What is eternity like? What are the sights and feelings? Scripture and private revelation help paint that picture
By ANDREW HANSEN
The last four things: death, judgment, heaven (maybe a stop in purgatory along the way), and hell. That is what the Catholic Church teaches. In a culture that continues to write off life after death or paints hell as a picture of “you’ll probably be laughing with friends,” it is paramount that as believers, we always have in mind that what we do on earth, how we live our faith, and how we honor God and His creations has everlasting effects, good or bad.
The truth is hell is far worse than any of us can imagine. On the other hand, the joys and beauty of heaven are also unimaginable. Despite not knowing fully what heaven and hell will look, feel, or be like, Scripture and private revelation offers us a glimpse, and we are not talking about puffy clouds, harps, or meeting St. Peter at the pearly gates.
In this edition of Catholic Times, we offer you Scripture passages and quotes from saints who had visions or dreams of heaven and hell that can help you better understand, picture, and appreciate what eternity is, and why you must always strive to become a saint. A quick note on private revelation: the Catholic Church says one does not have to believe private revelation. However, the Church also recognizes that private revelation from saints can be a good thing that can help people in their faith journey.
When reading Scripture and quotes from saints who had dreams or visions, always keep in mind that they should not necessarily be taken literally because as Scripture tells us, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
First, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified (either here on earth or in purgatory) live forever with Christ. They are like God forever, for they ‘see Him as He is,’ face to face” (CCC 1026).
What Scripture tells us
“He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
“For this reason, they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:15-17).
“He (God) will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself” (Phil. 3:21).
“Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its street. On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22: 1-5).
What saints who had visions of heaven tell us
"Today I was in heaven, in spirit, and I saw its unconceivable beauties and the happiness that awaits us after death. I saw how all creatures give ceaseless praise and glory to God. I saw how great is happiness in God, which spreads to all creatures, making them happy; and then all the glory and praise which springs from this happiness returns to its source; and they enter into the depths of God, contemplating the inner life of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, whom they will never comprehend or fathom. This source of happiness is unchanging in its essence, but it is always new, gushing forth happiness for all creatures.”
“As I stood there basking in the splendor of those gardens, I suddenly heard music most sweet — so delightful and enchanting a melody that I could never adequately describe it. A hundred thousand instruments played, each with its own sound, uniquely different from all others, and every possible sound set the air alive with its resonant waves. Blended with them were the songs of choristers.
“In those gardens, I looked upon a multitude of people enjoying themselves happily, some singing, others playing, but every note, had the effect of a thousand different instruments playing together. At one and the same time, if you can imagine such a thing, one could hear all the notes of the chromatic scale, from the deepest to the highest, yet all in perfect harmony. Ah yes, we have nothing on earth to compare with that symphony.”
St. John Bosco
“It is a light which knows no night. Rather, as it is always light, nothing ever disturbs it. In short, no man, however gifted he may be can ever, in the whole course of his life, arrive at any imagination of what it is.”
St. Teresa of Avila
“I then found myself in heaven with the Blessed Virgin, the angels and the saints. They treated me with great kindness. In their company were my parents. I saw the brilliant throne of the Most Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ in His humanity. There was no sun, no lamp, but everything was bright with light.”
St. Mariam Baouardy
“The good of these souls is beyond what your mind’s eye can see or your ear hear, or your tongue describe, or your heart imagine. What joy they have in seeing me who am all good! What joy they will yet have when their bodies are glorified! But while they do not have this latter good until the general judgment, they do not suffer. They lack no happiness, for the soul is filled, and in this good fullness the body will share.”
St. Catherine of Sienna reported this is what God said to her
What Scripture tells us
“A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice, ‘Anyone who worships the beast or its image, or accepts its mark on forehead or hand, will also drink the wine of God’s fury, poured full strength into the cup of his wrath, and will be tormented in burning sulfur before the holy angels and before the Lamb. The smoke of the fire that torments them will rise forever and ever, and there will be no relief day or night for those who worship the beast or its image or accept the mark of its name’” (Rev. 14: 9-11).
“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Matt 13: 41-42).
“For it is surely just on God’s part to repay with afflictions those who are afflicting you, and to grant rest along with us to you who are undergoing afflictions, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his mighty angels, in blazing fire, inflicting punishment on those who do not acknowledge God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:6-9).
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire” (Mk 9:43).
“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched’” (Mk 9:48).
