The Saint Who Visited Hell and Came Back to Talk About It

The Scriptures and tradition in the church is clear there is a place called hell.  People speak of heaven all the time, but rarely mention hell except in the vernacular, part of a curse, or as a matter in every day speech.  It is often said that the devil’s greatest accomplishment is getting people to think that hell does not exist.  That may be a correct assessment because if one really knew what mystics of old have said about it, they would be much more serious about their daily actions.  Blaise Pascal, the French Renaissance man, had a similar thought about God.  He said if there is no God then nothing matters, but if there is a God, then nothing else does matter. 

In the early part of the fourteenth century Dante Alighieri wrote the epic poem The Divine Comedy.  For hundreds of years this was considered one of the greatest classics (not just Christian) ever written in western civilization.  It is the story of the Roman poet Virgil guiding Dante through hell first, and then followed by Purgatory, and then Heaven (Paradiso).  The description of hell is vivid and graphic, and it is the source of many conversations and classes on what hell may be like.   Scripture mentions hell on several occasions, but does not give much of a description of what it is like or takes place there.   Dante describes hell being comprised of nine concentric circles of torment for those who do not acknowledge God in the pursuit of sinful appetites.  Each circle gets significantly more severe with spiritual and physical torment than the last, as one journey’s deeper into the abyss of hades.  

As a cradle life-long Catholic, I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon from the pulpit on hell, yet Jesus was clear that it exists.  In a world of moral relativism, this is not surprising.  The last time I remember hearing the word hell frequently as a reality is when the founder of Playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner died in September 2017.  Many felt he would soon be a visitor there for the incalculable obscenity and corruption to morals he brought to the culture on a worldwide basis.  Hefner opened up the portal of sin for many young people at a vulnerable age, where a habit then began an addiction — which then leads to greater sin.   

Saint Faustina’s Visions of Hell From What Jesus Taught Her

In an age of widespread relativism, and lack of formation for the majority of Catholics, few are aware of the concept of sin as a physical reality.  However, a young nun from Poland by the name of Sister Faustina (Saint Faustina) was given far more information by Jesus Himself than Dante could ever provide.  Her description could move the most hardened soul.  As a young novice in 1925, her guardian angel led her to Purgatory. After that, in what became a life long practice, she made it a routine to pray for the souls in Purgatory.  Heaven also took her to hell and she wrote, “I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence, it is a place of great torture…The kinds of torture I saw:

 The first torture that constitutes hell is the loss of God;

The second is perpetual remorse of conscience;

The third is that one’s condition will never change;

 The fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it  —– a terrible suffering, since it is a purely spiritual fire, lit by God’s anger;

The fifth torture is a continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and, despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own;

The sixth torture is the common company of Satan;

The seventh torture is horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses, and blasphemies. 

These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings.  There are special tortures destined for particular souls.  These are the torments of the senses.  Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned.   

Faustina’s description of hell is as real as anyone can deliver in a written language.  It puts everything in perspective concerning our earthly existence and our purpose for living, and the ramifications of our actions. 

Faustina gives further elaboration that God instructed her to write these things “so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like….I noticed one thing, that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell…. “  Sister Faustina realized the need for more prayers for people to prevent this suffering so she would ”incessantly plead God’s mercy upon them” (Diary 741). 

Further in her Diary, is the absolute essence of Divine Mercy and how grace is available to everyone to the moment of death.  Faustina writes, “God’s mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way.  Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so.  The soul illumined by a ray of God’s powerful final grace, turns to God in the last moment, with such a power of love that, in an instant it receives from God forgiveness of sin and punishment, while outwardly it shows no sign either of repentance or of contrition, because souls (at that stage) no longer react to external things.  Oh, how beyond comprehension is God’s mercy!  …the merciful God gives the soul that interior vivid moment, so that if the soul is willing, it has the possibility of returning to God.  But sometimes, the obduracy in souls is so great that consciously they choose hell” (1698).

Hell is a deliberate choice of the proud.  Notice how Faustina (words from Jesus) above says “They choose hell.”   One can think of the two thieves on the cross next to Jesus as He was being crucified.   Both were going to die within the hour, yet one asked for mercy, the other did not. Jesus never asked the crime of the one asking for mercy; He immediately gave clemency because it was asked.  The repentant thief is the only person in the entire New Testament that was specifically told he would go to heaven.  Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, I promise you today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).  No apostle was ever specifically told this.  Not Peter, not John, not Andrew, not Matthew, not Paul… The thief stole heaven through contrition at the moment of death, as he recognized Jesus alone could grant this request. 

The Divine Mercy that Jesus instructed Sister Faustina to write is about the unfathomable mercy that Jesus has for people.  It knows no bounds and is limitless.  As hell is an endless abyss, His mercy is also an endless abyss of mercy and love.  There are virtually no limits to His forgiveness and mercy.  No one is exempt from that mercy but they have to ask for it, and readily available all the way to the moment of death.  Sin separates us from ourselves, others, and God.  Sin is hell.  The Lord told Isaiah, “It has been your sin that separates you from God” (59:2).  When a soul is away from God, they often feel they are unworthy to approach Him.  It is for this reason so many stay away from God for 10, 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years before they realize all that remains are the Four Last things:  Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell.  One may feel they are not worthy to ask for Mercy due to previous sin.  It may prevent them from receiving the abundant love the Lord wishes to bring into their life, that the Lord Himself wants to restore and heal.  This is a lie of Satan telling them they cannot be forgiven. 

Sin is like a bag of feathers being released in a wind-storm.  The sin happens, and where it goes after that can affect the life of generations.  It does harm even without the sinner knowing it.  It ripples like a stone being thrown into a still pond, expanding to the entire body of water.  The feathers can never be organized the same way ever again.  Jesus said, Satan comes to kill, destroy, and steal, but I come to give you life, and give it more abundantly” (John 10:10).  It is the Lord’s Divine Mercy that welcomes the sinner back into the arms of God.  He never asks the past, but always forgives when one asks in sincerity.  No matter the severity of the transgression, no sin is to great for His Mercy.