An Introduction by Claire
The following explanation was found among the papers left by a nun who died in a convent in Germany.
In my youth, I had a friend, Anne, who lived near my house. That is to say, we were mutually attached as companions and co-workers in the same office. After Anne married, I never saw her again. We never had what can be called a real friendship, but rather an amiable relationship. For this reason, when she married well and moved to a better neighborhood far from my home, I didn't really miss her that much.
In mid-September of 1937 I was vacationing at Lake Garda when my mother wrote me this bit of gossip: "Imagine, Anne N. died. She lost her life in an automobile accident. She was buried yesterday in M. cemetery."
I was shocked by the news. I knew that Anne had never been very religious. Was she prepared when God called her suddenly from this life? The next morning I assisted at Mass in the chapel of the convent boarding house where I was rooming. I prayed fervently for the eternal rest of her soul and offered my Holy Communion for that intention.
Throughout the day I was unsettled, and that night I slept fitfully. Once, I awoke suddenly, hearing something that sounded like my door being opened. Startled, I turned on the light, noting that the time on the clock on my nightstand showed ten minutes after midnight. The house was quiet and I saw nothing unusual. The only sound was from the waves of Lake Garda breaking monotonously on the garden wall. There was no wind. Nonetheless, I thought I heard something else after the rattling of the door, a swooshing sound like something being dropped. It reminded me of when my former office manager was in a bad mood and dropped some problem papers on my desk for me to resolve.
Should I get up and look around? I wondered. But since all remained quiet, it didn't seem worthwhile. It was probably just my imagination, somewhat overwrought by the news of the death of my friend. I rolled over, prayed several Our Fathers for the Poor Souls in Purgatory, and returned to sleep. I then dreamed that I arose at six to go to morning Mass in the house chapel.
Upon opening the door of my room, I stepped on a parcel containing the pages of a letter. I picked it up and recognized Anne's handwriting. I cried out in fright. My fingers trembled, and my mind was so shaken I couldn't even think to say an Our Father. I felt like I was suffocating, and needed open air to breathe. I hastily finished arranging myself, put the letter in my purse, and rushed from the house.
Once outside, I followed a winding path up through the hills, past the olive and laurel trees and the neighboring farms, and then on beyond the famous Gardesana highway. The day was breaking with the brilliant light of the morning sun. On other days, I would stop every hundred steps or so to marvel at the magnificent view of the lake and beautiful Garda Island. The sparkling blue tones of the water delighted me, and like a child gazing with awe at her grandfather, I would gaze with admiration upon the ashen-colored Mount Baldo that rose some 7,200 feet above the opposite shore of the lake.
On this morning, however, I was oblivious to everything around me. After walking a quarter of an hour, I sank mechanically to the ground on the riverbank between two cypress trees where only the day before I had been happily reading a novel, Lady Teresa. For the first time I looked at the cypress trees conscious of them as symbols of death, something I had taken no notice of before, since these trees are quite common here in the south.
I took the letter from my purse. There was no signature, but it was, beyond any doubt, the handwriting of Anne. There was no mistaking the large, flowing S or the French T she made that used to irritate Mr. G. at the office. It was not, however, written in her usual style of speaking, which was so amiable and charming, like her, with those blue eyes and elegant nose. Only when we discussed religious topics did she become sarcastic and take on the rude tone and agitated cadence of the letter I now began to read.
Here, word for word, is the Letter from Beyond of Anne V. as I read it in the dream.
Letter from Beyond
Notes by Fr. Bernhardin Krempel, C.P., Doctor of Theology
“Imprimatur of the orginal German: Brief aus dem Jeneseits: Treves, 9/11/1953. N. 4/53.
Claire! Do not pray for me. I am damned. Do not think that I am telling you this and certain circumstances and details about my condemnation as a sign of friendship. Here we no longer love anyone. I do it on the command of "that power that never desires Evil and always does Good."
In truth, I would like to see you here where I will remain forever. (1)
(1) St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Suppl., Q. 98, art. 4: "Therefore, they [the damned] will wish all the good were damned."