What saints who had visions of hell tell us
“The entrance seemed to be by a long narrow pass, like a furnace, very low, dark, and close. The ground seemed to be saturated with water, mere mud, exceedingly foul, sending forth pestilential odors, and covered with loathsome vermin. At the end was a hollow place in the wall, like a closet, and in that I saw myself confined.
“I felt a fire in my soul. My bodily sufferings were unendurable. I have undergone most painful sufferings in this life, yet all these were as nothing in comparison with what I felt then, especially when I saw that there would be no intermission, nor any end to them.”
St. Teresa of Avila
“As soon as I crossed its threshold, I felt an indescribable terror and dared not take another step. Ahead of me I could see something like an immense cave which gradually disappeared into recesses sunk far into the bowels of the mountains. They were all ablaze, but theirs was not an earthly fire with leaping tongues of flames. The entire cave — walls, ceiling, floor, iron, stones, wood, and coal — everything was a glowing white at temperatures of thousands of degrees. Yet the fire did not incinerate, did not consume. I simply can’t find words to describe the cavern’s horror.”
St. John Bosco
“The kinds of tortures I saw: the first torture that constitutes hell is the loss of God; the second is perpetual remorse of conscience; the third is that one’s condition will never change; the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it — a terrible suffering, since it is a purely spiritual fire, lit by God’s anger; the fifth torture is continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and, despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own; the sixth torture is the constant company of Satan; the seventh torture is horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies.
“Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me!”
“God the Father said to me, ‘I tell you, in hell there are four principal torments, and all the others are offspring of these.
“’The first is that these souls are deprived of seeing me. This is so painful for them that if they could, they would choose the sight of me along with the fire and excruciating torments, rather than the freedom from their pains without seeing me. The first suffering revives the worm of conscience, and this is their second torment. For when they see that their sinfulness has deprived them of me and of the company of the angels and made them worthy instead of seeing the demons and sharing their fellowship, conscience gnaws away at them constantly.
“’The sight of the devil is their third suffering, and it doubles every other torment. At the sight of me the saints are in constant exaltation, joyfully refreshed in reward for the labors they bore for me with such overflowing love and to their own cost. But it is just the opposite for these wretched little souls. Their only refreshment is the torment of seeing the devil, for in seeing them they know themselves better: that is, they recognize that their sinfulness has made them worthy of him. And so, the worm gnaws on, and the fire of conscience never stops burning.
“’Their suffering is even worse because they see the devil as he really is — more horrible than the human heart can imagine. You will recall that when I once let you see him for a tiny while, hardly a moment, as he really is, you said that you would rather walk on a road of fire even till the final judgment day than see him again. But even with all you have seen you do not know how horrible he really is. For my divine justice makes him look more horrible than still to those who have lost me, and this is in proportion to the depth of their sinfulness.
“’The fourth torment is fire. This fire burns without consuming, for the soul cannot be consumed, since it is not material but spiritual. But in my divine justice I allow my fire to burn these souls mightily, tormenting them without consuming them. And the tremendous pain of this tortuous burning has as many forms as the forms of their sins and is more or less severe in proportion to their sins.’”
St. Catherine of Sienna reported this is what God said to her
“Mary opened her hands once more, as she had done the two previous months. The rays [of light] appeared to penetrate the earth, and we saw, as it were, a vast sea of fire. Plunged in this fire, we saw the demons and the souls [of the damned].
“The latter were like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, having human forms. They were floating about in that conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames which issued from within themselves, together with great clouds of smoke. Now they fell back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fright (it must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me).
“The demons were distinguished [from the souls of the damned] by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black, and transparent like burning coals. That vision only lasted for a moment, thanks to our good Heavenly Mother, who at the first apparition had promised to take us to Heaven. Without that, I think that we would have died of terror and fear.”
Sister Lucia, one of the three visionaries of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917 (Church approved Marian apparitions)
Did our Blessed Mother die before she was assumed into Heaven or was she still alive? If she did die, why would God have allowed it since she was the Immaculate Conception?
- Nancy, Springfield
Whether the Blessed Virgin Mary died or simply fell asleep prior to being assumed into Heaven is an open question. In the Latin Catholic Church, tradition has said Mary did die; in the Eastern Catholic Churches, tradition has said she fell asleep and did not die. Either way, we have no solid historical evidence to prove a position.
When Pope St. Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus in 1950, he avoided the question altogether. Instead of answering the question directly, he chose a sort of middle position, saying, “… that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (no. 44).
