Jesus has conquered death! Alleluia!

And yet we still must die in order to share in the fruits of His Resurrection. In our fallen freedom, we also can reject the new life of the Resurrection. Easter may not sound like the right time to reflect on Hell, but doing so shows us the power of Christ’s Resurrection. He has set us free from the power of death and the tyranny of the second death of Hell. And yet, the threat of Hell remains if we say no to the fruits of the Paschal mystery.

Who goes to Hell? Is it only the worst of sinners, like Hitler? Does everyone else go to Heaven just by being a nice person? Christian Smith famously described the de facto religious beliefs of most Americans as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: put differently as be nice, feel good, and God is absent but there for you in a pinch. Part of MTD is the belief that “good people go to heaven when they die.” That is, if you are a nice person and not a mass murderer, you will go to Heaven, regardless of whether or not you have faith in Christ and kept His commandments.

We have literally buried Hell in that it does not seem like a reality to most people. The Fatima children are a stark reminder of the truth of Hell, as are countless other Catholic mystics. Sr. Lucia later recounted the children’s vision of Hell:

“As Our Lady spoke these last words, she opened her hands once more, as she had done during the two previous months. The rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw as it were a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke now falling back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. (It must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me). The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. Terrified and as if to plead for succour, we looked up at Our Lady, who said to us, so kindly and so sadly: You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.”

In spite of the Church’s teaching on Hell and the experience of the mystics, many Catholics, including theologians, have at least practically denied its existence. Many claim that we cannot say for certain that anyone, except the fallen angels, have gone there.

I would counter that we can say that one person has gone to Hell: Judas.

Why would we even need to ask this question? The reason why can be stated succinctly by examining the objection of the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book, Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?”:

“Certainty cannot be attained, but hope can be justified. That is probably the reason why the Church, which has sanctified so many men, has never said anything about the damnation of any individual. Not even that of Judas, who became in a way the representative example for something of which all sinners are also guilty. Who can know the nature of the remorse that seized Judas when he saw that Jesus had been condemned (Mt 27:3)?” (149).

If even Judas cannot be said with certainty to reside in Hell, then can we say that anyone at all goes there? However, the Church, in maintaining and holding to the truth of Scripture, may indeed hold to the damnation of Judas, coming from the words of Our Lord and St. Peter themselves.

First of all, pace Balthasar, we do know the nature of Judas’ remorse at betraying Christ – it was a despair that lead to suicide. I concede that in itself it might not be enough to state with certainty Judas’ damnation, except for the words that precede this act. John’s Gospel tells us that after taking the morsel from Jesus “Satan entered into him” (Jn 13:27). Jesus speaks of Judas in the harshest words imaginable, calling him later in John “the son of perdition” or “destruction” and describes his protection for the other disciples: “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction” (Jn 17:12). Jesus says that Judas has been lost.

Further, there are two other scriptural indications of Judas’ damnation. Jesus once again speaks of Judas in a way that clearly leads one to the conclusion that He is damned. He says: “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matt 26:24, cf Mk 14:21). If Judas had repented of his betrayal, even as he hung, then it would have been better for him to have been born. In that repentance, he would have reached eternal happiness, like the good thief. The meaning of better not to have been born, however, implies that Judas is experiencing the second and unending death.

There is one final indication from the Acts of the Apostle. Peter directs the other Apostles to choose a successor for Judas. He asks the Lord to show which man has been “chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place” (Acts 1:24-25). This may be the perfect expression for Hell: turning away from the place the Lord has given us in order to go to our own place. Jesus described Heaven as the Father’s House, but Hell is our own house, in which we can dwell forever in the seclusion of isolating despair.

Why does Judas’ damnation matter? It shows us the reality of Hell and what we will face if we betray the Lord like Judas—without repentance. During this Easter time and novena of Divine Mercy, we must throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus to receive His mercy and never despair. May we be like the penitent Peter, expressing our love and trust in Jesus when we betray Him, getting up to follow the Lord, allowing Him to lead us even where we do not wish to go—the hard road of repentance and death—leading to the eternal Resurrection to life.

