Imagining the best, imagining the worst


There is an intuition in the imaginative part of the human mind that enables us to say that something is "Hellish" or "Heavenly."

These concepts are not simply drawn from literary allusions, because people who read nothing at all can still say that something "looks like Hell" or "is a little bit of Heaven," and you don't need a degree in theology to say in an unguarded moment "Go to Hell" or "Good Heavens."  The concepts of the worst state of existence and the best state are ingrained in our very being, but the imaginative sense of this needs the help of reason, which is the other part of the intellect, to understand the deeper characteristics of Heaven and Hell and why they exist.  Since they exist beyond the limits of time and space, reason must be assisted in its understanding by what God has revealed about them.

We understand the realities of pleasure and pain, of light and dark, so Our Lord in various ways uses these physical facts to introduce us to the deeper dimensions of Heaven and Hell.  In Advent, the last two weeks consider these realities, and the Church rejoices with flowers and music and the brighter rose liturgical color on "Gaudete" Sunday, in thanks that Christ welcomes us to Heaven and wants us to reject Hell.  Heaven is perfect life and the state of supreme happiness (Catechism, no. 1024). It is so very much greater than our temporal concepts of happiness and our attempts at pleasure that descriptions of it in feeble human language risk making it sound less happy and pleasurable than what we know, if not downright tedious and undesirable.

Saint Paul endured many Hellish burdens and sufferings, and yet he never forgot the Voice of Christ calling to him on the Damascus road, and that same Voice inspired him with an ineffable joy through all his travels and preaching.  He wrote to the Christian believers in Corinth, which was a pretty Hellish place for anyone of moral sensibility and aesthetic delicacy:  "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).  He even says that he knew a man (which quite likely was a modest reference to himself) who had been given the grace before death of experiencing life in "the third Heaven," which means the actual presence of God (2 Corinthians 12:2).  Each of us has the grace of contacting Heaven every day when the Light of the World casts out moral darkness and comes to the altar in the Holy Eucharist.  In the Rosary, we have the privilege to add the Fatima prayer:  "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.  Amen."




Father George William Rutler. "Imagining the best, imagining the worst."  From the Pastor (December 15, 2013).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.


Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001. 

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses — Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2013 Father George W. Rutler

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