The conclusion of her earthly life may have ended with her death or with her falling asleep; we simply do not know. What is certain, though, is that her earthly life came to an end. Either way, God did “… not allow her to see the corruption of the tomb … ,” which is to say he did not allow her body to decay as our bodies will one day do (Preface of the Mass for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary).
If she did die and was then raised before being assumed into Heaven, God may well have allowed her death because the Blessed Virgin Mary is the exemplar of what each of us is to be. Each of us must die on account of the original sin before we are raised on the last day. If Mary died, it may have been as a sign to us of a holy and peaceful death and as a reminder of the promise of the resurrection.
Father Daren Zehnle is pastor at St. Augustine Parish in Ashland and is the director for the Office of Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
By ANDREW HANSEN
St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Quincy has a rare distinction as it was designated a historic landmark by the city in 2000. Known for its impressively large, detailed, and richly colorful stained-glass windows that depict the life of Christ and images of various angels and saints, the church was built by the Irish community of Quincy and dedicated in 1912.
“Spaciously it’s very high,” said Father Joseph Portzer, FSSP, pastor. “In church language, that is lifting of you to God. You walk in and immediately you look up just to see how high it really goes. Then you look around and see amazing stained-glass windows and you can’t help but look at them. I love the stained glass the most. The stained-glass windows are a catechesis because they are so good. Sometimes, I use them for my sermons. Sometimes, they are better than my sermons!”
Despite its beauty and landmark designation, the church has not always been available to the faithful over the last 100-plus years. The church closed in 2005 and most of the contents were either moved to other churches or sold. Then, in 2007, then-Bishop George Lucas of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, gave permission to re-open the church for the traditional Latin Mass. It was reopened in 2008 and has been staffed by priests of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. On Jan. 1, 2014, St. Rose of Lima became an official parish of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois under a decree issued by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki.
“The pews are original — for some reason they hadn’t been sold off,” said Father Portzer. “Everything else, they bought it again, and it looks a lot like the old. I think they wanted to make sure everything fit architecturally with what had been here so it’s a deliberate style choice.”
That includes three marble altars, taken from Barat College near Chicago, as well as the matching altar rail and pulpit. The original cross from St. John the Baptist Church in Quincy now hangs in St. Rose of Lima Church.
As you walk around the church, your eyes cannot stop looking around as beauty awaits in every corner. If you visit St. Rose, pay special close attention to the stained glass. Besides the beauty, there is rich Catholic symbolism in the scenes depicted.
“Particularly, I like the scenes over the confessionals,” Father Portzer said. “Over one of the confessionals, we have Mary Magdalene who is down on the floor and using her hair to wipe our Lord’s feet. Jesus has his hand out over her, which is not in the story in the Bible. But it shows absolution. It shows the motion of the priest’s hand giving forgiveness to Mary Magdalene while she is weeping for her sins. It is really a beautiful thing.
“The opposite confessional has perhaps a less clear message, but when you look at it, it has the same message. There is the young woman, age 12, who is dead, and Christ comes to her and says, ‘Young woman, I say to you rise.’ His right hand is up the air. His left hand, he is holding her and bringing her back to life. The right hand is meant to be the hand of absolution, so He is showing a dead person being brought to the spiritual life by the work of the priest.”
Whether it is statues of saints, the Stations of the Cross, a domed ceiling, the altar, or the stained glass, the elements inside the church come from the Gothic, Romanesque, and Byzantine styles which together make up the style known as Venetian Gothic — making this church one of a kind.
“There was a man who came here for a blessing for his son who had cancer,” Father Portzer said. “I didn’t realize they were not Catholic. I gave them the blessing, and then I walked them through the church, and they were so fascinated by the church. I walked them all around and explained all the stained-glass windows, and they left. Only later did I hear from one of my parishioners who met up with them and how thrilled they were, how welcomed they felt, and the man said that he would like to come back to the church to just pray sometime. That is the impact this church has on people. It should do that. Every Catholic church should lift us up like that.”
Box: In the next edition of Catholic Times we will explore Immaculate Conception Church in Mattoon.
I guess that parents would want a formula on how to talk to their kids about vocations — I’m right with you there! I would like one on how to talk to my parishioners about Jesus — but we do not get one either. And yet, this lack of an easy, pre-canned, downloadable, method seems to be the way with most of the most important things in life.
