I am afraid of Hell.
That’s something a lot of Catholic intellectuals might not admit.
Now, to be clear, I am not afraid of fire and brimstone, nor am I afraid of pitchforks. I am afraid, rather, of the complete absence of all that is good, all that I have loved, and all who have loved me.
I am afraid of the far more torturous reality of an eternity of complete and utter loneliness, knowing that each of us created in the image of the Trinity were made for eternal relationship.
I’ll be honest, I fear hell enough to go to confession often. I do this knowing full well that it will only be by mercy that, in the end, my own selfishness and stupidity hopefully won’t leave me in such a place.
My fear of Hell, in other words, is healthy.
That’s why it’s hard for me to understand people who wantonly ignore the clearest of Jesus’ commandments on how to get to heaven, especially when they claim to be Catholics or Christians.
It is not hard to find those commandments: Jesus helpfully provides a list in Matthew 25, and it’s pretty straightforward, so you don’t need a theology degree to understand what He is saying.
It is just a choice that we make as Christians: Take the words of Jesus seriously, or accept what is convenient to us in Christ’s message while rejecting Christ himself.
“When I was hungry, you fed me… When I was naked you clothed me… when I was ill, you cared for me.”
The bishops in the United States have said the new American Health Care Act falls short of those obligations imposed on us by Christ in the Gospel of Matthew, because it contains proposals that would be disproportionately harmful to the poor and to immigrants.
The nonpartisan congressional budget office found that 24 million people – that’s the same as the population of Australia – would no longer be covered under the law, and that the funds set aside to help them are simply not enough.
People will lose health coverage under this law, and no reliable provision has been made to care for them.
It seems to me that no person calling themselves Christian, let alone Catholic, can read the Gospel and not do their best, within their circumstances and means, to assure that each of their brothers and sisters who are ill get the care they need.
Their problems are our problems, whether they have pre-existing conditions or not.
We can choose to be a Christian nation and take care of the poorest, the weakest, the most vulnerable, or we can admit that we’re ruled by the god of greed, and are like those who turned away from the beaten man that the good Samaritan helped.
In doing so, we would be forced to admit that we are more ruled by self-concern than by concern for others.
I would never argue, nor do I think, that funding should be provided for birth control or abortion. I do not think that organizations like Planned Parenthood should be funded by taxpayer dollars.
I also do not think that anyone who dares to call themselves Christian should cheer when the poor and those with pre-existing conditions will no longer be covered under law.
As Bishop Frank Dewane, the head of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, noted: “Even with efforts to improve the bill before passage, the American Health Care Act still contains major defects, particularly regarding changes to Medicaid that risk coverage and affordability for millions.”
It is not enough to protect unborn life, we must protect all lives, particularly those who are vulnerable. The repeal of evil should be matched by every provision for the good.
Some of the best parts of our Catholic tradition in the United States are in the hospitals named Mercy and Sacred Heart, and named for St. Louis and St. Francis.
They are places where the poor and the destitute find mercy and love. These are places where the might and charity of the Church has met the frailty of humanity and the barbarism of disease, while boldly proclaiming the resurrection in each pill, each surgery, and in each caring act by a nurse or doctor.
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
We, as Catholics, know that health care is not a privilege, but a right, because for hundreds of years we have been the ones that have made that right a reality.
We have recognized the need in our society for the recognition of such a right through our charitable institutions. Many of those institutions will also suffer through this law through cuts in Medicaid, which often provides the financial backing for their good work among the poorest.
A Christian needs to take the Gospel seriously… “when I was ill you cared for me.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the Spiritual Exercises, writes that sometimes we should ask “for an interior sense of the pain suffered by the damned, so that if through my faults I should forget the love of the Eternal Lord, at least those pains will serve to keep me from falling into sin.”
Jesus is clear in the Gospel of Matthew on what happens to those that forget to care for the ill.
“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; … And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
And that is why I am afraid of Hell.
All of us, particularly our Catholic politicians, would do well to remember the words of Our Lord when thinking about our health law.
Fr. Michael Rogers, SJ is a Fellow in the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross.