. 7)." And does not this serve to make the fact I am speaking of still more extraordinary? For if human greatness is so transitory, how is it possible that any one should seek after it so eagerly? Yet so it is: "They are cut off, and are gone down to Hell, and others are risen up in their place."

They spend their days in wealth,
and in a moment they go down to Hell (Job xxi. 13).

I. Consider first, how true it is that we ought never to entertain the slightest envy when we see the prosperity of the wicked. See for thy satisfaction what is the sum of their good fortune. "They spend their days in wealth." It is not said that they spend "years"--no, but "days." They live pleasantly, but only for a few days, for not one of them all can boast of having enjoyed a single year of happiness! Scarcely has any one of them enjoyed in any one year one happy day. It is one thing "to spend their days in good things," to spend them in feasting, dancing, revelling, and various entertainments, according to the fashion of the time; it is another thing to "spend good days," that is fortunate days, happy days. Oh! what perpetual bitterness falls to the lot of those who are bent on gratifying every inclination! If there were nothing else, the torture of their own conscience by itself would amply ensure their misery.

II. Consider secondly, that even if they could pass their lives in true enjoyment, there is still no reason to envy them; for if at the present moment they "spend their days in good things, afterwards they go down into Hell," that is to say, they go down into that place where in sleepless agony they have to expiate that brief holiday which against all reason they chose to take before its proper time. Therefore, weigh carefully what it is that makes up the merriment of those who here below "spend their days in good things." It is the unrestrained indulgence of their appetites--pride, avarice, luxury, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth. How terrible must be the retribution of all these excesses! To punish their pride they shall be imprisoned in the deep abyss of Hell, there to remain eternally the slaves of Satan; in gyves and fetters, under the load of such intolerable shame, that we cannot here even conceive its bitterness. To punish their avarice, they shall find themselves miserably poor, deprived of every good thing, of all that could relieve or assist them; and quite unable to obtain, in the midst of the flames, one drop of water. To punish their lusts, their bodies shall lie among scorpions and serpents, tormented for ever, without being destroyed; and, as if the fire of Hell were not sufficient for its punishment, it shall be rent and torn and tortured, so that even opposite extremes of pain shall be present at once. To punish their anger, they shall find themselves at the mercy of as many merciless enemies as there are demons there, changed from seducers to executioners, and without power to make the least retort, for the devils will be charged with the chastisement of the damned, but the damned can never take their revenge. To punish their gluttony, they shall be wasted away by hunger, which shall have no other food for its relief than burning sulphur and molten lead, no other drink than fiery poison. To punish their envy, they shall be forced to behold, much against their will, raised to the highest Heaven those whom in life they looked upon as fools and treated as slaves, whom now in their frantic folly they desire to drag down from the starry sphere into the abyss of fire. And last of all, and most of all, to punish their sloth, in being so careless about the gaining of Heaven, they shall be buried in deep despair, motionless, and in anguish of heart, exiled eternally from God, with the thought ever present to their minds that the iron shall be driven yet more and more deeply into their souls for all eternity. Consider, then, whether it be to their advantage to "spend their days in good things," if afterwards they have as the consequence "to go down to Hell."

III. Consider thirdly, that for the further increase of their misery, it is said of these unhappy wretches, not only that "they go down to Hell," but also that "they go down in a moment." Who can describe what it is to pass so swiftly from one extreme to another? If these torments would be absolutely unendurable to galley-slaves, who had passed their days in working at the oar, coarsely fed, always under the lash, with half naked bodies, how will they be borne by those who have always lived delicately in the midst of delights, and who have to pass at once from a throne to a dungeon, from wealth to poverty, from laughter to tears, from vicious pleasure to cruel stripes? Therefore it is said, not that "they shall go down to Hell," but that they do go down to Hell; for very often, in the midst of their merry-making, they are visited by a sudden death, which carries them off. Not one moment intervenes.

IV. Consider fourthly, what is the cause that these poor creatures sink down so rapidly? The heavy weight of their sins drags them down. Therefore they go down in an instant; for this weight, ever drawing down, does not permit them to gain time for repentance before death, and thus they die unprepared in the midst of their sins, and are cast headlong into Hell, before they are even aware of their fall. Therefore it is not said, "They are sent to Hell," but, "They go down to Hell," since the weight of their guilt by its own nature drags them down. Everything tends to its own centre without the application of any external force, and thus guilt of its own accord rushes to its punishment. We do not indeed mean to say that these wretches cannot help going "down to Hell," because we know that no one goes thither except by his own choice. What course, then, wilt thou take? Can it be that thou wilt not at last resolve to place thyself in safety?


Prayer of Amendment and Perseverance

Most merciful Jesus! I return Thee infinite thanks for not permitting me to continue in sin and to fall, as I have so often deserved, into the depths of hell. Enkindle in me an earnest desire of amendment; let me never again relapse, but vouchsafe me the grace to persevere in penance to the end of my life.

Our Father, etc.; Hail Mary, etc.

V. Lord Jesus, crucified:
R. Have mercy on us!