Do not be surprised that I should say this. We all think the same way here. Our will is hardened in evil - in what you call "evil." Even when we do something "good," as I do now in opening your eyes about Hell, it is not with any good intention.(2)
(2) In response to the Question whether every act of the will in the damned is evil, St. Thomas distinguishes the deliberate will and the natural will: "Their natural will is theirs not of themselves but of the Author of nature, Who gave nature this inclination which we call the natural will. Wherefore since nature remains in them, it follows that the natural will in them can be good.
"But their deliberate will is theirs of themselves, inasmuch as it is in their power to be inclined by their affections to this or that. This will is in them always evil: and this because they are completely turned away from the last end of a right will, nor can a will be good except it be directed to that same end. Hence even though they will some good, they do not will it well so that one is not able to call their will good on that account." Ibid., Q. 98, a. 1.
Do you remember when we worked together for four years in M. You were 23 and had already worked in the office for a half year when I arrived. You helped me out many times, and frequently gave me good advice while you were training me. But what is meant by that term "good"? At the time I praised your "charity." How ridiculous! You helped me to please your own vanity, as I suspected at the time. Here we don't acknowledge good in anyone!
You knew me in my youth, but I will fill in certain details. According to my parents' plans, I never should have existed. The disgrace of my conception was due to their carelessness. When I was born, my two sisters were already 14 and 15 years of age. How I wish that I had never been born! I wish I could annihilate myself at this moment and escape these torments! There could be no pleasure greater than to be able to end my existence, to do away with myself like a piece of cloth reduced to ashes, leaving no remnant behind.(3) But I must exist. I must be as I have made myself, bearing the total blame for how I have ended.
(3) Ibid., Q 98, a. 3, r. ib. Ad. 3: "Although 'not to be' is very evil in so far as it removes being, it is very good in so far as it removes unhappiness, which is the greatest if evils, and thus it is preferred 'not to be.'"
Before my parents married, they had moved away from their country villages to the city and drifted away from the Church, making friends with others who had fallen away from the practice of the faith. They met at a dance, and six months later they were "obliged" to get married. During the wedding ceremony a few drops of holy water fell on them, just enough to draw my mother to Sunday Mass a few times a year. She never taught me to pray correctly. She wore herself out over material concerns, even when our situation was not difficult.
It is only with deep repugnance and unspeakable disgust that I write words such as pray, Mass, holy water, and church. I profoundly detest those who go to church, along with everyone and everything in general. For us, everything is a torture. Everything we came to understand at death, every recollection of life and of what we knew, is like a burning flame that torments us. (4)
(4) Ibid., Q 98, a. 7, r.: "Accordingly, in the damned there will be actual consideration of the things they knew heretofore as matters of sorrow, but not as a cause of pleasure. For they will consider both the evil they have done, and for which they were damned, and the delightful goods they have lost, and on both counts they will suffer torments."
All of these memories only show us the horrible sight of the graces we rejected. How this tortures us now! We do not eat, we do not sleep, we do not walk with human legs as you know. Enchained in spirit, we reprobates stare with terror at our misspent lives, howling and gnashing our teeth, tormented and filled with hatred.
Do you hear me? Here we drink hatred as if it were water. We all hate one another. (5) And more than anything else, we hate God. I will try to make you understand how this is.
The blessed in Heaven must necessarily love Him, for they constantly behold Him in His awe-inspiring beauty. That makes them indescribably happy. We know this, and that knowledge fills us with fury. (6)
(5) Ibid., Q. 98, a. 4, r.: "Even as in the blessed in heaven there will be most perfect charity, so in the damned there will be the most perfect hate."
(6) Ibid., Q. 98, a. 9, r.: "The damned, before the judgment day, will see the blessed in glory, in such a way as to know, not what that glory is like, but only that they are in a state of glory that surpasses all thought. This will trouble them, both because they will, through envy, grieve for their happiness, and because they have forfeited that glory."
On earth, men know God through Creation and Revelation and are able to love Him, but they are not forced to do so. The believer - I say this seething with fury - who contemplates and meditates upon Christ extended on the Cross will love Him.
