“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”

For the past week or so, Patheos writers have been on a Hades kick. You might think it had something to do with Halloween, but you’d be wrong.

Apparently things started with Mark Shea defended Father Robert Barron against what seems to me to be a case of misinterpretation. Whatever, I still wasn’t paying much attention, because my kid got pneumonia again. And then young Ryan Adams brought in some Orthodox perspective, and suddenly there were Facebook eruptions of hellish debating and people behaving in devilishly uncharitable ways toward each other.

And I still wasn’t paying much attention because, you know, book prep, and a headcold that has turned me into a mouthbreather, and the clocks got turned…

And then I look up and, welcome to Patheos Catholic, where it’s wall-to-wall hell and demons and Katrina is happy because at least someone is talking about it (and it’s true, I can’t recall the last time I heard anyone preach on hell…)

“Hell is Hot” says Katrina.

“The Hell You Say!” says Dr. Gregory Popcak

“Try Oklahoma!” counters Rebecca Hamilton

“This all lacks wit!” cries Sam Rocha

“Unity, Unity, Unity!” pleads Pat Gohn, who is trying to shed some light.

“If you want to talk hell…” whispers Lisa Hendey who is still processing the bits of heaven and hell she encountered in Rwanda.

“When you’ve reached rock bottom,” counsels Elizabeth Duffy “very next breath is a coin in the basket.”

“Do you know what Aquinas said about hell and rock bottoms,” interrupted Will Duquette, “because I’m reading this new book – ”

“BOOKS!” bellowed Tony Rossi. “I’m giving books away! Come and get ‘em!”

“BOOKS!” answered Sarah Reinhard and their all about Mary!”

“Ssshhh,” calmed Tom McDonald, “you people are too worked up. Listening to the oldest surviving song might calm you down.”

“Ssshhh,” answered Leah Libresco. “I am processing penance and Pelagianism.”

“No, you shush,” Max tells her. “I can’t keep quiet about it; this is THE UGLIEST PIECE OF RELIGIOUS ART, EVER.”

“Gently, gently,” say Deacon Greg Kandra and Margaret Rose Realy, “only beautiful things…”

You know what I think about hell?

It’s real.

Whether it is an actual place or a state of being is utterly immaterial to me; it is the place without God, and I want to be saved from it, and I don’t think I can work out my salvation in fear and trembling by arguing about it in a Facebook forum and deciding who is the “good” Catholic who knows the truth and who is the “bad” one who doesn’t get it.

I think arguing about whether “few” or “many” are in hell is a futile business when the more important point is that Christ Jesus said we’d be surprised who ends up where.

I think none of us know what happens between God and a created soul in those infinitesimal moments between life and death, and so we have no clue — none of us knows — whether hell is empty, as Shakespeare posits, or is full.

But we do know that, like heaven, it will never be too full to receive us, and so if you believe in heaven or hell, you should strive for one. I suspect the place worth going to is the difficult one — because getting there involves serving God and then others — and the place to avoid is the easy one because it only needs serving of the self and the self and the self until we cannot see any true god and bump continually into ourselves, in our house of mirrors.

That sounds like hell to me.

About Elizabeth Scalia

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