Reading “Gaudete et exsultate”: Pope Francis schools those who shy from spiritual combat imagery

I’ve been working my way through the very long Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate (GEE).  It’s a whopping 20K words.

There is a very good section near the end.

From GEE 159 and following, the Pope speaks in clear terms about the Devil, “the prince of evil”.

[W]e should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea.[121] This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable. The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice. When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities. “Like a roaring lion, he prowls around, looking for someone to devour”

There are some who mistakenly, cravenly shrink from using images of war, weaponry, combat when speaking about the spiritual struggle we undergo and which is constantly being waged around us in the angelic realm. In GEE the Pope admonishes people not to be naive.

God’s word invites us clearly to “stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph 6:11) and to “quench all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Eph 6:16). These expressions are not melodramatic, precisely because our path towards holiness is a constant battle. Those who do not realize this will be prey to failure or mediocrity. For this spiritual combat, we can count on the powerful weapons that the Lord has given us: faith-filled prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, [GO TO CONFESSION!] works of charity, community life, missionary outreach. If we become careless, the false promises of evil will easily seduce us. As the sainted Cura Brochero observed: “What good is it when Lucifer promises you freedom and showers you with all his benefits, if those benefits are false, deceptive and poisonous?”

This is timely, especially in the wake of the whole “Hellgate” dust up.  If there is a Devil, there is a Hell.  Period.

Yes, there is a Hell, the state of existence which is defined by eternal separation from God that results in “pain of loss”.  After the resurrection there will also be “pain of sense”.

Yes, the Devil exists and is a personal being.  The Enemy works ceaselessly to prevent God’s glory from being magnified.  The Enemy – which are all the fallen angels – work to ruin souls so that they will be separated eternally from God in the state of Hell.

“Damnation” is not a state of nothingness.  It is not “annihilation”.  Nope.  Damnation means eternal separation from God in the state of Hell, where there will be both pain of loss and pain of sense, true and enduring, all encompassing agony with no hope that it will ever end.

Make your choices, friends.  People usually die according to how they lived.

Be wary of the Enemy.

Use your good weapons of spiritual warfare.

Start practicing for death – NOW.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. DeltBunyan says:

    While I agree with you on your main points, I will also add that it is completely possible for people to believe that Satan exists without there being a Hell. If one believes Hell does not exist, one could easily surmise that Satan exists in the world now, and come the end of time will simply “vanish” like “bad souls.” Yazidis believe that Satan repented and was placed in charge of creation; hence Hell is not necessary. Cathars believed there was no Hell either, despite believing in an evil deity.

    The belief in the presence of Satan does NOT presuppose the belief in the presence of Hell.

    [Nice try.]

  2. LeeGilbert says:

    From “On the Sanctity and Duties of the Monastic State” by Armand-Jean De Rance: Chapter XIV, “On the Judgments of God”:

    “Q. 2.—Is it not to be feared, that the view of the judgments of God would plunge the soul into a state of discouragement and sadness? Would it not be dangerous to make them the subject of our ordinary meditations ?

    “A.—The consideration of the judgments of God has been esteemed so useful for sinners, both before and after their conversion, that nothing is more recommended by the holy Fathers, as we have already remarked in all we have said on the obligation by which every religious is bound to deplore his sins, and to live in a continual preparation for death. But in order to convince you entirely of a truth so essential, and so well calculated to assist you, and all those who, like you, are obliged to live in the practice of an exact piety, I will, moreover, add the following considerations.

    Consider therefore, my brethren, that it is by the fear of the judgments of God that the Holy Spirit severally produces in the hearts of sinners the first thoughts and desires of conversion and salvation, that by it He stems the torrent of their iniquities, by it He prevents them, touches them, moves them, overthrows them; and, having filled them with terror, makes them in the excess of their fear, exclaim in the following words: 0 Lord, who understands the weight of thy indignation? and who can comprehend the extent of thy anger?

    “By it He leads them to the only means that can deliver them from the state of confusion and terror in which they groan, which is no other but that of hope in the divine mercy through the merits of Jesus Christ, by which He inspires them to rise with confidence. Hence, considering Him as their only refuge, by whom they may escape the dreadful tempest that threatens them, they must, by a necessary and inevitable consequence offer Him the first sentiments of acknowledgment and love, and regard in future all those actions with horror and detestation by which they had the misfortune to offend Him.

    “Behold here, how much a sinner is indebted to the fear of God, and in what manner he receives the first rays of divine consolation, from the view and consideration of the judgments of the Lord.
    But if this fear were so profitable in the beginning of his conversion, it will not be less advantageous, nor less necessary afterwards. It assisted him to recover the innocence he had lost; it will re-assist him to preserve it when found; and so far from disturbing the peace of his heart, as it is supposed, or veiling it under clouds and darkness, nothing will more effectually preserve its security and peace, nor more assuredly prevent him from losing its tranquillity, or rather the charity of Jesus Christ, which is the living source of true peace and happiness.”

