The horror of no longer being able to love
One of the greatest mystics of this century was Sister Josefa Menendez, who died in 1923 at the age of 33.
This young Spanish sister, who had a short religious life of great suffering, experienced revelations throughout much of her life, compiled in The Way Of Divine Love.
More than once, she was taken to Hell to witness and feel the suffering first-hand.
Sister Josefa was reluctant to write on the subject of Hell, and did so only to conform to Our Lord’s wishes.
Sister Josefa repeatedly dwelt on what she described as the greatest torment of Hell, namely, the soul’s inability to love. One of these damned souls cried out: “This is my torture…that I want to love and cannot; there is nothing left me but hatred and despair. If one of us could so much as make a single act of love… But we cannot, we live on hatred and malevolence…” (March 23, 1922).
Sister Josefa Menendez was allowed to experience hell.
“In the night of 16th March towards ten O’Clock”, wrote Josefa, I became aware, as on the preceding days, of a confusing noise of cries and chains. I rose quickly and dressed, and trembling with fright, knelt down near my bed. The uproar was approaching, and not knowing what to do, I left the dormitory, and went to our Holy Mother’s cell; then I went back to the dormitory. The same terrifying sounds were all round me; then all of a sudden I saw in front of me the devil himself.
“Tie her feet and bind her hands,” he cried. Instantly I lost sight of where I was, and felt myself tightly bound and being dragged away. Other voices screamed: “No good to bind her feet; it is her heart that you must bind.” “It does not belong to me,” came the answer from the devil. Then I was dragged along a very dark and lengthy passage, and on all sides resounded terrible cries.
On opposite sides of the walls of the narrow corridor were niches out of which poured smoke, though with very little flame, and which emitted an intolerable stench. From these niches came blaspheming voices, uttering impure words. Some cursed their bodies, others their parents… It was a medley of confused screams of rage and despair.
I was dragged through that kind of corridor which seemed endless. Then I received a punch in the stomach which doubled me in two, and forced me into one of the niches. I felt as if I were being pressed between two burning planks and pierced through and through with scorching needle points. Opposite and beside me souls were blaspheming and cursing me. What caused me most suffering… and which no torture can be compared, was the anguish of my soul to find myself separated from God…
It seemed to me that I spent long years in that hell, yet it only lasted six or seven hours…
I see clearly that all the sufferings on earth are nothing in comparison with the horror of no longer being able to love, for in that place all breaths hatred and thirst to damn other souls.”
She records, too, the accusations made against themselves by these unhappy souls: “Some yell because of the martyrdom of their hands. Perhaps they were thieves, for they say: ‘Where is our loot now?’ …Cursed hands… Others curse their tongues, their eyes…whatever was the occasion of sin… ‘Now, O body, you are paying the price of the delights you granted yourself!…and you did it of your own free will…'” (April 2, 1922).
“I saw several souls fall into Hell, and among them was a child of fifteen, cursing her parents for not having taught her to fear God nor that there was a Hell. Her life had been a short one, she said, but full of sin, for she had given in to all that her body and passions demanded in the way of satisfaction…” (March 22, 1923).
“My soul fell into abysmal depths, the bottom of which cannot be seen, for it is immense…; Then I was pushed into one of those fiery cavities and pressed, as it were, between burning planks, and sharp nails and red-hot irons seemed to be piercing my flesh. I felt as if they were endeavoring to pull out my tongue, but could not. This torture reduced me to such agony that my very eyes seemed to be starting out of their sockets. I think this was because of the fire which burns, burns..not a finger nail escapes terrifying torments, and all the time one cannot move even a finger to gain some relief, not change posture, for the body seems flattened out and [yet] doubled in two. Sounds of confusion and blasphemy cease not for an instant. A sickening stench asphyxiates and corrupts everything, it is like the burning of putrefied flesh, mingled with tar and sulphur…a mixture to which nothing on earth can be compared… although these tortures were terrific, they would be bearable if the soul were at peace. But it suffers indescribably…All I have written,” she concluded, “is but a shadow of what the soul suffers, for no words can express such dire torment.” (September 4, 1922).
“Today, I saw a vast number of people fall into the fiery pit . . . they seemed to be worldlings and a demon cried vociferously: ‘The world is ripe for me . . . I know that the best way to get hold of souls is to rouse their desire for enjoyment . . . Put me first . . . me before the rest . . . no humility for me! but let me enjoy myself . . . This sort of thing assures victory to me . . . and they tumble headlong into hell.’ ” (October 4, 1923)
“Tonight I was transported to a place where all was obscure. . . Around me were seven or eight people; I could see them only by the reflections of the fire. They were seated and were talking together. One said: ‘We’ll have to be very careful not to be found out, for we might easily be discovered.’
“The devil answered: ‘Insinuate yourselves by inducing carelessness in them . . . but keep in the background, so that you are not found out . . . by degrees they will become callous, and you will be able to incline them to evil. Tempt these others to ambition, to self-interest, to acquiring wealth without working, whether it be lawful or not. Excite some to sensuality and love of pleasure. Let vice blind them . . . As to the remainder . . . get in through the heart . . . you know the inclinations of their hearts . . . make them love . . .love passionately . . . work thoroughly . . . take no rest . . . have no pity. Let them cram themselves with food! It will make it all the easier for us . . . Let them get on with their banqueting. Love of pleasure is the door through which you will reach them . . .’ ” (February 3, 1923).