As a kid, did you ever get a presentation on how to talk, or how to cook, or how to clean your room? Is there an app that can tell you how to go to school, or get your first job, or how to be a friend? No! These things are just parts of life, and a child naturally learns from Mom or Dad about how to do them. I would watch my mom prepare for dinner, and gradually began to pick up on the different nuances of it. I have never cracked a book to learn those skills, I just saw how to chop vegetables, season meat, and mix up pancakes. I watched my dad grill, or my mom mix something up, and as I helped them, I naturally absorbed how to do all those things myself.
The same principle applies with vocations! As I learned the faith from my parents, it naturally came up that God loved each of us so much that He had a plan for us. What might that plan look like? Well, it might look like Mom and Dad, or Abraham and Sarah, or Joseph and Mary or St. Gianna Beretta Molla — married, raising a family. Or, it might look like Father Carberry (our pastor), or St. Paul, or St. John Vianney —a priest, caring for his flock. Or, it could be like the Franciscans or Benedictines, something like Moses or Elijah, or St. Francis, or St. Benedict — a monk or friar, devoted to prayer and poverty. Or, it might be like St. Mother Teresa or St. Elizabeth Ann Seton — women religious who were devoted to the poor and teaching young people the faith.
What is crucial? That the parent engages those topics! Do you cook for your children? Do you invite them to help? Do you answer their questions when they ask them? Do you challenge them to try to make something themselves, or plan one dinner a week, or choose groceries based on a recipe? If you do not, they won’t learn how to cook. That knowledge must come from somewhere.
This same principle is true in talking about vocations. You do not need a presentation. You do not need to know everything about every vocation. But you do need to tell your kids that God loves them, and you do need to talk about how you knew when God was calling you to marriage. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to pop into church after t-ball practice every once in a while — or pray a family rosary while you drive across town. You do need to give them examples of good married people, and priests, and religious, and invite people living those vocations into your home and into your child’s life.
There is one silver bullet: Live a holy life, and your children will see that holiness is awesome, and they will find where God has holiness planned for them.
Father Dominic Rankin is Master of Ceremonies and priest secretary for Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, is an associate vocations director for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, and has a license in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute in Rome.
He is one of the more recent saints in the Catholic Church who was known as a mystic, who suffered the stigmata (wounds of Christ), and could read people’s souls in the confessional. St. Padre Pio, who died in 1968, was an Italian Franciscan friar who was declared a saint by Pope Saint John Paul II.
Catholics are invited to see and venerate relics of St. Padre Pio after the 4 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield on Saturday, Nov. 6 and after the 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Nov. 7 until 4:30 that afternoon in the Cathedral atrium. Four first class relics and one second class will be available to the faithful to see and venerate. While the event is free, good will donations are appreciated and a second collection will be taken up during one of the Masses.
National Vocation Awareness Week, celebrated Nov. 7-13, is an annual week-long celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States dedicated to promoting vocations to the religious life through prayer and education, and to renewing our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations. In this edition of Catholic Times, we highlight two religious vocations stories that prove God can work in mysterious ways. Also, for parents and grandparents who see a religious vocation in their son, daughter, or grandchild, read Hey, Father!, in which we answer the question, “How do I talk to my kids about vocations?”
In a sacramental way, the journey of God’s call in my life began on May 13, 1956, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. I don’t suppose, however, anybody in the Bradbury Free Methodist Church, north of Toledo, Ill., knew about Our Lady’s feast that day. Surrounded by cousins and folks in love with God’s Word at Bradbury, as a young child, my family moved to Mattoon where I attended the Presbyterian Church through my college years at Eastern Illinois University (EIU) in Charleston. Active in Sunday school and church activities, I became friends with a few future Presbyterian ministers and felt God’s call to the ministry myself. During my college years, I visited a Presbyterian seminary but never took that “next step.”
Growing up, I had Catholic relatives and friends and would sometimes attend Mass at Immaculate Conception in Mattoon and other parishes. Becoming involved in the pro-life movement in high school and college years, I was struck by the predominance of Catholic Christians among its ranks during those early days. I wondered to myself: Where were the people I had been praying with all my life? I was drawn to a faith that impacted how we lived our lives in the public square. Having been involved in political campaigns since high school, it just made sense that the most important choices we make for the greater community would be informed by our religious faith and the values of the Gospel. I loved the idea of a faith that informed our actions and choices not only as individuals but in the public square.