  3. Benedict Joseph says:

    The fruits of your labor, Lee, are appreciated. Such wisdom needs sharing!

  4. Kent Wendler says:

    About that pain of sense…

    We are inherently both soul and body. In mortal life our soul informs the body, and after death it seems reasonable to suppose that our soul needs to – must – inform our resurrected body. Now “reality” and “truth” are actually synonyms. Even the least of the saints have the Beatific Vision, which we know is Truth itself, so they have the benefit of their souls being able to inform their resurrections guided by Truth to the reality of their glorified bodies.

    The damned, on the other hand (the left), have definitively cut themselves off from Truth. They would seem to have nothing left but their memories, mortal and imperfect, and their imaginations, debased by their sinfulness. Given this, it is not difficult to suppose the souls of the damned, conditioned by their respective sins, inform their resurrections as depicted by Dante in The Inferno or as stated by the mystics who have reported visions of Hell.

  5. chantgirl says:

    I don’t think the urgent question is whether Francis believes in Hell. I think the real question is whether or not he thinks any souls are actually in Hell. The belief that Hell is empty is held by some priests, and it would not be outside the realm of possibility that Francis could believe this. We don’t know his thoughts for sure on this, but his continued silence on Scalfari’s claims makes me wonder.

    In fact, a belief in the annihilation of souls almost necessitates a Devil, because who would destroy a lost soul at the end of his life? God? The idea of a loving and merciful God destroying souls is ridiculous, but it is not difficult to believe that the Devil would get the job of destroying lost souls .

    I just don’t think that belief in the Devil and belief in the annihilation of souls is mutually exclusive. It would be awesome to get some clarification on this as I have already seen people online talking about the annihilation of souls as the more merciful way for God to handle sinners at the end of life, sort of a “Damnation with Dignity” argument. Euthanize a soul instead of letting him suffer for all eternity?

    I am not trying to be disrespectful. This question just won’t rest until it is answered. It’s too important.

  6. richiedel says:

    “For this spiritual combat, we can count on the powerful weapons that the Lord has given us: faith-filled prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity, community life, missionary outreach.” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 162).

    Uh oh…I wonder how Massimo Faggioli feels about the “weaponization” of community life and missionary outreach.

  7. richiedel says: I wonder how Massimo Faggioli feels

    What an interesting question!

  8. Pingback: THVRSDAY MORNING EDITION – Big Pulpit

  9. Adoremus says:

    No asceticism in Pope Francis’ vision of holiness according to

  10. BJard says:

    The devil went overboard trying to stop the movie The Passion. He had to be furious when he failed.

  11. Holiness, the life of a holy person IS beautiful. Is aesthetically pleasing so to speak, for people with eyes to see and ears to hear. Ugh. I know Adoremus, you agree with this by your tone just confirming.

    @ chantgirl, how would God destroying something, a soul, be against His nature or ridiculous in some way? A fig tree comes to mind. It seems as if destroying a soul, outright, which cannot happen I think because of the nature of the soul, is not as just which cannot be separated from mercy, as it may seem. We are speaking about punishment due to grave sins, against God. God, everywhere present and filling all things. If Heaven, and beholding the Beatific vision, a soul is ever increasing in goodness, or blessedness (to put it very simply) forever….does it not seem that, like the waves of grief that come upon us from the loss of a loved one, that the annihilation of a soul can be like this loss, this separation from The Beloved, only it doesn’t come in waves not ends as God is infinite and so to the separation from God can be and ever increasing, infinite and continuing annihilation of the soul. Why would Hell have a stopping point? As if that is it, you have been punished enough, now it is merciful to be destroyed completely. We can never ” make up” for offending God. Which is why He became man. So what would it say about God if there were an end to hell? What would it say about our souls and their worth if there were an end to hell?

  12. Imrahil says:

    Dear chantgirl,

    The belief that Hell is empty is held by some priests, and it would not be outside the realm of possibility that Francis could believe this. We don’t know his thoughts for sure on this, but his continued silence on Scalfari’s claims makes me wonder.

    Well, yes, but the two things are two rather distinct things. Annihilationism has been known in the Church before, and it means that the damned are annilhilated (hence the name) rather than left a painful existence. “Empty-hell” is the entirely different concept that those who would go to Hell would be left a painful existence, but noone actually does so. The difference is also that annihilationism is a condemned heresy, while “empty-hell” is quite compatible with Catholic dogma. (I would hold that actual “empty-hell” – not the still quite different idea of “really-sparsely-populated hell” – runs contrary to diverse verses of Scripture and sources of tradition – but an actual heresy is something different.)

    Now Scalfari distinctly presents the Pope as preaching annihilationism using annihilationist terms – even though this is utterly absent from Catholic thought, even “liberal Catholic thought”.

