Right before spring break, I was at Holy Family Bookstore and after much walking around I was ready to give up finding anything, but at last glance I saw this little black book tucked in between breviaries, and some books about novenas and devotions. The book was called The Young Man’s Guide. I picked it up and it was by a priest named Rev. F.X. Lasance. I don’t know why, but I wanted it. So I threw in a few prayer cards for the souls in Purgatory and for priests, and purchased all these things. Over the last week or so I’ve been slowly reading through the book and its been pretty convicting of my soul. Over the past year I’ve had Catholic after Catholic tell me that I’m awesome, that I’m blessed. They applaud me for reading the entire catechism. They are in awe at my conversion story. I soak it up. I love that stuff. I think to myself, “I am a great Catholic.”
But this book, written in 1910, by some priest in Cincinnati, has really shown me that I’m not even close. I am probably further from holiness than any Catholic I know. And I definitely have a strong devotion to the Sacraments, but not as strong as it could or should be. I discovered even greater is that I have no true fear of hell. You know how I know? My reaction to this passage:
But the greatest torments of hell affect not so much the bodies as the souls of the damned. Think for a moment what pain homesickness inflicts upon the soul of him who endures it, and then consider the lot of him who is condemned to hell. The reprobate will know and feel what he has lost by his sins. The pain of loss is immeasurable great. Never shall he enjoy the beatific vision of God; never shall he enter heaven, the home of the saints, the place of everlasting happiness and joy. What horror, what torment, what despair, will seize upon the souls of the damned!
But what more especially makes hell to be hell is its everlasting duration, the utter despair of the damned, since they know that their torments can have no end.
Rev. F.X. Lasance, The Young Man’s Guide, 121
My fearlessness of hell is a leftover mark from my Protestant days, from the lie that I was fed that once I am saved, I am always saved. Intellectually I disagreed even then, but especially have since I entered the Church. But in my heart of hearts, it is a philosophy that I have embraced, and that Satan has used against me. I can sin and sin and sin and I can go to Confession over and over and over and I am all good. But really, am I sorry for my sins? Do I have any kind of comprehension of what the due penalty for my sin is? When I read this passage, that last little bit hit me so hard: hell is of everlasting duration. Wow! I had to stop reading to compose myself. Eternity is something I can barely comprehend, even when it is considered in the event that it is spent with God. The idea that something can have no end, that there will always be a tomorrow, is unbelievable to me. But nobody wants to think about it in terms of everlasting hell. I imagined myself being tortured through the pain of homesickness. My heart and soul painfully yearning for something that it desperately needs, something it was close to having, that something being God. But my heart and soul would never ever have it. And as the sun set in hell (in my imagination), I knew that I would get a poor night’s sleep thinking about God. And I knew I would wake up the next morning with the same dull void. And I knew that there was no end.
I tried to think of how terrible it would feel. I tried thinking of some experience I had felt in real life that could have been a foretaste of that feeling. Kristi? Anna? Hardly! Take those disappointments, heartaches, and increase them a thousandfold and the feeling would not come close to doing justice to the pains of hell.
Yesterday, I finally gained a true fear of hell, and finally recognized that yes, my actions still do count. My salvation by Christ is not a free pass to do whatever. My mind and my heart came to be aligned. I’ve believed for awhile that salvation comes through grace working through faith and deed. Now my heart knows this to be true. My love and desire for Christ spurs me on to run away from hell and the things that will lead me there because I cannot bear the lovesick feelings that hell would force upon me as I become eternally separated from the true love of my soul, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Fr. Lasance, I ask your prayers, as I know that if you took your own advice, you are certainly sitting in the graces of our King and Redeemer right now. Pray that I might receive, that we all might receive, the graces necessary to draw near to Christ. Through your intercession, foster a love in us for Jesus Christ in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. Continue to inspire through your writings, that we might be made holy and worthy of the promises of Jesus Christ. Amen.