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The Marians answer questions from Friends of Mercy club members:

A Friend of Mercy asked: I often wonder how God can be happy if some of His children are in hell. As a wife and mother, I could not be happy if any member of my family were in hell, and I know God loves more than I do. I also wonder how/why any soul would choose hell? Are they not aware of the suffering of being separated from God?

These are good questions to ask. Typically, when responding to difficult questions, it is helpful to clarify what certain words mean.

So, to begin, you ask, "How can God be happy...?" The Church teaches the mystery of God in three Persons, and in the inner life between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, perfect happiness is the hallmark. This happiness exists independent of us. It has existed before creation, before all ages.

Secondly, this happiness is essential for us. This happiness of the Trinity attests to a place where sin and unhappiness cannot reach. That is Heaven — the place opened for us through the pierced Heart of Jesus on the Cross.

So let's go further in your question, "... if some of His children are in hell ..." You compare the love you have for your children to God's love for His children. It is a good analogy, but the analogy has its limits. Indeed, the Church teaches that any similarity between humans and God is dwarfed by an even larger dissimilarity. While we can understand attributes of the Father from our own parenting, profound differences remain. The Father permits suffering in ways that baffle us, since as humans, we see the avoidance of suffering as typically good. Divine love embraces suffering; human love avoids it.

That being said, however, Jesus did reveal to St. Faustina that each time a soul enters hell, His Heart plunges into bitter grief. He said to her, "Today, bring to Me all mankind, especially all sinners, and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. In this way you will console Me in the bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges Me" (Diary, 1210), and, "The loss of each soul plunges Me into mortal sadness. You always console Me when you pray for sinners ..." (Diary, 1397).

In His humanity, Jesus experiences bitter grief and sadness over the loss of each and every sinner. He died upon the Cross because He wanted to save us, so that we can enjoy the bliss He has enjoyed from all eternity. He did not want to have that bliss only for Himself, with sinners going to hell. He preferred to suffer and die so that we would not endure hell. So, God is not "content" to watch sinners go to hell by their free choice. He actively prefers them to go to Heaven.

So to answer your question as to why any soul would choose hell, evil is a mystery. It evades precise explanation. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explained that goodness and logic/reason go together. The Logos, the Word, Jesus Christ, who is Goodness Itself, is the rationality or logic behind all of creation. Evil is the opposite, so reason and logic begin to break down. Nonetheless, one can attempt a few answers.
My primary answer is the one offered in my book, Stepping on the Serpent (Marian Press). We are created human, but we are called to share in God's own divine life (see 2 Pt 1). This can create tension in us, and it requires sacrifice, and, above all, trust in God. This is at the heart of the Gospel and who God is: Whoever keeps his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will gain it for life eternal (see Mt 16:15). But, as humans, we don't like the unknown. We don't like losing things. So we often stick to what we know. Death is an example of this: Even though we know by faith what happens after death, a lot remains unknown ... and in the face of the unknown, we become fearful and anxious, so we build defenses and walls and push God away.

We all have the possibility of being saved, since Christ died for all, even if not everyone receives or accepts this salvation (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 618). This means that God grants "sufficient grace" for salvation to all. Those who do not know Christ can be saved by following the natural law and their conscience. As to why one person chooses hell or not, only God knows, which is why judgment is reserved to Him alone. We can offer possible explanations, but only God can see the human heart (see 1 Sam 16:7; Jer 17:10).

Secondly, love, by its very nature, is free. It cannot be forced. That is the drama and dilemma of salvation history. God is a mystery of free, self-giving love. He creates us to choose freely to participate in that life. That presumes, however, that we could say "no" (see Lk 15, the story of the Prodigal Son). To force us to say "yes" (just because He knows it is best for us) will not solve the problem (notice the older brother in Luke 15; even though he obeys the father externally, he will not enter the feast, which is a metaphor for Heaven). Free will is really free, and no amount of external force can change the will, otherwise it would not be free. Hence, God desires all to be saved, but He desires them to be saved in freedom, not by coercion or force. That contradicts the very essence of salvation, which is a freely desired participation in the life of the Trinity. We can certainly hope that all be saved, and we can pray that all be saved, but Our Lady at Fatima and Jesus in the Diary seem to note that many choose to turn away from God. This is why the saints desired to suffer so much, and why Our Lady told the children at Fatima to pray and sacrifice: because, as Jesus taught Faustina, souls are purchased only at the price of sacrifice and prayer (see Diary, 1690 and 1767).

We do not know any human person to actually be in hell. We know only that Satan with his fallen angels are in hell, and that once someone is in hell, that cannot be changed. This is the reality of human freedom and human responsibility. We have a real role to play in helping people for all eternity. For that reason, I ask for your prayers for me, too, since my primary task as a priest is salus animarum — the salvation of souls.

Do you have questions for the Marians? Email us at FriendsOfMercy@marian.org or write to Friends of Mercy, Marian Helpers Center, Stockbridge, MA 01263.

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Mary - Sep 2, 2018

I pray that at the end of life I will be saved. This is my hope. I hope God is happy that I continue to strive to be good.