The Pope says there is no hell.
Are you shitting me, dude?
No hell. No fire and brimstone. No eternal damnation for Hitler, Castro, Charles Manson, or the son of a bitch who wrote “This is the song that never ends.”
What happens to Dante? Goethe? What will we do with musical masterpieces like Don Giovanni, and Francesca da Rimini? How about the dead guy in that episode of the Twilight Zone, whose dog wouldn’t let him enter the supposed wonderland where pets were not allowed?
Last week on Good Friday, as I stared at a refrigerator full of chicken, beef, and pork chops, I heard a demon with an Argentinian accent whisper to me, “Go ahead, Che! There is no punishment. If you have a big dish of that chicken salad, you’re not going to burn. You’ll just disappear. You won’t even get any fatter! The calories will disappear too!”
I wonder what my Aunt Carmen would have said… that hyper-religious “calambuca” who taught me the Catechism before I was five, so I could be confirmed by the Bishop of Havana before my parents dragged me into this Protestant-infested Sodom known as the United States. Would Carmen have deferred to the Pope, as she always did to men of the cloth, or would she have kicked his ass for the heresy he had just committed? And what would my nuns have done? Those saintly women who educated me and my friends, and read us the story of Fatima putting extra emphasis on the damnation of youngsters who engaged in carnal exploration…would they have rushed him en masse, rulers poised for a beating, as my friends and I rushed over to the local boys’ school to carouse with every male in sight?
This may be the last straw for me, folks. Every “absolute” I learned in my youth has been challenged in the course of my lifetime. My moral compass, which once seemed so true, now has a needle that constantly dances and points in unexpected directions. I no longer have the certainty of a true north.
I was a reasonably good Catholic kid. I believed (and still believe!) in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There is no other God before me.
I do occasionally take the Lord’s name in vain, which I was told could send me to hell, and I feel guilty about that… much guiltier than when I skip Church on Sunday. Why? Because every now and then a priest pisses me off, and leads me into a temptation that runs counter to the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” There was the one who described his new Deacon as a role model to the community, right before introducing him and his nineteen children. There was another who refused to perform a friend’s wedding ceremony because she and her fiancé had refused to see him for couple’s counseling, even though he was not only single, but gay. There are those who condemn homosexuality even though they’re so closeted they smell like mothballs… and who browbeat poor people into tithing even though they themselves drive Cadillacs. I don’t need to sit through their services in order to make my Sabbath holy, any more than I need to support their parishes by going to Sunday night Bingo games. I decided there were more sacred things to do even when I feared I’d burn for my rebellion.
I honored my father and mother while they lived… sometimes because they deserved it, and sometimes so they wouldn’t beat the crap out of me. Now that they’re gone, I praise their better attributes, which were so essential to my personal growth, and I do my damndest to ignore their failings… even those which robbed my siblings and me of courage, self-confidence, and incentive.
I don’t lie, I don’t steal and I don’t kill… unless I deny I’ve taken another towel from a hotel, or I’ve driven while stupid, putting other people in peril. I doubt these deeds would have merited hellfire, since neither ever caused serious loss of life or property, but they probably should have earned a hot paddle across the backside. They weren’t the actions of a Very Nice Person.
And as for coveting my neighbor’s ass? Oh, I don’t know.
All right. I’ll admit it. I haven’t coveted anyone’s ass since I met my husband, with whom I am obsessed. Ain’t nobody going to commit adultery in this house… me because I love him, and he because I am a whiz with a machete.
Ours is the consummate union of people… man and woman… even though we broke one of the unbreakable rules we were taught as children, and married outside “the Faith.” Was my marriage valid? You bet your ass it was… I believe that with every fiber of my being.
In time, my husband and I exulted when our daughter fell in love with the man she married recently, even though his first marriage was “put asunder.” Do I believe their marriage is invalid? NO. I see a union blessed by Christ, enveloped in love, and growing each day in grace. I also believe God rejoices at the sight of my son and his husband. How blessed has my boy been, to meet a person who has brought him the love, peace and stability he needed so desperately! In the days of absolutes, men would have marked their union for condemnation, but I don’t believe Jesus would have contemplated them with anything but love.
I guess I don’t believe the old infractions are sinful, any more than the Pope believes in the existence of hell.
I’ve always believed God was more forgiving than we expected, and much more loving than we imagined.
I don’t know whether or not hell exists, but I really do suspect that heaven is real. When I close my eyes and praise the Lord in stillness, I hear music from a land where harmony is rich, palpable, and powerful— where joy is all-encompassing, and peace is absolute. I remember the science lessons of my childhood, when I learned that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. I feel the energy of my soul, and the souls of my loved ones. I feel the energy of my God. That’s my only absolute.
I’m just not set on the details.