It’s been hot outside. Some would say it’s been hot as hell. But how do we know hell is hot? And where, exactly, is hell anyway? I was curious what Fr. Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D., and executive director of the Loyola Institute for Spirituality, had to say about the subject so I attended the July 10 Backyard Theology meeting at Santiago de Compostela, along with about 80 other people. The subject of the evening: “Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.” Who doesn’t want to understand more about these three places? And that was my first misconception. Fr. Just says they are not places.
In what was the first of four theology meetings held on Mondays in July, Fr. Just explained the Catholic Church’s teachings on the subject and answered questions from the audience.
Fr. Just shared the various views of heaven and earth ¬– from the Hebrew view of the universe to the Ptolemaic system to Copernicus’s view. Fr. Just said of heaven and hell, “They cannot be places.”
“Heaven is where God is,” he said, noting the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s glossary of terms that describes heaven as: “Eternal life with God; communion of life and love with the Trinity and all the blessed. Heaven is a state of supreme and definitive happiness, the goal of the deepest longings of humanity.”
Hell on the other hand, it should be concluded, is anywhere there is the absence of God. Fr. Just again noted the glossary of terms’ definition of hell. It is: “The state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed, reserved for those who refuse by their own free choice to believe and be converted from sin, even to the end of their lives.”
The word “purgatory,” he added, isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Bible. He did explain it as a period of purification that isn’t bound by the limits of time.
Fr. Just urged attendees to think of heaven and hell less in “location” terminology and more as a state of being, adding: “Our vision of heaven, hell and purgatory is more influenced by Dante and other writers than it is by the Bible.”
My vision of heaven has always been my grandmother’s dining room. It is filled with all those loved ones who have already passed on from this life. There is food. There is laughter. There is love and warmth and contentment.
Among the last of those to ask a question during the evening’s Q&A, I asked: “Will we see our loved ones in heaven?” Fr. Just, who shared that he lost both his parents last year, replied that if heaven is a definitive state of happiness, then our loved ones should be there.
I’m holding on to that.