At EIU, still “spinning my wheels” regarding a future field of study or career choice, I fell back on majoring in history which I had always loved. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman once said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be protestant.” While none of my professors would have suspected me of being very “deep in history,” my study did lead me to an awareness that divisions in the Body of Christ were the fruit of human sinfulness, culture, and politics and certainly not the will of God.
Ultimately it was of course my desire for the holy Eucharist that led me to seek full communion with the Catholic Church. Praying with John 6 and time spent before the tabernacle opened up to me the desire for the graces of the sacramental life. I had been attending daily Mass for some time when I finally stepped out in faith and talked to a parish priest about more formal “instruction” in the Catholic faith.
I was living in Decatur and working for Walgreens when I entered the Church at St. James. I became involved in the parish as my schedule permitted. “Thursday Night Parties” bingo was my main volunteer activity. I was dating a lady at the time who had a young son. The relationship was going well, and it seemed marriage might be on the horizon. I shared with her that before we could take the next step, I had this “crazy thing” I had to get “off the table.” I explained as a protestant minister, a wife and family was the norm, but if God was calling me to the Catholic priesthood, that could be a “deal breaker.”
I assured my girlfriend that there was nothing to worry about, however. As far as I knew, Catholic couples brought little baby priests home from the maternity ward with little Roman collars around their neck. I was sure I would never be accepted to study for the priesthood anyway. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t holy enough. I hadn’t been a Catholic all my life. It just wasn’t going to happen.
Once again, I sat down and visited with my parish priest and soon began a journey that continues to this day. The doors that I expected to close kept opening. An uncertainty about so many things developed into a quiet confidence and renewed hope. I learned priests aren’t ordained on the first day of seminary. Formation is a process including prayer, study, and pastoral experiences where the Church gets to know you and you get to know the Church in fuller ways. With each passing month and new opportunity, I learned more and fell in love more with Christ and his people.
The joy of walking with Christ’s risen body, the Church as a Catholic and a Catholic priest, is incomparable with any other experience of my life. I have learned God never wastes any experience and helps us to use in for the common good when we place it in His hands. Thirty-three years after my ordination as a transitional deacon, I have never looked back but get up each morning joyfully anticipating what surprises the Lord may have in store.
Father John Titus is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Mattoon and St. Columcille Parish in Sullivan
My family was blessed with an ideal childhood: a devout Catholic mom, devout Presbyterian dad, and children. We attended a Catholic grade school and a Catholic high school. I was the youngest, very close to my sister, and adored my brothers even though they teased me to no end.
I was in the third grade when I received my first clue that I had a talent for art. The third-grade sister was showing the fourth-grade teacher one of my pictures. My art was encouraged at home in many ways and has been a big part of my life to this day.
During those formative years, I was attracted to Catholic Church things and persons. In high school, a sister sat me down one time and suggested that I might have a vocation to the religious life, but I quickly rejected that thought. I imagined I was destined for marriage and family life.
A secular university took me farther away from my earlier pious tendencies although I never neglected the basics of my faith. I achieved degrees in applied arts and teaching. After graduation, I taught art in an inner-city public school which taught me that teaching was not my thing. So, three of my fellow classmates and myself began a business out of my father’s second floor retail stationary store. That was an adventure and lasted until my associates began wanting more funds and better clothes. I lingered on for a while and eventually tried teaching again with the same conclusion.
Several jobs later and all the time dating and hoping to settle down, nothing clicked in that process. Eventually I came to a crossroad in my life: I needed to make a strategic choice for which I was not prepared. By now I was 25 years old and, remembering a piece of advice in one of the many letters I received from my brother (who was a priest), that if I ever needed to talk with someone, this priest would be a good one. Not remembering the name of said priest, I went to the drawer in my room where I kept all his letters in random fashion and found the name in the first letter I picked up.
Father Wenzel agreed to see me. After hearing my tale of woe, he suggested I join a sodality sponsored by Xavier University, which I did. The meetings and the required exercises, which I faithfully practiced, brought me back to a closer relationship to the Church. Around this time, the company I was working at went bankrupt, and I was looking for the next door to open. It did. A fellow sodalist mentioned that a missionary group, the Verona Fathers, were looking for a secretary. I loved that job and flourished there.
In the meantime, because we were required to have a spiritual director, the first time I met with mine, a Jesuit, he asked me what kind of a man I was looking for. Wow! Was he going to go out on the campus and see if he could fulfill my requirements? I told him that I was beginning to think maybe God was wanting me to enter a religious community. “All right,” he said. “This is what you do: Give yourself a certain amount of time, pray very hard about this decision, and God will lead you.” So, I did, and before long it became very clear to me that I should enter religious life. But where?