But when God approaches as Avenger and Judge, the soul who rejected Him will hate Him, as we hate Him. (7) That soul hates Him with all the strength of its perverse will. It hates Him eternally, by virtue of its deliberate resolution to reject God with which it ended its earthly life. This perverse act of the will can never be revoked, nor would we ever want to do so.
(7) Ibid., Q. 98, a. 8, sf 1, iba 5, r: "The damned do not hate God except because He punishes and forbids what is agreeable to their evil will [the evil that they still desire to do]: and consequently they will think of Him only as punishing and forbidding."
I am forced to add that even now God is still merciful to us. I say "forced" because even though I willingly write this letter, I cannot lie as I would like to. Much of what I put on this paper I write against my will. I also have to choke down the torrent of insults I would like to spew out against you and everything.
God is merciful even to us here in that He did not allow us to do all the evil we wanted to do while on earth. Had He permitted us to do so, we would have added greatly to our guilt and chastisement. He allowed some of us to die early - as is my case - or permitted attenuating circumstances in others. Even now He shows us mercy, for He does not oblige us to draw near to Him. He placed us in this distant place of Hell, thus diminishing our torment.(8) Every step closer to God would increase my suffering more than every step you might take toward a fire.
(8) Ibid., Part I, Q. 21, a. 4, ad. 1: "Even in the damnation of the reprobate mercy is seen, which, though it does not totally remit, it somewhat alleviates, in punishing short of what is deserved." In another note, the holy Doctor of the Church says that this is the case above all with those who in this world were merciful to others (Q. 99, a. 5, ad. 1).
You were astonished one day when I told you in passing what my father said to me some days prior to my First Communion. "Be sure you get a beautiful dress, little Anne," he said. "The rest is all a sham."
I was almost ashamed then for having shocked you so much, but now I laugh about it. The best part of this sham was that Communion was only allowed at 12 years of age. By then, I had already tasted enough of the pleasures of the world, so I didn't take Communion seriously.
The new custom of allowing children to receive Holy Communion at seven years of age infuriates us. We strive in every possible way to frustrate this, to make people believe that a child is too young to properly comprehend what Communion is or to think that children must commit serious sins before they can receive. The "white" host [that is, the Sacred Host] will then be less damaging than if He were received with faith, hope, and love, the fruits of Baptism - I spit upon all this! - which are still alive in a heart of a child. Do you recall that I already had this same point of view on earth?
I return now to my father. He fought a lot with my mother. I didn't often speak of this to you because I was ashamed of it. But what is shame? Something ridiculous! It makes no difference to us here.
After a while, my parents no longer slept in the same room. I slept with my mother, and my father slept in the adjoining room, which he would enter at all hours of the night. He drank heavily and spent everything we had. My sisters were employed but needed their money to live, or so they said. So my Mother went to work. In the last year of her bitter life, my father often beat her when she refused to give him money. With me, however, he was always very kind.
I told you all about this one day and you were scandalized at my capricious attitude - but what was there about me that didn't scandalize you? - such as when I returned new pairs of shoes twice in one day because the style of the heel wasn't modern enough for me.
On the night my father died from a stroke, something happened that I never told you because I didn't want to hear your interpretation. Today, however, you ought to know it. The fact is memorable, for it is the first time that my true cruel spirit revealed itself.
I was asleep in my mother's bedroom. She was sleeping deeply, as I could tell from her regular breathing. Suddenly, I heard someone say my name. An unfamiliar voice murmured, "What would happen if your father were to die?"
I no longer loved my father after he had begun to mistreat my mother. Properly speaking, I no longer loved anyone. I only had some attachments to certain persons who were kind to me. Love without a natural motive rarely exists except in souls that live in the state of grace, which I did not.
"I'm sure he's not dying," I replied to the mysterious interlocutor. After a brief interval, I heard the same question. Without troubling myself as to its source, I sullenly replied, "It doesn't matter. He's not dying."
For the third time the question came: "What would happen were your father to die?" In a flash certain scenes passed quickly through my mind: my father coming home drunk, his scolding and fighting with my mother, how he often embarrassed us in front of our neighbors and acquaintances.