    In fact, a belief in the annihilation of souls almost necessitates a Devil, because who would destroy a lost soul at the end of his life? God?

    No, and yes. The Devil by his natural power cannot destroy a soul. Only God can do so, without Whose keeping us in being we would all be reduced to nothing. Annihilationism is the theory that God annihilates the lost souls.

    The idea of a loving and merciful God destroying souls is ridiculous.

    To be honest, no, it is not. He does not in actual case; we know that the rewards in Heaven and Hell are eternal. But in principle, God is not bound to keep those in life whom He once has called into life. The annihilationist (and frankly, some in the orthodox camp too*) suppose that annihilating souls would be more merciful than condemning them to the eternal pain of Hell, and so He would do that (remembering that by hypothesis, we are only talking about those who are damned either way).

    [* “in the orthodox camp too”: this tends to sound like, “ah yes, the weak believers suppose that the wicked are merely annihilated, but noo, they won’t get off with their existence puffing away in smoke and that is it. They will have to endure all the pain, for all eternity – God will not spare them.]

  13. chantgirl says:

    ChiaraDiAssisi- I accept and believe the Church’s teaching on Hell. What I am concerned about are the rumblings coming from the Scalfari interviews. I have seen people arguing online that it would be more merciful for sinners to be destroyed at the end of their lives than be sent for an eternity of suffering in Hell. Among the uncatechized and the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd who do not understand suffering, there is widespread belief in an afterlife, but no consensus on Hell. Many have no problem imagining that people experience some sort of Heaven after death, but are not comfortable with the idea of Hell. (I don’t know how they expect anything like Heaven to exist without a sequestering of the wicked, or without some sort of purification for the average good person who winds up in Heaven. If everyone except Hitler and Stalin, child molesters, and murderers wind up in Heaven without purification, Heaven would likely be about as miserable as earth)

    What I am trying to say, is that the Scalfari claims about a Pope believing in the annihilation of souls could not have come at a worse time. Your average person wants to believe that everyone winds up with a happy ending in the afterlife, but they have great difficulty in imagining that sinners could be tortured forever in Hell. So the annihilation of souls theory is incredibly tempting. The good would get their happy ending, the really wicked people would just disappear, and they wouldn’t have to accept that there is a place of eternal punishment and torture. I think that this idea has the potential to lead many people astray as the populace of the west right now is primed to believe it. The west is fertile ground for such a heresy. That’s why I am so keen to see Francis clarify his position.

    I think we are in agreement that God probably wouldn’t destroy a soul because a soul is an eternal thing and it would seem to go against God’s nature to destroy something that He made to be eternal. Again, people naturally recoil at the idea of a merciful God destroying, or “killing” souls. Christopher Hitchens’ book God Is Not Great fooled so many people because he persuaded them that the God of the Bible is vengeful, violent, a cosmic murderer. So if the annihilation of souls heresy catches on, likely people will still believe in the Devil as they will need some sort of executioner figure. Otherwise, they will end up with a religious philosophy in which God becomes the Destroyer, not so different from many of the pagan religions of the past.

    Perhaps the West is headed back towards paganism.

  14. Ms.Mary says:

    Luke 16:19-30 – The Lord tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus dies and goes to Heaven (the bosom of Abraham at that moment) and the rich man dies and goes to a separate place. The rich man asks for a drop of cool water and Abraham replies that “… between us and you, there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither.” Being that the Lord Himself told this parable, isn’t He testifying to the reality of Hell, and the fact that once you’re there, it’s over?

  15. Unwilling says:

    … our path towards holiness is a constant battle. Those who do not realize this will be prey to … mediocrity. What is mediocre holiness? Mediocrity belongs to this life, to this world. So, what, on this scale/continuum, is holiness as here discussed?

  16. chantgirl says:

    Imrahil- I apologize- I wasn’t clear in my original post. I wasn’t speaking about my personal beliefs but what I had encountered online recently from the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd.

    As to an empty-Hell theory, as much as I would love if no soul went to Hell, Jesus mentions the narrow gate that many will attempt but be unsuccessful in entering. The apparitions at Fatima would paint a different picture as well.

  17. DeltBunyan says:

    @Imrahil – Actually the “empty hell” belief IS a heresy. Based on two passages from the Council of Florence:

    1. Session 11: “It firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the catholic church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the catholic church before the end of their lives.”

    2. Session 6: “But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.”

    We know for a fact that a) people have remained unbaptized through history, and hence outside the bosom of the Church, and b) those who are unbaptized still hold the stain of original sin. Thus, we know that Hell is not empty, and to believe that is to violate the Council of Florence – hence, a heresy.

  18. Semper Gumby says:

    Interesting. Thanks for the remarks on GEE 159, GEE 162, Luke 16 and Fatima.

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