The weight of punishment must correspond to the weight of the sin. Mortal sin is defined by theologians in a single phrase, “a turning away from God;”1 and in this consists the wickedness of mortal sin; it consists in despising the divine grace, and in being willing, of one’s own accord, to lose God, who is the greatest good; wherefore justly the greatest punishment of sinners in hell is the punishment of having lost God.
The other pains of hell are terrible: the fire which devours; the gloom which darkens; the cries of the damned which deafen; the stench, which would be enough to cause those miserable beings to die, if die they could; the closeness which oppresses and hinders their breath; but these pains are nothing in comparison with the loss of God. In hell the reprobate wail eternally; and the bitterest subject of their wailing is the thought that, through their own fault, they have lost God.
O God! what a blessing will they have lost! In this life of present objects, passions, temporal occupations, sensible pleasures and adverse events hinder us from contemplating the infinite beauty and goodness of God; but when the soul has departed from the prison-house of the body, it does not instantly behold God as he is; for, if it saw him, it would be instantly blessed; but it knows that God is an infinite good, and worthy of infinite love; whence the soul, which is created to see and love this God, would instantly go to unite itself to God; but if it were in sin, it would find an impenetrable wall (which is sin), that would forever close up the path which leads to God. O Lord! I thank Thee that this life is not yet closed to me, as I have deserved. I still can come to Thee; cast me not away from Thy face!
The soul that is created to love its Creator, by natural love cannot find itself impelled to love its ultimate end, which is God; in this life, the darkness of sin, and earthly affections, lull to sleep this inclination which it has to unite itself to God, and therefore it is not greatly afflicted at being separated; but when it leaves the body, and is delivered from the senses, then it comprehends with a clear knowledge that God only can give it content. Hence, so soon as it is separated from the body, immediately it flees to embrace its greatest good; but finding itself in sin, it perceives that, as an enemy, it is driven from God, But though driven away, it will not cease to feel itself ever drawn to unite itself to God; and this will be its hell, to find itself ever drawn towards God, and ever driven away from God.
But it would be said that the miserable soul, if it has lost God, and can no more see him, can at least comfort itself in loving him. But this is not so; for being abandoned by grace, and made a slave to sin, its will is perverted; so that, on one side, it finds itself ever drawn to love God, and, on the other, compelled to hate him. Thus, at the same time that it knows that God is worthy of infinite love and praise, it hates him and curses him.
Yet perhaps it might, at least in this prison of torments resign itself to the divine will, as holy souls do in purgatory, and bless the hand of this God that justly punishes it. But no; it cannot resign itself, because, to do this, it must be assisted by grace, while grace (as has been said) has abandoned it; whence it cannot unite its will to that of God, because its own will is altogether contrary to the divine will.
Whence it also comes that the wretched soul turns all its hatred upon itself, and thus will live forever, torn by contrary desires. It would fain live, it would fain die. On one part, it would live, in order to hate God, who is the object of its greatest hatred; on the other, it would die, that it might not feel the pain it experiences of having lost him, while it perceives that it cannot die. Thus it will live forever in one continual mortal agony. Let us pray God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, to deliver us from hell; and especially he ought to pray thus, who, at any time in his life, has lost God through any grievous sin.
O Lord! (let him say) save me, and therefore bind me ever to Thee with Thy holy love; redouble these holy and sweet chains of salvation, which may ever bind me the more to Thee, Miserable that I am, I have despised Thy grace, and deserved to be forever separated from Thee, my greatest good, and to hate Thee forever. I thank Thee for having borne with me when I was at enmity with Thee; what would have become of me, had I then died? But now that Thou hast lengthened my life, grant that it may not be that I may still more displease Thee, but only to love Thee, and to mourn for the offences I have committed against Thee. O my Jesus! from this day forth Thou shalt be my only love, and my only fear will be to offend Thee, and to separate myself from Thee. But if Thou aidest me not, I can do nothing; I hope in Thy blood, that Thou wilt give me help to be all Thine own, O my Redeemer, my love, my all! O Mary, thou great advocate of sinners, help a sinner who recommends himself to thee, and trusts in thee.
If we would be assured of not losing God, let us give ourselves indeed wholly to God. He that does not give himself wholly to God is ever in danger of turning his back upon him, and of losing him; but a soul which resolutely separates itself from everything, and gives itself all to God will no more lose him; because God himself will not allow that a soul that has heartily given itself all unto him should turn its back upon him and perish. Wherefore a great servant of God was wont to say that when we read of the fall of any who had before given tokens of living a holy life, we must consider that such persons had not given themselves all to God.
1Aversio a Deo.