The Afterlife: Hell

Can thinking on Hell increase our faith? Learn why hellish meditations should be included in our spiritual exercises.

Below is the third of three blog posts on the afterlife - Purgatory, Heaven, and Hell. Read the first and second installments here:

The Afterlife: Purgatory The Afterlife: Heaven

Thinking on Hell

"My nose is in great indignation."

For those of you who are following the blog, welcome to the third and final installment on the afterlife! For those of you who aren’t, you picked an interesting time to drop in because we saved the worst for last. Welcome to a reflection on hell.

A question: Why reflect on hell? Isn’t it a bit of a depressing topic, something to be shoved under the rug rather than set out on the coffee table? I asked myself a similar question when signing up to write this post, but something told me to do it. There was nothing really definite, just a vague sense that this would be good, something that my soul would profit from. What follows will be my poor attempt to answer this question. I hope it is profitable for you.

Dante and Virgil in the Ninth Circle of Hell, Gustave Doré
Dante and Virgil in the Ninth Circle of Hell. Gustave Doré (c. 1861).

A principle: Human beings have a natural desire for what is good and a natural aversion to what is evil. You can see these natural impulses at work on the physical level. If, for example, you smell some excellent food being cooked, you are drawn towards it, and that is good. Yet, if a stench arises from the back alley of your fridge caused by something that was once a fish, you know that something else will have to do for lunch. But it does not end with the physical. To stick with examples of good things, there is the good of wining a race, the good of doing something kind, the good of thinking true thoughts, the good of knowing and loving another human person, and finally the good of knowing and loving God.

So, life is simple, right? We will progressively step right into these goods because we have a natural aversion to evil and an attraction to what is good. Nope. The Fall complicated things. As St. Paul says “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Rom. 7:18-19) Spiritual and higher goods which pre-fall already needed intensive processes for us humans to arrive at became nigh impossible to attain. And so we need motivation. We need to experience something similar to physical stench, but on the spiritual level; a “stench sensation” that will help us to change course and keep up the good fight.

This is where reflection on hell finds its place: just as the experience of a stench on the physical level is necessary, so too reflection on hell is necessary. For just as the stench drives us away from what will harm and towards what will help, so also reflection on hell: it wakes up the soul, stirs it from slumber. I invite all of us, then, to do some hellish meditations, especially if you are suffering from a bout of lukewarmness. Think about what hell is. Read Dante’s Inferno. And then run to God.

Br. Michael Thomas Cain, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE