Saturday, 25 February 2012


Bishop Davies of Shrewsbury has used his Lenten Pastoral Letter to talk about the subject of eternal life and the reality of hell.  The good bishop writes:
My dear brothers and sisters,

As Lent begins we are reminded of something often unmentionable and sometimes unthinkable: your death and mine. “Remember you are dust,” we are told as we receive the mark of ashes, “and to dust you shall return.” This is not for the Christian a gloomy or morbid thought on Ash Wednesday but one which charges our lives with renewed urgency to respond to the message Our Lord first announced in Galilee: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” For “the blessed ashes placed on our foreheads,” Pope Benedict reminds us, “are a sign that reminds us of our condition as creatures, that invites us to repent, and to intensify our commitment to convert, to follow the Lord ever more closely” (General Audience 9th March 2011). As Pope St. Leo expressed this many centuries before: “All that each Christian is bound to do in every season we must now do with greater care and devotion” (Lent Sermon VI). It is the realisation of what the Psalmist calls “the shortness of our lives” which helps shape our priorities and gives each day a new urgency in the light of all eternity before us.

Today we can too easily lose sight of this perspective of eternity, failing to see what we have time for. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses so clearly: “Death puts an end to human life as the time open either to accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ” (CCC 1021). Blessed John Paul II observed at the beginning of this Millennium that the “people of our time have become insensitive to the Last Things” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope). Awareness of those Last Things has in the past stirred consciences and brought many to repentance and to the confession of their sins. And this is the urgency to which Lent and Easter now recalls us with the poignant mark of ashes. As that wise book The Imitation of Christ notes: “If you aren’t fit to face death today it’s very unlikely you will be tomorrow...” (Book 1:23). For “remembering our mortality,” the Catechism tells us, “helps us realise that we have only a limited time in which to bring our lives to fulfilment” (CCC 1007). Being aware of this limited time on earth and all that is to follow - our judgement, our purgatory, heaven or hell forever – becomes an urgent invitation to conversion in our lives.

At funerals today “a celebration of life” can often mean only looking back to a life now past rather than looking forwards to the “resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”. The faith which allowed St Therese of Lisieux to say on her death-bed, “I am not dying; I am entering into life” (Last Conversations). The Church always prays as she believes and so it is not because we disapprove of the lyrics of Frank Sinatra or the chants of the football terraces that we insist that secular songs find no place in the prayer of the Christian Funeral. It is that the Church prays only as she believes. We treasure the memories of our loved ones but we also know where their hope and our own is placed. “Christ Himself … died for our sins,” St Peter tells us on this Sunday, “died for the guilty, to lead us to God” (I Peter 3:18). It is our faith which makes us realise that the faithful departed do not need our praises but they very much need our prayers. As the Catechism explains, each one of us at the moment of death, will, in our immortal souls, come to a “particular judgement” leading “to the blessedness of heaven” either “through a purification,” that is purgatory, “or immediately.” There is also a terrible reality of which the Gospel repeatedly speaks: “immediate and everlasting damnation” (CCC 1022). For “to die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love,” the Catechism explains, “means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice” (CCC 1033). Yes, this is the real and everlasting choice of our lives.

Purgatory is a consoling hope for us. As the Catechism explains: “all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (CCC 1030). This is why we pray at every Christian Funeral, indeed, in every Mass, that all the faithful departed may rest in peace. It is the prayer that, we hope, one day will be made for you and for me. As that great mother, St Monica, would finally ask of her sons: “lay this body wherever it may be … this only I ask of you that you should remember me at the Altar of the Lord wherever you may be” (Confessions Bk.9:11). And as this season of Lent begins with a reminder of our mortality let us be mindful of that urgent call which comes to us today: “The time has come,” Our Lord announces, “The Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:15). In the “Hail Mary” this becomes an intention so beautifully brought together when we ask Our Lady to pray for us at the only two moments which ever matter: “Holy Mary, Mother of God pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

May this time of grace lead us toward the eternal Easter.

+ Mark
Bishop of Shrewsbury

1 comment:

Fr. Francis Wadsworth said...

To Marcia
I am sorry but I accidentally deleted your comment, sorry. If you send it again I will post it.
I agree with you that it is great to read a real sermon now and then.