I cried out obstinately: "All right, then, it's what he deserves. Let him die!"
Afterward, everything became still. The following morning, when my mother went upstairs to straighten father's room, she found the door locked. Around noon they forced it open. Father was lying half-dressed on his bed - dead, a corpse. He probably took a chill while hunting for beer in the cellar. He had already been sick for a long time. [Could it be that God had depended upon the will of a child, to whom this man had shown some goodness, to grant him more time and an opportunity to convert?]
Marta K. and you made me enroll in a sodality for young women. I never told you how absurd I found the instructions of the two directors, although the games were amusing enough. As you know, I quickly came to play a preponderant role in them, which flattered me. I also found the excursions pleasant. I even allowed myself at times to be taken to Confession and receive Holy Communion. I really had nothing to confess, for I never paid heed to answering for my thoughts and sentiments. And I was still not ready for worse things.
One day you admonished me: "Anne, you will be lost if you don't pray more." In truth I prayed very little, and always reluctantly and with annoyance. You were indisputably right. All those who burn in Hell either did not pray or did not pray enough. Prayer is the first step toward God. It is always decisive, especially prayer to that one who is the Mother of God, whose name it is not licit to pronounce. Devotion to her draws innumerable souls away from the devil, souls who by their sins would otherwise have fallen into his hands.
I continue, but with fury, being obliged to do so. Praying is the easiest thing one can do on earth. God rightly linked salvation to this simplest of actions. To those who persevere in prayer, God grants, little by little, so much light and strength that even a drowning sinner can be raised up and saved, even if he is immersed in mud up to his chest. In fact, in the last years of my life I no longer prayed at all, and thus deprived myself of the graces without which no one can be saved.
Here we no longer receive any grace. Even if we were to receive it, we would reject it with disdain. All the vacillations of earthly life come to an end in the beyond. In earthly life, man can pass from a state of sin to the state of grace. From grace he can fall into sin. I often fell from weakness, rarely from malice. But with death, this fluctuating "yes" and "no," this rising and falling, comes to an end. With death, every individual enters into his final state, fixed and unalterable.
As one advances in age, the rises and falls become fewer. It is true that until death one can either convert or turn ones back upon God. In death, however, man makes his decision with the last tremors of his will, mechanically, the same way he did throughout his life. A good or bad habit becomes second nature, and this is what moves a person one way or another in his final moments. So it was with me. For years I had lived apart from God. Consequently, when I received that final call of grace, I decided against Him. It was fatal not because I had sinned so much, but rather because I had refused so often to amend my life.
You repeatedly admonished me to listen to sermons and read pious books, but I always made excuses for myself, citing a lack of time. What more could I have done to increase my inner uncertainty?
By the time I reached this critical point, which was shortly before I left the sodality for young women, it would have been difficult for me to follow any other path. I felt insecure and unhappy. I had erected a huge wall that stood in the way of my conversion, although you apparently didn't realize it. You must have thought I could convert quite easily when you said to me once: "Anne, make a good confession and everything will be all right." I suspected that what you said was true, but the world, the flesh, and the devil already had me securely in their clutches.
I never believed in the action of the devil, but now I attest that the devil exercises a powerful influence over persons such as I was then.(9) Only many prayers on the part of others and myself, together with sacrifices and sufferings, would have managed to wrench me away from him. And then only slowly.
(9) Devils and demons are the names given to the evil spirits that exercise this influence. For proof of their existence two texts from Holy Scriptures suffice: "Be sober and watch, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8).
"Put you on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Ephes. 6:11-12).
There are very few persons who are physically possessed by the devil, but many who are possessed interiorly. The devil cannot take the free will from those who give themselves over to his influence. Yet as a chastisement for one's almost total apostasy from God, He permits that person to be dominated by "evil."