So, my director took me to the library and took out the large religious directory containing lists and descriptions of all the congregations in the United States. I was to write to any that would allow me to develop my art and one that was well established. I received stacks of mail, but nothing attracted me. Stalemate! I kept praying and one day, a woman visited the Verona Father who had a reputation for holiness. I got to talking with her about my problem and she suggested that I go to confession to a very holy priest, which I did, on April 1, 1962, April Fools’ Day — but what the priest told me I did not take as a trick. He heard me out in silence, followed by a sacred silence, and then he told me I would be a Dominican nun.
Although I knew nothing of cloistered life, nor that there was a monastery in Cincinnati, I immediately and wholeheartedly accepted his directive as the greatest gift I could be given.
As I look back on my life, I realize that I did not have, at that time, the psychological maturity to discern for myself God’s will for me. And so, God took over in a very direct way which, after 56 years of monastic living, I can see as the very best possible solution for me, and I never cease being grateful for that day.
I was kept waiting to meet the prioress of Holy Name Monastery. She encouraged me and after many weekend visits there, the date was set for my entry on Dec. 8, 1962. Of course, the separation from my mother, the only family member still at home by then, was excruciating, for her and for me, more so for her who had been widowed at age 52 and now was facing life in the homestead by herself. When I was a postulant and in the presence of the prioress and myself, she asked how I was doing. The prioress answered that I was doing very well, and my mom’s reply was: “I was afraid of that.” Nevertheless, she never objected to my vocation and supported me and the monastery in every way she could.
I was 27 years old then and was used to an independent life of my own choosing. The discipline of monastic living was jarring in many ways, but I was happy. All throughout my 56 years, the sisters have allowed me to continue developing my art.
I cannot say that I am a born contemplative by any means. I pretty much began the spiritual life from scratch. I am still climbing slowly, but I value all the opportunities and even the atmosphere that are most conducive to living as close to God as I have grace for. Grace is never lacking but, as my Jesuit brother once told me, I am a slow learner.
Dominican monastic life for me has been and is a nurturing home and community which allows one to be who they are and to strive to become the best they can be in God’s plan.
Sister Mary Grace, OP, is a sister with the Monastery of Mary the Queen located in Springfield
There are three informational meetings in different parts of our diocese for men interested in becoming a deacon. The first takes place in Jacksonville at the Knights of Columbus Hall (320 E. State) on Saturday, Nov. 13 from 9-10:30 a.m. The second takes place in Mattoon at Immaculate Conception Church Parish Center (320 N. 20th St.) on Tuesday, Nov. 16 from 6:30-8 p.m. The third takes place in Quincy at the St. Francis Parish Center (1721 College) on Sunday, Nov. 28 from 1-2:30 p.m. The meetings will present information for those interested in the permanent diaconate formation which begins in the fall of 2022. Applications are being accepted at this time.
The permanent diaconate is open to men between the ages of 32 and 57 who are active in the practice of our faith and who desire to grow in their relationship with God and in their service to the Church. If interested, and if married, wives are welcome and encouraged to attend. For questions, email Deacon Dave Sorrell: . You can also visit dio.org/diaconate.
By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
Springfield psychologist and author Dr. Kevin Vost says although he spent the first 18 years of his life as a practicing Catholic, it was reading the works of some well-known philosophers that ultimately led him to seriously doubt the existence of God, becoming an atheist. He says “then it only took him 25 years” to come back to the faith, thanks to the Holy Spirit and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Vost, a member of St. Katharine Drexel Parish, was born into a Catholic family, baptized as an infant and attended Catholic school. “We went to Mass, but we really didn’t talk about the faith,” he says. He is eternally grateful that his parents sent him to Catholic schools where he gained a strong sense of morality, was taught right from wrong, and earned self-discipline and how to be respectful of others.
As he grew and became a teenager, his faith increased and so did his love of weightlifting. Many of those weight-lifter friends were members of non-denominational or Pentecostal churches. He attended some services with them but didn’t abandon Catholicism. “I ran into trouble elsewhere,” he has written, “within the musty pages of old philosophy books.”
Always interested in books and philosophy, at age 18 Vost — who also admired and read about Mr. Universe Mike Mentzer who challenged Christianity — immersed himself in the writings of Voltaire, Friedrich Nietzche, Bertrand Russel, and Ayn Rand. It was Rand’s writings that finally separated him from his faith, Vost said.
