There is a story about a small country parish with a pastor who used to preach “fire and brimstone” homilies. He was on one of his fiercest streaks ever, preaching on sin, damnation and hellfire week after week, when finally one of the little old ladies of the parish got fed up with it.
One Sunday, when the pastor was preaching on a Gospel like this weekend’s, and referred to the “wailing and grinding of teeth” that goes on in hell, this feisty parishioner sat up straight in the first pew of the church, looked Father straight in the face, and with her lips curled back over her toothless gums, said, “But Pah-der, what ip I don’t hab any teef?” The pastor, without losing any of his composure, looked down sternly at the woman and said in his characteristically booming voice, “My dear lady, on THAT day, teeth will be provided!”
The fire-and-brimstone preacher is a fixture in the American imagination. But the pastoral situation in the U.S. Catholic Church today is very different from the story above.
We hardly hear about hell anymore. Yet, even a casual reader of the Gospels can’t help but notice that Jesus talks about hell a lot. And our tradition points our reflections to the four “last things” — Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell — during the month of November, as the liturgical year draws to a close.
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