Second only to Christmas, Halloween is the big money maker for merchants. A stroll down the street on Halloween night is reminiscent of a scene from an old Vincent Price movie.
Ghosts and goblins peak out from nooks and crannies on porches; skeletons hang from trees. Jack-o-lanterns beckon with an ominous smile, daring anyone to approach. As tiny witches and mummies parade through the streets, eerie howls and moaning permeate the air.
It is a time when people laugh in the face of the terrifying, almost in denial of its very existence— a true celebration of the nether world.
HERE'S ONE FOR AROUND THE CAMPFIRE
One story circulating around the Internet for years will send chills up the spine of the courageous and knock the knees of the timid. Its validity is dubious. If it is true, then it most certainly gives one reason to pause—if not, it’s still a great scary story for around the campfire.
As the story goes, a nine-mile-deep hole (1) was drilled in Siberia in an attempt to reach the center of the earth. Breaking into a cavern, scientists lowered a microphone into the hole to investigate. They were not prepared for what they purportedly heard. At temperatures of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, human screams resonated in such a terrifying fashion that the scientists closed down the project for fear of what they had unleashed.
Listen, if you dare.
ST. JOHN BOSCO
St. John Bosco was born in Italy in 1815 and lived the life of a shepherd boy until his ordination in 1841. While teaching catechism to poor children at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales, he experienced many prophetic dreams, which were centered on his boys in the oratory. One of the most profound of these was a vision of hell:
Pressing my ear to the crystal window, I heard screams and sobs, blasphemies and imprecations against the saints. It was a tumult of voices and cries, shrill and confused. Such are the mournful chants which shall echo here throughout eternity. But their shouts, their efforts and their cries are all in vain. (2)
ANNE CATHERINE EMMERICH
Anne Catherine Emmerich's Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ describes Christ's decent into hell after the crucifixion:
Deep groans and cries of despair might be plainly distinguished even while the doors were tightly closed; but, who can describe the dreadful yells and shrieks which burst upon the ear when the bolts were unfastened and the doors flung open; and, who can depict the melancholy appearance of the inhabitants of this wretched place!
Hell is shown to me under the same form, but all within it is, on the contrary, close, confused, and crowded; every object tends to fill the mind with sensations of pain and grief; the marks of the wrath and vengeance of God are visible everywhere; despair, like a vulture, gnaws every heart, and discord and misery reign around. In hell, perpetual scenes of wretched discord, and every species of sin and corruption, either under the most horrible forms imaginable, or represented by different kinds of dreadful torments. All in this dreary abode tends to fill the mind with horror; not a word of comfort is heard or a consoling idea admitted; the one tremendous thought, that the justice of an all-powerful God inflicts on the damned nothing but what they have fully deserved is the absorbing tremendous conviction which weighs down each heart. (3)
One of Vatican II’s major accomplishments was to dismiss the idea of a vengeful God, leaving many Catholics believing that God does not send people to hell. This, in turn, opened the door to a laissez-faire outlook on life and the Commandments. The corpus on many Novus Ordo crucifixes was replaced with the risen Christ, because the Crucifixion was such a “downer.” The new focus became hope and resurrection—blotting out atonement for sin and any thought of final retribution.
In a July 28th, 1999 audience, John Paul II described hell as: “not a punishment imposed externally by God, but the condition resulting from attitudes and actions which people adopt in this life. More than a physical place, hell is the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God so eternal damnation is not God's work but our own doing.” (4)
This perpetuates the Novus Ordo philosophy that God is a good guy who would never send anyone to hell. This attitude is responsible for the slow evolution into divorce, fornication and abortion, and the near obliteration of the sacrament of penance.
The article goes on to say:
It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. The very dimension of unhappiness which this obscure condition brings can in a certain way be sensed in the light of some of the terrible experiences we have suffered which, as is commonly said, make life 'hell.
The picture that JP II paints as "the pain, frustration and emptiness of life without God" doesn't seem to pair up with the descriptions found in Scripture or related by saints and visionaries.
But demons do exist. Christian faith teaches us there are creatures who have already given a definitive "no" to God. These are the spirits which rebelled against God and whom we call demons.
The reality of hell should not be a cause of anxiety or despair for believers. Rather, it is a necessary and healthy reminder that human freedom has to be conformed to the example of Jesus, who always said “yes” to God, who conquered Satan and who gave us his spirit so that we too could call God “Father."
The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: "To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell" (n. 1033).
LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE
The teachings of Vatican II depict hell as a metaphorical burning—just a “healthy reminder.” Despite countless recorded visions of, and visits to hell by saints and others whom God has chosen, the idea of flames has been pooh-poohed and those who retain that belief, are mocked. That hell is actually a physical place—perhaps in the center of this earth—is considered the talk of religious fanatics, often portrayed as comic relief on many of today’s movies and television programs.
Interestingly enough, a story circulating around the Internet claims that at a celebration in honor of the second anniversary of JP II's death, John Paul II appeared to everyone (5)in a familiar shape that left no doubt in the observers' minds that they were, in fact, being visited by the pope, himself.
Contrary to most heavenly manifestations, there was no white light, a figure that emerged from a roaring fire. It is inconceivable that the obvious message right before the eyes of hundreds was completely ignored or dismissed. Yet witnesses rejoiced at having been blessed with such a miracle.
"Hear, O foolish people, and without understanding: who have eyes, and see not: and ears, and hear not" (Jer. 5:21).
(1) YouTube, "Hell Sound from Siberia Diggings," http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iPIXq_jGMQ&feature=related.
(2) Forty Dreams of St. John Bosco, From the Biographical Memoirs of St. John Bosco. ed. Fr. J. Bacchiarello, S.D.B., North Carolina: Tan Books, 1996, p. 159.
(3) The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/emmerich/passion.pdf, p. 245-247.
(4) Audience of John Paul II on heaven, hell and purgatory, July 28, 1999, "Heaven, hell and purgatory," http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2HEAVN.HTM#Hell.
(5) Pisa, Nick, Mail Online, "Is this Pope John Paul II waving from beyond the grave? Vatican TV director says yes,"