“A lot of these atheists, I was coming across arguments that I have never seen before that led me to think that the idea of God is either self-contradictory or that you really don’t need the concept of God,” Vost said. “For example, atheists bring up this argument of how can God be both all powerful and all knowing because if He knows what He is going to do tomorrow, then He doesn’t have the power to do something different. Another argument is that God is not really necessary because existence exists. Open up your eyes. There is the world out there. You don’t have to ask where that came from because that is the starting ground.”
Unable to refute those arguments for atheism he said, “At that point in my life, reason became my god.” While still convinced the existence of God simply didn’t make sense, he went on to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology. He had a long career working in the disability evaluation field and teaching as an adjunct professor. He has been writing books for the last 15 years and was also a powerlifter and weight-lifting instructor.
Vost says that for over two decades he never spoke out against Catholicism but could not make himself believe in God. During that time however, he and his wife Kathy were married in the Church, had their sons baptized Catholic and sent those children to Catholic schools. “There was kind of a sadness. Personally, I deeply wanted to believe, but I did not feel that in good conscience I could pretend to believe what I did not.”
A great proponent of ongoing education, Vost eventually came upon a DVD course on Natural Law that introduced him to the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. “That lead me to desire to read the works of St. Thomas Aquinas directly,” he said. It was the words of that Dominican friar, famous philosopher, and theologian that ultimately led Vost to return to the Catholic faith.
“One of the first things I read is when Aquinas talked about the attributes of God and what God must be like,” Vost said. “This is where we get the answers to the questions that I thought were unsolvable like God is a contradictory or how can He do something tomorrow, and Aquinas talks about the eternity of God.
“If you think of God’s tomorrow, you’re thinking of God as a human being. But God lives in the eternal now. It is all present to Him,” he said. “So, there’s no contradiction. His will is unimpeded forever, as is His knowledge. Aquinas gives this wonderful analogy. He says that imagine you are walking on your way to a little village, and it’s a hilly road. So, you won’t see that village until you are at the top of the last hill. You also won’t know who is coming before you or who came after you. But imagine the perspective of someone high in the sky. They see the destination the whole time and everyone on the route, and in a sense, that is an analogy of God’s eternal knowledge all at once, and that wowed me.”
With that question answered, Vost then found his answer to when atheists say, “existence exists, or you don’t have to ask where the universe came from.”
“Aquinas points out, look at the universe, look at yourself and ask which one of us gave us our own existence — well none of us,” Vost said. “Look at all the objects around us. Everything is constantly changing. So, what material thing gave itself its own existence and has the power to do that? Nothing. It is all contingent. It might exist, it might not exist. Aquinas also said at some point in time nothing existed, so then, there out be nothing to bring it into existence. So, basically Aquinas is saying there must be some necessary being that cannot not exist. This what we call God. So, reason and faith match up.”
This argument, that there has to be an unchangeable first mover (God) and there has to be an uncaused cause in in which everything comes from to get the entire existence going, also wowed Vost.
All this happened when Vost was 43 years old. “It was like a gradual process but then all of the sudden I realized, ‘Oh my Lord! I believe again.’ It was an awe-inspiring thing — it was kind of like the scales fell from my eyes,” he said.
Returning to Mass and the sacraments was, of course, a welcome relief for not only Voss, but his wife, sons, and other family members. “My boys were thrilled. My brother told me that our mother (who had already passed away at the time) always prayed that I would return to the faith,” he said and then added, “I’m sure my mom knows.”
Participating in Mass once again was something that gave Voss “great joy.” “It was a feeling that now I can fully participate. I’m really believing this,” he said. Going back to confession was incredible. “That wonderful feeling when the weight was removed — the burden of my sins. It was an absolutely joyful time.”
Coming back to Catholicism has led Voss to write over 20 books that have been also largely influenced by St. Thomas Aquinas. His first book, Memorize the Faith!, remains his best-seller so far.
“It took me 25 years to realize that I was wrong about the most important thing of all. You know, I always tried to live a virtuous life … but the real difference is there is now a deep sense of peace and joy and calm and relief,” he said. “It was just a life-changing thing. Our Catholic faith is full of beauty, full of life and also full of truth.”