I hate the devil, and yet I like him because he and his helpers, the angels that fell with him at the beginning of time, strive to make you lose your souls. There are myriads of demons. Uncountable numbers of them wander through the world like swarms of flies, their presence not even suspected. Condemned souls like us are not the ones who tempt you; this is left to the fallen spirits. (10) Our torments increase every time they bring another soul to Hell, but we still want to see everyone condemned. Hatred is capable of anything! (11)
(10) Summa Theologica, Suppl., Q. 98, a. 6, ad. 2: "Men who are damned are not occupied in drawing others to damnation, as the demons are."
(11) Ibid., Q. 98, a. 4, ad. 3: "Although an increase in the number of the damned results in an increase of each one's punishment, so much the more will their hatred and envy increase that they will prefer to be more tormented with many, rather than less tormented alone."
Even though I tried to avoid Him, God sought me out. I prepared the way for grace by the works of natural charity I often did, following the natural inclination of my nature. At times, too, God attracted me to a church. When I took care of my sick mother even after a hard day of work at the office, which was no small sacrifice for me, I strongly felt these attractions to the grace of God.
Once, in the hospital chapel where you used to take me during our free time at mid-day, I was so moved that I found myself just one step away from conversion. I wept.
The pleasures of the world, however, shortly swept me up in a torrent and drowned out this grace. The thorns choked out the wheat. Making the rationalization that religion is sentimentalism, the argument I heard at the office, I cast away this grace also, like so many others.
Once you reprimanded me because instead of genuflecting in church, I made only a slight inclination of my head. You thought it was laziness, not suspecting that I already no longer believed in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. I believe it now, although only naturally, as one believes in a storm, by perceiving its signs and effects.
In the meantime, I had found for myself a religion. The general opinion in the office, that after death a soul would return to this world as another being, with an endless succession of dying and returning again, pleased me. With this, I shut out the distressing problem of the hereafter to the point that I imagined it no longer troubled me.
Why didn't you remind me of the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus, in which the narrator sent one to Hell and the other to Paradise after they died? But what good would this reminder have done? I would have just considered it just more of your pious advice.
Little by little I arranged a god, one privileged enough to be called a god, and at the same time distant enough that I didn't have to deal with him. I made him confusing enough to allow me to transform him, at will and without need to change religions, into a pantheistic god, or even to permit me to become a proud Deist.
This "god" had neither a heaven to console me nor a hell to frighten me. I left him in peace. This is what my adoration of him consisted of. One easily believes in what one loves. With the passing of years, I became sufficiently convinced of my religion. I lived at ease with it, without its causing me any inconvenience.
Only one thing would have been able to bring me to my senses: a profound and prolonged suffering. But this suffering never came. Do you now understand that saying, "Whom God loves, He chastises"?
One summer day in July the sodality of young women organized an outing. Yes, I liked those outings, but not the pious beatas who went on them! I had recently placed an image very different from the one of Our Lady of Grace on the altar of my heart. It was that fine manly figure of Max N. from the nearby office. We had already conversed several times. On this occasion, he invited me out on the same Sunday that the sodality outing was planned. Another woman whom he had been dating was in the hospital.
He had noticed, of course, that I had my eyes on him, but I had never thought of marrying him. He was wealthy, but too friendly with all the young ladies, in my opinion. Up until then I had wanted a man who would belong exclusively to me, and I would be his alone. Thus, I had always kept a certain distance between us.
(This is true. There was something noble about Anne, notwithstanding her religious indifference. It astonishes me that "sincere" persons like her can also fall into Hell if they are insincere enough to flee from facing God.)
Max began to shower me with attentions from the day of that outing. Our conversation, of course, was certainly different from that of your pious women. The next day in the office, you reprimanded me for not having gone with you. I then told you about my Sunday diversion.
Your first question was: "Did you go to Mass?" How ridiculous! How could I have gone to Mass when we had agreed to leave at six in the morning? Do you remember that I heatedly added, "The good God is not so mean-spirited as your little priests!" Now I am forced to confess to you that, His infinite goodness notwithstanding, God takes everything much more seriously than any priest.
After this first outing with Max, I only attended one more of your sodality meetings. I was attracted to some of the Christmas solemnities, but I had already dissociated myself from you interiorly. What interested me were movies, dances, and excursions. At times Max and I argued, but I knew how to keep him interested in me.
