does hell exist?

Does Hell Exist?

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Well, Happy Easter everyone, and happy April Fools as well.

I’m kind of excited about this right now because Fr. Jeremy’s parents (from the time he was a child) have been ingenious in the way they have fooled him and tricked him.

When he was in high school, he remembers telling his parents that he thought his hair was falling out. He said something to his mother about this. “Mom, I think I’m losing my hair already.” April Fools Day came around. Fr. Jeremy was sleeping, and his mother cut off some of her hair and put it all over his pillow. He woke up with a pillow full of hair.

She used to wake him up at 3 in the morning to pull April Fools jokes on the neighbors. One day, they put a “For Sale” sign in their front yard on April Fools Day, and all the kids and neighbors were crying thinking the Merzweilers were moving. His mother tortured him his whole life with these pranks.

Right now Fr. Jeremy has Mass in the hall. Do you know what his family is doing? They’re in the rectory right now setting up an April Fools joke for him. I gave them the house code. I don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re working at it.

I think it’s providential that we celebrate Easter on this April Fools Day because it’s not always what we expect.

The women that were going to the tomb were going there to anoint his body.  Normally, after a body was buried, the body would be anointed with these aromatic oils to be prepared for full burial. The women are going to the tomb; and on the way, they are saying to each other, “Alright, we have the oil, but I don’t know who’s going to move the big stone for us.

Who’s going to move that rock out of the way?”

They get to the tomb, and what do they discover? The rock is moved. Not only is the rock moved, but Jesus is gone. Together they discover the resurrection. It does not wind up the way they thought it would. They’re delighted by what they experience.

I don’t know if you heard this recently, but the papers are taking this like wild fire saying that the Pope said that there is no hell.

Have you heard about this one?

The newspaper is all over it saying the Pope says that there is no hell. I’ve got good news and bad news for you. Is there a hell? There is. That’s the bad news. The good news is you don’t have to end up there. We don’t have to end up in hell. That’s what the Easter message is. We’ve been hearing the creed that Jesus descended into hell. Now if we think there is no hell, take a look around. Open up the paper. Look at the last school shooting. Look at the last terrorist attack. There’s a hell, and it is very evident that we’re experiencing it.

But the good news is, we don’t have to end up there. The reality is in life that there are two types of stories. There really are only two stories. If you think about a book or think about a movie or if you think about the Gospel, there are really only two types of stories . . . comedy and tragedy.

There are two types. Tragedy is when you have a really horrible ending. Somebody might be a good figure, but you watch his or her demise, and it ends horribly. I think in our world right now we’re experiencing a lot of tragedy. We can contrast this with comedies. One of the differences between a comedy and a tragedy is that sometimes comedies are funny, but that’s not what makes it a comedy. What makes it a comedy is that there is a happy ending. There’s still tragedy involved in comedy, but in the end, there’s a happy ending.

What that means for all of us is that we actually know our story. Our story has a happy ending. The Gospel message is a message of comedy. We can celebrate that we actually know our happy ending on this April Fools Day.

But, how do we deal with this problem of hell and knowing that it still exists? What is hell ultimately? Hell ultimately is separation from God. Hell is not knowing God, not loving God and ultimately choosing not to be with God.

God loves us so much that he will never force us to be with him. You don’t have to be with God if you don’t want to. It’s similar to having somebody in your life that you really don’t like. The worst thing you could ever do is have to spend eternity with that person. Right? God is not going to force you to have to spend eternity with God if you don’t like him, if you don’t want to, or if you don’t love him. We have this entire life to get to know him, and to fall in love with him, and hopefully then be in heaven with him forever.

The greatest way that we have of coming to know him is through the Eucharist that we celebrate today. When we receive Eucharist, Jesus enters into our hell. He enters into our struggling, our suffering, and whatever is going on in our life. He enters into it.

Hell really is experiencing anything without Jesus. To suffer and not have Jesus be a part of our suffering is hell. To die and not have Jesus be a part of that death, is hell. To rise and not have Jesus be part of that rising, is hell. That’s the bad news, but the good news is we don’t have to choose it. We don’t have to be there.

On this Easter Sunday, the church welcomes everyone back…this is amazing news (the April Fools part) for all of you that might not come all the time. Maybe somebody dragged you here today. Maybe your mother laid the old guilt trip on you, or maybe your grandmother or somebody kind of begged you to get you here today.

Next Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Next Sunday was actually installed for all of those that have been away. Next Sunday is a wonderful time for people to come back to the faith, to come back to God, to come back to the church, and to turn away from this hell that we experience in this world.

The church gives us this wonderful invitation to come back. If you go to confession on Divine Sunday and you receive the Eucharist, you receive total forgiveness for all your sins and any consequences of punishment from them. It’s a wonderful gift, and I just offer you that gift as a way to return back to the Lord and experience his mercy, so that we can experience heaven.  The bad news is hell does exist, but the good news is we can choose heaven.

We are all gathered here today because we believe in that reality: If we have suffered with the Lord in this life; have come to know him, and love him, and serve him; and ultimately, if we take our last breath and die with him, we will rise with him. Then this life becomes a wonderful comedy, a wonderful celebration of the Resurrection.

It is with great faith and great delight that we can trust in God’s mercy that He wants all of us to be with him in heaven. That’s what we celebrate today: the wonderful celebration of the Easter Resurrection.

About the Author Fr. Michael Denk

Fr. Michael was ordained into priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland on May 12, 2007. He is dedicated to helping others encounter Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and prayer.

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I'm Father Michael J. Denk, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. I am a contributor of content to The Prodigal Father Productions, Inc., a non-profit corporation functioning in accord with the traditions and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The corporation and I are separate, it doesn't speak for me, the parish, or on behalf of the Diocese of Cleveland, and I do not speak for it.