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Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

My dear encountered couples:

“At the end of the world the angels will go out and separate the wicked from the just and hurl the wicked into the fiery furnace, where they will wail and grind their teeth.”

We don’t like to hear things like that, do we? We don’t like to hear about hell. We’d rather act like there really isn’t such a place, or condition, or state of existence, or whatever. But we are told that Jesus spoke about it, that he warned us about hell and more than just once. For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus in speaking about anger, said that whoever holds anyone “in contempt risks the fires of Gehenna” (that’s a name for hell). And in Matthew 25 we find him saying that those who do good for others will go off “to eternal life,” while those who don’t do good for others “will go off to eternal punishment.”

We’ve been taught since childhood that anyone who dies in the state of mortal sin goes to hell. And that mortal sin is committed by knowing that something is really bad, giving it very serious thought, and then freely choosing to do it. The essence of mortal sin is our rejecting God and choosing something else in his place. You could compare it to rejecting your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends – disowning them, disinheriting them. It’s like saying (if I may be bold enough to say it), “To hell with God!” What we are actually saying is, “To hell with us!”- for off to hell we will go. Without God, existence is hell; without God’s goodness, without God’s love, life here or in the hereafter is worse than death. It is HELL!

Is it possible that you or I could go there? Are any of us capable of sinning seriously enough that we will end up in hell for all eternity? That’s a question we should never ignore!

In this age of psychology and psychiatry we have come to realize that we are all influenced by many things. There are certain hereditary factors within us, environmental factors around us, and economic circumstances we live in. Exactly how free we are to make decisions we are not really sure. That’s why Jesus told us not to judge others as being sinners. We can never be sure how free other people are when they do something. Was it a free decision on their part, or was it those hereditary, environmental, economic influences that drove them to it? Besides that, why judge them? We might be worse sinners than they are.

First, let’s look at HEREDITARY INFLUENCES. Alcoholics are often condemned by nondrinkers. Science now claims it has proof that a good percentage of people with alcohol difficulties are born that way. Their bodies have a need that alcohol fulfills. We are told that alcoholism should be treated as a disease, not as a moral fault. Could not the same be said for some who use illegal drugs? Some might have inborn tendencies toward drugs that is extremely hard to fight off.

Others believe that heterosexuality and homosexuality are inborn, that they are not freely chosen sexual preferences. In other words, they say you are born heterosexual or homosexual, or even bisexual. If that is ever proved scientifically like alcoholism, then there is certainly nothing to brag about if you find yourself heterosexual, and nothing to be ashamed about in being homosexual. It is how we handle the sexual tendencies we discover in ourselves that is important. It is how we treat those who are not like us that is even of much more importance.

Besides inborn tendencies we also have ENVIRONMENTAL INFLUENCES. The family we are born into, the home and neighborhood we are brought up in, the society of the times we live in, how much TV we watch and which programs, what we read, our school, our friends. Just about everything plays a role in influencing our choices in life. So do our ECONOMIC CIRCUMSTANCES - how rich or poor we are.

St. Thomas Aquinas has been reported as saying something like this way back in the 13th century: “Give me the child for the first five years of his life and then you can have him and do what you want with him.” If St. Thomas actually said that he was saying 700 years ago pretty much the same that psychologists are saying today. We are all greatly influenced by how we are treated during the first few years of our lives. Before we even know how to walk or talk or crawl on the floor things are being ingrained into us that influence us for life. Some believe that even what we experience in our mother’s womb influences us for life.

Interesting, isn’t it! That leads to very important questions, like: How free are we? Are we free enough to be responsible for doing anything wrong? Are we capable of committing mortal sin, cutting ourselves off from God and going to hell?

Without going into a discussion that could keep us here all day and still never lead us to agreement, all we have to do is listen to the warnings of Christ. The Son of God who became one of us told us that there is a hell and that we are capable of going there. If there is no possibility of our going to hell then there would have been no reason for him to become human and die for our sins. There would have been no reason to have Christmas, no reason to have Good Friday and Easter. It would all have been an exercise in futility - a grand waste of God’s time and ours.

Yes, there is a Hell! And it is possible for us to go there! It is possible for you and for me to commit mortal sin. We have the freedom to choose God and his love or to reject him. As we are free enough to live or not to live our lives in this country of ours in a mature and wise manner, we are also free enough to make decisions we are responsible for in regard to choosing or rejecting life with God in his Kingdom of Heaven.

“The reign of God,” Jesus said, “is like a dragnet thrown into the lake, which collected all sorts of things. When it was full, they hauled it ashore and sat down to put what was worthwhile into containers. What was useless they threw away. That is how it will be at the end of the world. Angels will go out and separate the wicked from the just and hurl the wicked into the fiery furnace, where they will wail and grind their teeth.”

May you use your freedom wisely and maturely in this life and in the next.

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