After being released from the hospital, my rival was furious with me, and I found her quite disagreeable. Her anger worked in my favor, though, for my discreet calm impressed Max and ultimately led him to choose me over her. I knew just how to belittle her. I would speak calmly, seeming to be entirely objective, but spewing venom from within. Insinuations and actions like this can rapidly lead one to Hell. They are diabolical, in the true sense of the word.
Why am I telling you this? To show you how I came to separate myself definitively from God. To remove myself so far, it was not even necessary to be entirely familiar with Max. I knew that if I lowered myself to that too soon, he would think less of me. So I restrained myself and refused. In truth, I was ready to do anything I thought useful to reach my aim. I would stop at nothing to win Max.
Gradually we fell in love, for both of us possessed certain admirable qualities that we could mutually appreciate. I was talented and had become a good conversationalist, so I eventually had Max in my hands, secure that he belonged only to me, at least in those last months before our wedding.
This is what constituted my apostasy from God: making a mere creature into my god. The way this can be more fully realized is between two persons of opposite sex, if they have only a material love. For this becomes the allure, the sting, and the venom. The "adoration" I rendered to Max became an ardent religion for me.
At this stage of my life I would still at times hypocritically run off during the office lunch hour to go to church, to listen to the silly priests, to say the Rosary, and other such foolishness.
You strove, with more or less intelligence, to encourage such practices, but apparently without suspecting that, in final analysis, I no longer believed in any of these things. I only sought to set my conscience at ease - I still needed that - in order to justify my apostasy. In the depth of my soul I lived in revolt against God. You did not perceive that. You always thought I was still Catholic. I wanted to be seen as such, and I even went so far as to make contributions to the church, thinking that a little "insurance" couldn't hurt me.
As sure as you were with your answers, they always bounced off me. I was sure that you could not be right. This strained our relationship, and when my marriage put some distance between us, the pain of our separation was slight. Before my wedding, I went to Confession and Holy Communion one more time, but it was a mere formality. My husband thought the same as I. We carried out that formality just like any other. You would call that "unworthy." But after that "unworthy" Communion I had greater peace of mind. It was the last one of my life.
Our married life was generally harmonious. We shared the same opinion on just about everything. That included our opinion regarding children: We didn't want the burden. Deep down, my husband wanted one child, but naturally no more. I was able to remove even this notion from his head. I preferred fine clothing and furniture, tea with the ladies, automobile excursions, and other such amusements. And so a year of earthly pleasure passed from our wedding day until my sudden death.
Every Sunday we went for a drive or visited my husband's relatives - I was ashamed of my mother then. My husband's relatives, like us, swam well on the surface of life. Inside, however, I never felt truly happy. Something always gnawed at my soul. I hoped that death, which was certainly far off in the future, would put an end to this.
When I was a child, I once heard in a sermon that God rewards the good one does. If He does not reward one in the next life, He will do it on earth. Without my expecting it, I received an inheritance [from my Aunt L]. At the same time my husband received a considerable raise in his salary. With this, we were able to furnish our new house quite well.
Any attachment to religion I might have had was almost gone, like the last glimmer of light on the far horizon. The bars and cafes of the city and the restaurants where we ate on our travels did not draw us any closer to God. Everyone who frequented them lived as we did, concerned about externals, and not matters of the soul.
Once in our travels we visited a famous cathedral, but just to appreciate the artistic value of its masterpieces. I knew how to neutralize the religious air of the Middle Ages that it radiated, and I seized every opportunity for ridicule. I made fun of the lay brother who served as our guide; I criticized the pious monks for their business of making and selling liqueur; I disparaged the eternal pealing of the bells calling the people to the churches as solicitations only for money. Thus I rejected every grace that came knocking at my door.
In particular, I let my sarcasm flow profusely at every depiction of Hell in the books, the cemeteries, and other places, where one could find devils roasting souls in red or yellow fires while their long-tailed associates kept arriving with more victims.
Hell might be poorly drawn, Claire, but it can never be exaggerated.
