There are times when children ask us questions which make us stop and think. Our answer needs to be well thought out and considered before our mouth is engaged into action.
Father Ignatius was at the local Catholic School for his usual Catechism class. This is what happened when a ten years old girl asked him her question.
“Father … is it OK to pray for those people in hell?”
The priest took off his spectacles and cleaned them of imaginary dust in order to gain some thinking time.
“Why do you ask?” he said gently.
“Well …” she hesitated, “we pray for the souls in purgatory so that God forgives them and they go to Heaven.
“Why don’t we pray for those in hell? They were bad when they were alive but now they are dead they are in hell for ever. I feel sorry for them!”
“It’s good of you to feel sorry for them,” replied the priest, “it shows a charitable spirit … it shows you’re very kind and considerate.
“But we must remember this. No one goes to hell by mistake.
“As you say, these people were bad when they lived and they had plenty of opportunities to be good and to do what God asks. They had many chances to repent and ask God to forgive them and to do good. But they disobeyed, time and again, and they turned their back on God.
“God is merciful and He forgives … but He is just too. Those who are in hell have sent themselves there by their behavior.”
Another child raised his hand and asked a question.
“But Father … Sister Josephine when she was here yesterday, she said that Jesus told us to love our enemies. He said to God to forgive them when they put Him on the Cross.
“The people in hell are the enemy of God. Why does God not forgive them? Does He not love them?”
Father Ignatius prayed silently for inspiration before answering.
“Of course He loves them” he replied after a short pause, “God loves everybody because they are His creations. I suspect He even loves those in hell and He is very sad that they are there.
“But there are times in life when people put themselves out of God’s loving nature.
“Let me explain it another way.
“Suppose your parents bought you a puppy for your birthday. You love that puppy very much and you play with him every day. But as he grows up he becomes a little threatening and he growls at everyone. One day he bites your hand. And he continues with this bad behavior to the point where you can’t come near him in case he bites you again.
“For your own safety, and that of others, your parents decide to take the dog away and put him in a Dog Rescue Shelter where he’s looked after by other people.
“It’s the same with us. God loves us all when we’re born and we’re babies. But as we grow up, some people turn against Him and become bad. No matter how often these people are told to do good they never ask God to forgive them and they continue to do bad things all their life.
“When these bad people die they go to hell because of what they have done … God still loves them. Just as you love your dog in the Dog Shelter!
“In fact I believe God grieves for those in hell. He’d rather the place was empty and we were all with Him in Heaven. But some people put themselves in hell by their bad behavior.”
“So do we pray for those in hell or not?” asked the original questioner.
“There is nothing wrong with praying,” Father Ignatius replied, “God will listen to your prayers, as He does all prayers, and will respond in an appropriate and just way. When you pray, say to God how sorry you are that there are people in hell, and ask Him to help you be good all your life.
“Every one of us, young and old, like me, must always pray that we do not give God reason to grieve by behaving badly and ending in hell.”