Praise the Lord Jesus Christ.
SAINT TERESA’S DESCRIPTION OF HELL
Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). She on one occasion had a vision of hell:
“While I was at prayer one day, I found myself in a moment, without knowing how, plunged apparently into Hell. I understood that it was Our Lord’s will that I should see the place which the devils kept in readiness for me, and which I had deserved by my sins. It lasted but for a moment, but it seems to me impossible that I should ever forget it even if I were to live many years.
“The entrance seemed to be by a long narrow pass, like a furnace, very low, dark, and close. The ground seemed to be saturated with water, mere mud, exceedingly foul, sending forth pestilential odors, and covered with loathsome vermin. At the end was a hollow place in the wall like a closet, and in that I saw myself confined. All this was ever pleasant to behold in comparison with what I felt there. There is no exaggeration in what I am saying.
“But as to what I then felt, I do not know where to begin if I were to describe it; it is utterly inexplicable. I felt a fire in my soul but such that I am still unable to describe it. My bodily sufferings were unendurable. I have undergone most painful sufferings in this life, and, as the physicians say, the greatest that can be borne, such as the contraction of my sinews when I was paralyzed, without speaking of other ills of different types – yet, even those of which I have spoken, inflicted on me by Satan; yet all these were as nothing in comparison with what I then felt, especially when I saw that there would be no intermission nor any end to them.
“These sufferings were nothing in comparison with the anguish of my soul, a sense of oppression, of stifling, and of pain so acute, accompanied by so hopeless and cruel an infliction, that I know not how to speak of it. If I say that the soul is continually being torn from the body it would be nothing – for that implies the destruction of life by the hands of another – but here it is the soul itself that is tearing itself in pieces. I cannot describe that inward fire or that despair, surpassing all torments and all pain. I did not see who it was that tormented me, but I felt myself on fire, and torn to pieces, as it seemed to me; and I repeat it, this inward fire and despair are the greatest torments of all.
“Left in that pestilential place, and utterly without the power to hope for comfort, I could neither sit nor lie down; there was no room. I was placed as it were in a hole in the wall; and those walls, terrible to look on of themselves, hemmed me in on every side. I could not breathe. There was no light, but all was thick darkness. I do not understand how it is; though there was no light, yet everything that can give pain by being seen was visible.
“Our Lord at that time would not let me see more of Hell. Afterwards I had another most fearful vision, in which I saw the punishment of certain sins. They were the most horrible to look at, but because I felt none of the pain, my terror was not so great. In the former vision Our Lord made me really feel those torments and that anguish of spirit, just as if I had been suffering them in the body there. I know not how it was, but I understood distinctly that it was a great mercy that Our Lord would have me see with my own eyes the very place from which His compassion saved me. I have listened to people speaking of these things and I have at other times dwelt on the various torments of Hell, though not often, because my soul made no progress by the way of fear; and I have read of the diverse tortures, and how the devils tear the flesh with red-hot pincers. But all is as nothing before this: It is a wholly different matter. In short, the one is a reality, the other a description; and all burning here in this life is as nothing compared with the fire that is there.
“I was so terrified by that vision – and that terror is on me even now as I write – that though it took place nearly six years ago, the natural warmth of my body is chilled by fear even now when I think of it. And so, amid all the pain and suffering which I may have had to bear, I remember no time in which I do not think that all we have to suffer in this world is as nothing. It seems to me that we complain without reason. I repeat it, this vision was one of the grandest mercies of God. It has been to me of the greatest service, because it has destroyed my fear of trouble and of the contradictions of the world, and because it has made me strong enough to bear up against them, and to give thanks to Our Lord who has been my Deliverer, as it now seems to me, from such fearful and everlasting pains.
“Ever since that time, as I was saying, everything seems endurable in comparison with one instant of suffering such as those I had then to bear in Hell. I am filled with fear when I see that, after frequently reading books which describe in some manner the pains of Hell, I was not afraid of them, nor made any account of them. Where was I? How could I possibly take any pleasure in those things which led me directly to so dreadful a place? Blessed forever be Thou, O my God! And oh, how manifest is it that Thou didst love me much more than I did love Thee! How often, O Lord, didst Thou save me from that fearful prison! And how I used to get back to it contrary to Thy will.
“It was that vision which filled me with very great distress which I felt at the sight of so many lost souls, especially of the Lutherans – for they were once members of the Church by Baptism – and also gave me the most vehement desires for the salvation of souls; for certainly I believe that to save even one from those overwhelming torments , I would willingly endure many deaths. If here on earth we see one whom we specially love in great trouble or pain, our very nature seems to bid us compassionate him; and if those pains be great, we are troubled ourselves. What, then, must it be to see a soul in danger of pain, the most grievous of all pains, forever? It is a thought no heart can bear without great anguish. Here we know that pain at last ends with life, and that there are limits to it, yet the sight of it moves us so greatly to compassion; that other pain has no ending, and I know not how we can be calm when we see Satan carry so many souls daily away.
“This also makes me wish that, in a matter which concerns us so much, we did not rest satisfied with doing less than we can do on our part – that we left nothing undone. May Our Lord vouchsafe to give us His grace for that end.”