Above all, I always scoffed at the fire of Hell. Do you recall our conversation about the fire of Hell when I jokingly put a lit match under your nose and asked, "Does it smell like this?" You quickly blew out the match, but here no one extinguishes the fire. Let me tell you something else - the fire that the Bible speaks about is not just the torment of conscience. Fire means fire. That is just what He meant when he said, "Depart from Me, ye accursed, into the everlasting fire." Quite literally.
"How can the spirit be affected by material fire?" you ask.
How, then, can your soul suffer on earth when you put your finger in the fire? Your soul itself does not burn, but what the man as a whole suffers!
In like manner, here we are imprisoned in a fire in our being and our faculties. Our souls are deprived of their natural movements. We can neither think nor want what we used to desire.(12) Do not even try to comprehend a mystery that goes against the laws of material nature: the fire of Hell burns without consuming.
Our greatest torment consists in knowing with certainty that we will never see God. How greatly we are tortured by that which we were indifferent to while on earth! When the knife lies on the table, it leaves you cold. You see its sharp edge, but you don't feel it. But the moment it enters your flesh, you scream with pain. Before, we only saw the loss of God; now we feel it. (13)
(12) Ibid., Suppl., Q. 70, a. 3, r.: "Accordingly we must unite all the aforesaid modes together, in order to understand perfectly how the soul suffers from a corporeal fire: so as to say that the fire of its nature is able to have an incorporeal spirit united to it as a thing placed is united to a place; that as the instrument of Divine Justice it is enabled to detain it enchained as it were, and in this respect this fire is really hurtful to the spirit, and thus the soul seeing the fire as something hurtful to it is tormented by the fire."
(13) St. Augustine said, "The separation from God is a torment as great as God." Cf. Houdry, Bibliotheca concionatorum (Venice, 1786), vol 2, "Infernus," No. 4, p. 427.
All the souls do not suffer equally. The more frivolous, malicious, and resolute one was in sin, the more the loss of God weighs upon the soul and the more tortured he feels for the abused creature.
Catholics who are damned suffer more than those of other beliefs because, in general, they received more lights and graces without taking advantage of them. The ones who knew more suffer more than those who had less knowledge. Those who sinned out of malice suffer more than those who fell from weakness. No one, however, suffers more than he deserves. Would that this were not true, so that I might have more reason to hate!
You once told me that no one goes to Hell without knowing it. This was revealed to some saint. I laughed at that, but the thought was entrenched in my mind. If this were the case, then there would be enough time for me to convert - that is how I thought in my heart.
What you said was true. Before my sudden end, I had no idea of what Hell really is. No human being does. But I had no doubt about this: should I die, I would enter into eternity in a state of revolt against God, and I would suffer the consequences. As I already have told you, I did not change my course but continued along the same path, impelled by habit, just as people act with greater deliberation and regularity as they grow older.
Now, I will tell you how my death occurred.
One week ago - I speak to you in the terms by which you measure time, for judging by the pain I have endured, I could already have been burning in Hell for ten years. Therefore, on a Sunday one week ago, my husband and I went for a drive. It was the last one for me.
The day was radiant and beautiful. I felt well and at ease, as I rarely did. An ominous presentiment, however, came over me as we drove. On the way home that evening my husband and I were unexpectedly blinded by the lights of a car rapidly approaching from the opposite direction. My husband lost control of our car.
"Jesus!" I shouted, not as a prayer, but as a scream. I felt a crushing pain - a trifle in comparison with my present torment. Then I lost consciousness. How strange! On that very morning, the idea had come to me unexpectedly that I could, after all, go to Mass again. It entered my mind almost like a supplication. My "No!" - strong and determined - nipped the thought in the bud. I must finish with this once and for all, I thought, and I assumed all the consequences. And now I endure them.
You know what happened after my death. The grief of my husband and my mother, my body laid out and the burial. You know all this down to the last detail, as do I through a natural intuition we have here. We have only a confused knowledge of what transpires in the world, but we know something of what concerned us. Thus I know also your whereabouts. (14)
(14) S. Th. Suppl., Q. 98, a 7,: "Accordingly, in the damned there will be actual consideration of the things they knew heretofore as matters of sorrow, but not as a cause of pleasure."
