My favorite meditation is perhaps presumptuous, but it is about going before Jesus at the gates of heaven, falling down in reverence before him, crying my eyes out not in supplication, but rather in humble thanksgiving and joy: look at those wounds my sin engraved in his hands and feet and side, his Heart. Thank you for bringing even me to heaven, Jesus.
But that mediation has a backdrop, the all too real possibility of going to hell. Jesus spoke of it, so must we. Pope Francis speaks about it perhaps more than all other Roman Pontiffs put together. He doesn’t want us to go there. The very homily which the fake-news mongers claim to be the smoking gun in which Pope Francis denies hell and the pain of hell is the very homily where he underlines the horrific and eternal nature of hell, namely, distance from God and frustration. It deserves some extra commentary. So, just some notes:
In Mark 9:48, Jesus speaks of those who go to hell, that is, analogously, Gehenna, the valley below the temple mount where children were burned alive on a hollowed out bronze statue-stove of Moloch, Satan. Quite the image of suffering and, in the time of Jesus, the symbol of judgment regarding eternal damnation. How fitting that it’s below the “Dung Gate.”
Anyway, Jesus says that their worm dies not, that is, their σκώληξ, that is, that kind of worm which feeds on corpses, that is, a maggot. Jesus’ justice is only outdone, as it were, by his mercy, for it is based on his justice. Thus:
Psalm 22, which speaks of the future crucifixion of Jesus, puts these words in the mouth of the Suffering Servant: “I am a worm and no man” (Ps 22:6). That worm bit is again σκώληξ, maggot, in the Septuagint, and, in the Hebrew, תוֹלַעַת, that is, maggot. Jesus cites the beginning of Psalm 22 from the cross. Jesus took our place on the cross as a maggot in hell so that he might have the right in his own justice to have mercy on us so that we might not go to hell. That‘s how much he loves us.
The maggot-worm in hell, that is, therefore, the fire-serpent, recalls Jesus speaking of himself as the fiery saraph-serpent: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14). You’ll recall that the fiery saraph-serpents were killing the people in the desert during the exodus, and that Moses made an image of such a serpent in bronze, raising this up on a stake, a cross, so that all who might look at it might be healed. Jesus came among us looking like us, we who kill each other in sin, and he was raised up on a stake, on a cross, that all who look to him might be healed of the eternal death that the fiery serpent Satan intends for us. He takes our place that he might have the right in his own justice to have mercy on us so that we might not go to hell. That‘s how much he loves us.
But Jesus speaks of their worm dying not. Let’s drill down into this “worm” and “not dying” bit.
The part about the worm is actually about Satan back in Genesis, that fallen monster angel who deceived Adam through his wife. The ill-advised translation about his being cursed is that he will go about on his belly. What a stupid translation into ultra-derived meanings. Why not just translate what it says?… “You will go about on your writhingness.” This “writhingness” refers to frustration. Have you ever seen someone super-frustrated, throwing a tantrum, going about on their writhingness?
Here’s a sad bit about a woman who missed her flight. What might it be to miss one’s flight to heaven and end up in hell forever?
Now, couple that writhingness not with repentance for having been late, as it were, but with belligerent arrogance and hatred of all and not being repentant at all. This is a fire worse than any fire a match could light. This is internal, intellectual frustration. Horrific. Pope Francis has it right. Intellectual frustration coupled with hatred is worse than any torture chamber we might think is in hell.
There is that kind of thing of course, with those in hell harassing each other, with the fallen angels harassing all. It’s a place of hatred, after all, forever and ever. Why go there? Go to confession. Go to heaven! I want to go to heaven.
Meanwhile, some fun with writhing worms, except if they’re you in hell forever:
So, maybe this is more on target: