I recollect, many years ago, I lost a very, very good friend – a fellow altar boy, a school mate, a family friend, a spiritual companion… It was the contagious effect of his charismatic spiritual life that the seed of faith was planted in me, during my teenage years.
Because of him, I came to experience and see the that God is ‘alive’, ‘faithful’, works in ‘mysterious’ ways but always knows what is best for each one of us.
Quite appropriately, my friend carried the great name, Peter (my ‘Rock’), a brilliant Monash University civil engineer, a doctorate research author most fascinated with the study of soil and rock mass stability in Australia - geotechnical stability analyses, he calls it. Peter developed the Generalized Wedge Method (GWM) for analyzing the stability of slopes.
Dr. Peter Giam Siew Kin was simply a cheerful guy and I would always recall his younger days when he would work part time, after school hours, pushing carts of fruits up the slopes of the wet market just to earn some pocket money, aside from rendering home tuition to high school students.
I will always remember him for his honesty, sincerity simplicity and humility, whose rich and active faith in Catholicism, far outweighs his material poverty. The Lord called him back in a most tragic helicopter crash whilst pursuing his soil research, not long after he got married…
I could never understand why…perhaps, the Lord loved him more…perhaps he was already prepared to enter the Heavens... perhaps, the will of God, Our Father, is something which mankind simply cannot comprehend.
St Peter, the Rock, the first Supreme Pontiff was crucified on Vatican Hill upside down because he declared himself unworthy to die in the same manner as the Lord.
In reality, it does not matter whether I am able to understand the ‘whys’ but perhaps what is more important, for me, is knowing that the Lord, our Source of Life, sent a good friend, Peter into my journey through life (and many others, I am sure) and touched it in a way that allows me (us) to be able to encounter a bit more of God…and for me (us) to spread that touch, that little spark, many, many times over...to others in this journey through life.
People today do not like to talk about ‘death’ and often get even more offended when ‘Hell’ is ever mentioned. Life is already good, so why talk about Hell? These days, many people laugh at, question, poke fun, and openly deny the reality of Hell.
“I do not believe in Hell”, “I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, hence no matter what I do, I simply will never ever go to Hell”, “No one has ever returned from beyond the grave to testify that there is a Hell”, “Life is so blessed, so how can there be a place like Hell?”, “Life is to be enjoyed, to be lived fully, why worry about Hell –when, even we will all be dead by then, anyway” and many, many more…lame excuses.
As a result of this secular mindset, many of us today live their lives as if Hell can never exist for them, death always seems so far away, so distant – we carry on in our mad pursuit of materialism, wealth accumulation, power, ranks...we abuse our positions of authority by putting others down, we play God, we live as if life on earth is eternal, as if there is no consequences to whatever we do or not do.
Even in this holy season of Lent, the so-called sacrifices we make may simply be “artificial”, no more than just “scratching the surface” of our souls; only for show. These 'acts' are performed more to “display” externally to gain public acceptance, rather than to “heal” and 'renew' our own interior soul. Human beings are such good pretenders.
This Lent, we must realize that deep down, only we ourselves know the “genuineness’ or ‘sincerity’ of such acts, be it fasting, almsgiving, serving or praying; hopefully, we do not become like the Pharisees – trying to cheat ourselves…trying to cheat God.
At the end of the day, Lent is simply about us turning our lives back towards God and becoming His disciple. Repent!
Unfortunately or fortunately, Hell is the most terrible truth of our faith, of our lives! It is as certain as our breathing, our heart beat; as it is, the existence of God. Hell does not simply cease to exist just because one does not believe in it. This plain truth has been proclaimed many times over in the Gospels and through the rest of Holy Scriptures; God continues to warn His people about Hell.
“I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls.
The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire. (This pool of fire is the second death.) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the pool of fire.” (Revelations 20:12-15, NAB)
In the parable of poor Lazarus, the rich man was surprised to experience the horrors and the eternity of Hell – it was the consequences of his actions or inactions that he ended up there. Abraham went on to remind the rich man that the people on the earth “have Moses and the prophets” – the scripture, God’s inspired Word, to instruct and warn them, but…
“If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31, NAB)
The Saints too, have much to reveal to us about Hell. Our dear Lord had Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, a holy nun from Poland, visit Hell in 1936. Here is simply a small snippet of her awesome account of this horrifying and dreadful place:
“Today, I was led by an angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is!
The kinds of tortures 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 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 constant company of Satan; the seventh torture is the 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.
There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another.
I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin.
I am writing this at the command of God, 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, 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… The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God.
What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright.
How terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God's mercy upon them.
O my Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend You by the least sin.”
“Indeed the message (St. Faustina) brought is the appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies.” - Pope John Paul II -Divine Mercy Sunday Homily,Sunday, 22 April 2001
This Lent, choose never to deny the existence of Hell.
Simply reflect on the following…
“Then they will answer and say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?” He will answer them, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:44-46, NAB)
Therefore, for the remaining weeks of this Holy Season, let us make time to contemplate on this truth, to choose God in our lives, to love others more, to uphold justice, to respect human dignity in all our words and action…while there is still time!
Like Jesus, on the Way of the Cross, we too can claim victory over Hell each day...in everything we say and do. Choose Jesus...Choose Life!