At the moment of my death I awoke from a darkness. I found myself suddenly enveloped by a blinding light. It was at the same place where my body lay. It seemed almost like a theater, when the lights suddenly go out, the curtain noisily opens, and a tragically illuminated scene appears: the scene of my life.
I saw my soul as in a mirror. I saw the graces I had trampled underfoot from the time I was young until that final "No!" given to God. I felt like an assassin brought to trial before its inanimate victim. Repent? Never! (15) Did I feel shame for my actions? Not at all!
(15) Ibid., Q. 98, a. 2, r.: "Accordingly the wicked will not repent of their sins directly [that is, out of hatred of sin], because consent in the malice of sin will remain in them; but they will repent indirectly, inasmuch as they will suffer from the punishment inflicted on them for sin."
Notwithstanding, it was impossible for me to remain in the presence of the God I had denied and rejected. Only one thing remained for me: flight. Thus, just as Cain fled from the body of Abel, so my soul sought to flee far from this terrible sight.
That was my private judgment. The invisible Judge spoke: "Depart from Me!" and my soul swiftly fell, like a sulfurous shadow, into the place of eternal torment! (16)
(16) It is certain that Hell is a determined place. But where this place is situated, no one knows. That the punishment of Hell is eternal is a dogma, certainly the most terrible of all, rooted in Sacred Scripture: "Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels…And these shall go into everlasting punishment; but the just, into life everlasting" (Matt. 25:41, 46).
See also II Thess. 1:9, Jude 1:13; Apoc. 14:11, 20:10. All are irrefutable texts, in which the word "everlasting" cannot be misunderstood or interpreted as "a long time."
If it were inappropriate to illustrate this dogma, then Our Lord Himself would not have done so in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. He described Hell in the same way that it was done here - he showed that it existed and what one must do not to fall into it. The purpose of the parable was not to excite the senses, but the same one that occasioned this publication. The aim of this booklet finds expression in these words, "Let us think of Hell while we are still living, so that we will not fall into it after we die." This counsel is but the paraphrasing of Psalm 54: "Descendat in infernum viventes, videlicet, ne descendant morientes," which is found in a statement (erroneously) attributed to St. Bernard (Migne, Patr. Lat., vol. 184, Col. 314 b).
Some closing words from Claire
Thus ended the letter from Anne about Hell. The last letters were so twisted as to be almost illegible. When I finished reading the last word, the entire letter turned to ashes.
What was I hearing? After those harsh notes of the lines I imagined I was reading, what came to my ears was the sweet reality of bells ringing. I awoke suddenly to find myself still in bed. The early morning light was entering the room. From the parish Church came the sound of the bells ringing the Angelus.
Had it only been a dream? I never felt such consolation in praying the Angelic Salutation as I did after this dream. I said the three Hail Marys. And as I prayed them, this thought came to me very clearly: One must always stay close to Our Lord's Blessed Mother and venerate her filially if one does not want to suffer the same fate related to me here - albeit in a dream - by a soul that will never see God.
Still frightened and shaking from that night's revelation, I got up, dressed myself hastily, and rushed to the convent chapel. My heart was beating violently and unevenly. The houseguests kneeling closest to me looked at me with concern. Perhaps they thought that I was breathless and flushed from running down the stairs.
A kindly lady from Budapest, frail as a child and nearsighted, suffering greatly but lofty of spirit and fervent in the service of God, spoke to me that afternoon in the garden. "My dear child," she said, "Our Lord does not want to be served in such haste."
But then she perceived that it was something else that had excited me and made me so overwrought. She added kindly: "Let nothing distress you. You know the advice of Saint Teresa - let nothing alarm you. All things pass. He who possesses God lacks nothing. God alone suffices."
While she humbly consoled me with these words, without any sermonizing tone, she seemed to be reading my soul.
"God alone suffices." Yes, God must suffice for me - in this life and in the next. I want to possess Him there one day for all eternity however numerous may be the sacrifices I have to make here in order to triumph. I do not want to fall into Hell.
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