David Byrne gives us the rock star’s vision of hell when he describes it as a place “where they have barbeque and beer better than we do up here, and you know all the words to the songs.”
For those willing to look past their own navels, there is an altogether different view.
St. Catherine of Sienna once had a vision of the devil “for a tiny while, hardly a moment.” She said she would “rather walk on a road of fire even till the final judgment day than see him again.”
Yet the denizens of hell, God reveals to her, are afflicted with the continual “sight of the devil,” “as he really is,” “in proportion to the depth of their sinfulness.”
Still, as St. Augustine reminds us, all being is good, and nothing that exists can be all bad. Even the devil retains some of his natural goodness, and even the sight of him must contain some consolation.
There is a single “refreshment” given to tormented souls, the Lord confirms: in the “torment of seeing the devil,” they come to “know themselves better: that is, they recognize that their sinfulness has made them worthy of him.”
Knowledge is a good thing, and self-knowledge most necessary and beneficial. But the timing matters.
God gives us the “fire of conscience” in this life to light our way to eternal happiness. When we convince ourselves we can snuff it out, replacing it perhaps with the blandishments of pop psychology, we only condemn ourselves to be burnt by its flames when it comes back to haunt us.
If instead we walk by the light of conscience in this life, in the next we will experience its flame as the love it truly is rather than the hell we are prone to make it.
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