Sunday, 30 November 2014

A short reflection for Advent

A priest told me recently, or rather he revealed to me, that he didn't believe in hell. It was clear from the look on his face that he knew he was being naughty, out of line. He smilingly asked 'How could it be imagined that God would allow such a thing? Forever is such a long time, isn't it?'

Like often happens I didn't know exactly what to reply and therefore said nothing. I knew, of course, he was wrong. The existence of hell is de fide and therefore non-negotiable; we are obliged as Catholics to believe in its reality. I guess what confused me was his statement that forever 'is such a long time.'

It's a mistake we can easily make - transferring our earthly way of thinking to heavenly matters, or in this case, to hell. I remembered something I had been taught as a child, God has no birthdays. And when we go to heaven, please God, we will not have anniversaries. We will not be able to say 'Today we have been in heaven five trillion and 6 years' because in heaven there is no time.

Consequently there is no time in hell. Forever is indeed a long time - a very, very, very long time - but forever is not the same as eternity, which is an eternally present now! And so there is no passing of time in either heaven or hell - both are an eternal now - on either side of which there is no past and no future.

Here on planet earth we similarly live only in a now but it is wedged between the past and future. When the Master returns to us it will be precisely and only in this present moment. He will not find us anywhere else.

And this means that to ask 'Will I be ready when he comes?' is actually a silly question. The only meaningful Advent question is 'Am I ready NOW?'

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