Two Last Things

“Wow!” my daughter whispered to me after the homily Sunday. “It’s not every day someone actually tells you you might go to Hell!”

No comments about the desirability of this state of affairs, please. The point is that I don’t remember hearing anything about Hell in the homily, beyond a mention of the “four last things” — death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Father spoke about death, and told a moving story about what he became convinced was his own father’s deathbed vision of Heaven.

But in the car, and again at home, our daughter repeated the same thing. “It’s not every day someone actually tells you you might go to Hell!”

Several months ago, I heard a CD by Catholic motivational evangelist (for lack of a better term) Matthew Kelley. He suggested starting every mass by praying to hear one vital message in the readings, liturgy, or songs.

I think my daughter heard hers, while I heard mine. At 14, my daughter is steeped in the relativism of our culture. We are careful what she watches, what she listens to, who she hangs around with, and what she does. But you can’t get away from the pervasive cultural message that nothing is really bad, no one is really wrong, and everything just comes down to a choice between many options — all of them valid. At her age, it’s a revelation to be told by a sane and credible person you respect that yes, there really is a Hell, and yes, you really could go there.

I’m older. I fell for relativism — and I’m still in recovery. I know there’s a difference between a bad choice (taking an extra donut in the break room) and doing something bad (taking an extra $20 from petty cash). Doing bad things makes you a bad person, being a bad person has consequences, and human nature means even the best of us do bad things. You have to hear that bad news before you can hear the good news — after all, who needs salvation if there’s nothing to be saved from?

Father said a lot about purgatory and cleansing fire — yes, in Cincinnati! — but what they lead to is Heaven. So while my daughter heard the sobering message that Hell is real, I heard the good news of salvation. Two last things. More than enough for one day, I guess.

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