  • Marie Wersant

    As far as answering Protestant apologists, I pray for them. Luther led the faithful astray with Protestantism, need we say more. Luther stripped the original Bible of several books (Macabees, this is why Protestants generally do not believe in Purgatory) and Wisdom. A man, Luther, who thought he was better than God by chopping up the bible and teaching to the point he swayed many people into a splintered religion. Just like many other men, who put their ego first and created their own churches. I put no stock in anything Luther has taught. Nuff said.

  • Marie Wersant

    There will always be those who challenge the authenticity and authority of the Church on the teachings of Mary as an intercessor. We do not worship her, we ask her help by requesting she pray for us. Just as we might ask a friend to pray for us. The difference is that Mary bore her son Jesus, and in her Jesus has placed the key to heaven, if we call out to her as a mother and ask her help. Nothing can be done without faith in Jesus. Mary is our mother in Heaven, and Jesus has called us to respect His wishes and offer her homage, not worship. I am very tired of this overused “argument” that Mary is worshipped, when that is not the case. If anyone has a complete understanding of Church teaching, at no point is Mary given divine status. She is our intercessor, end of story.

  • Stephanie Pynes Nelson

    John 14:6 Yeshua said to him, “I AM THE LIVING GOD, The Way and The Truth and The Life; no man comes to my Father but by me alone.”

    So pray to whomever as just like every other soul you have been gifted with free will…but if your prayers aren’t to Jesus then your prayers are to an idol. And Id be afraid of Jesus’s wrath for making an idol of Mother Mary and a mockery of the scripture through your worship of His mother. Shame on you.

    • Shane M.

      I agree. I’m glad to know I’m not alone in this thought process.

      • Stephanie Pynes Nelson

        Thanks Shane. I don’t see how this scripture can be interpreted in anyway other than exactly what it says. Plain as day. And I have reverent fear of my creator. His wrath is as powerful as His love. So I tiptoe around Christianity beliefs. I don’t want to lead anyone astray. But worshiping, praying to or giving thanks to anything or anyone in prayer except Jesus Christ is idolatry by the textbook version. Period.

  • Shane M.

    Why would God want to save souls by establishing devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart? Why shouldn’t we concentrate on Christ’s Divine Mercy and his heart. Seeking salvation by devotion to Mary’s Heart is just a round about way of doing things that makes absolutely no sense and has no spiritual basis. Am I the only Catholic that thinks we have taken our devotion to Mary WAY too far? I realize these words are the musings of children, but it is interpreted by many in the church as the will of God. I think it is incredibly dangerous to give these apparitions such credence.

    • R. Jared Staudt

      The apparitions have been given approval by the Church and are even celebrated liturgically. They are consistent with many other apparitions and teachings of great spiritual writers, especially Louis de Montfort and John Paul II. Jesus’ heart is very close to the heart of his Mother and two beat together. Devotion to Mary’s heart points to the heart of her Son, formed from her own blood. As de Monfort said: “It is through the most Blessed Virgin Mary that Jesus Christ came into the world, and it is also through her that he will reign in the world.” Mary is the doorway through which her Son enters the world.

      • Shane M.

        The church is not infallible. We see the decisions of these men who run the church and the nightmare situations they have created for people all over the world. Sexual abuse, cover-ups, witness tampering…… How is it that you still place so much faith in these men? The church has done a fantastic job at convincing the faithful that if you question the church you are questioning the Almighty. The two are polar opposites.

      • Olivia

        How do you answer Protestant apologists such as James White that state true intermediaries like angels, Mary of the Bible, the focus is pointing to Christ, however in Fatima, by Mary saying that she wants to set up devotion to her immaculate heart, the focus is on her. Isn’t Mary stealing the limelight at Fatima rather than giving glory to Jesus?

      • Shane M.

        Excellent point. Mary would never attempt to steal the limelight from her son. It follows that she never asked for devotion to her heart. This notion that we have to approach Jesus through Mary is ridiculous.

      • alcogli

        Thank you for this thoroughly orthodox reply. Your appearance on Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s EWTN Live was highly edifying.

    • Claudio Fernando Maciel

      You are not alone