As for advice he has for parents who have children who have fallen away from the faith, Vost points to prayer first, but also having those deep conversations about what our faith really teaches. “If our children really understood the depth of our faith — it’s full of beauty, it’s full of love, but it is also full of truth, and we can defend that truth,” he said. “So, for the kids who are pulled away from these false arguments, keep in contact with your children and know what they are thinking in terms of the faith.”
To hear more about Dr. Kevin Vost’s conversion story, including what he thought about the idea of eternal life as an atheist, how he came back to believe in the true presence of God in the Eucharist, and the five proofs of the existence of God as written by Aquinas, listen to Dive Deep, the official podcast of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Go to dio.org/podcast or search “Dive Deep” on all major podcast platforms.
Click here to see how you can celebrate Mission Sunday
By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
WICHITA, Kan. — While growing up and then ministering as a priest in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, Bishop Carl A. Kemme didn’t know much about the Diocese of Wichita, where he has been serving as bishop since 2014. In fact, he said, “I tell people here, the only things I knew about Kansas was what I learned from The Wizard of Oz.”
That all began to change on Valentine’s Day in 2014, when he received a call from the papal nuncio, telling him that Pope Francis appointed him the 11th bishop of the Diocese of Wichita. “I think that was the most monumental phone call I’ve ever received or ever will receive,” Bishop Kemme said.
Because then-Msgr. Kemme was traveling, he missed the nuncio’s initial phone call, so when he called back the nuncio was in a meeting. “He told me what he wanted and that he would call me back in 30 minutes for my answer,” Bishop Kemme said.
In that quick time frame, the future bishop of course took time to pray but he also quickly began to research the Diocese of Wichita. “I found it was amazing how much you can learn in 30 minutes time about a diocese,” he said, adding that the nuncio was prompt in calling him back. He accepted the pope’s invitation with the knowledge that God would lead him in the right direction. God has never let him down as he ministers to move forward in his diocese, he said.
Bishop Kemme had 28 years’ experience as a priest in all corners of our diocese before he was ordained a bishop on May 1, 2014 — and that experience was varied. In those 28 years he served at parishes in Decatur, Collinsville, Springfield, Brussels, Meppen, Batchtown, Mt. Zion, Petersburg, and Sherman. In 2002, he was appointed vicar general and moderator of the Curia by then-bishop George J. Lucas. That same year he was named a monsignor (Prelate of Honor) by Pope John Paul II. Additionally, he served as diocesan chancellor from January to June 2005. When Bishop Lucas was named head of the Archdiocese of Omaha, in June 2009, he served as diocesan administrator until 2010. He continued to serve as vicar general and moderator of the Curia when Bishop Thomas John Paprocki was installed.
It was his leadership in the Curia that helped Bishop Kemme feel more secure in being named Bishop of Wichita. “There’s always a lot of anxiety (when making a decision), but I had 12 years of administrative experience and one year as a diocesan administrator … so I knew most of what the governance of a diocese entailed,” he said. “So even though I felt like there were many more qualified candidates, I felt a certain peace and tranquility about it.”
Leaving his home diocese was rather difficult, he admits. At the time his parents were still living on the small family farm. “I was sad to leave home, family, so many friends and brother priests,” he said. “My plan and desire was to live there (in the Springfield diocese) and serve my local church. But God had other plans.”
Bishop Kemme remembers all the ceremonies and getting accustomed to being a bishop were daunting. “In the first two years or so I wondered, ‘Why am I here?’ but I am in my eighth year now. It has been a real blessing. This has become home. The people here are wonderful, and the priests are very cooperative. I am excited for this ministry here.”
Speaking out on tough subjects can be a challenge for a bishop, Bishop Kemme admits. “Everybody wants to know what the bishop thinks,” he said. “Whether they like it or not, they want to know. But I know that God gives me the words he wants me to say, and I’m open to it.” A bishop’s schedule is grueling, but God has helped him out in that aspect, too, he said.
Bishop Kemme says discipleship, evangelization, and stewardship are the touchpoints for his diocese’s pastoral plan — a plan that he and his strong leadership team are continually pursuing. “We work very closely together,” he said. “We aren’t there yet and we have a long way to go, but we’ve got a road map.”
He also desires to make Sundays special again — a day for worship, family, and renewal. “We are really trying to reclaim Sunday as the Day of the Lord,” he said. “That’s a big challenge. By and large we’ve lost that through our culture.”
Bishop Kemme and the other bishops in Kansas meet with one another about four or five times a year, and those visits are valuable, he said. He also attends the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meetings. “You know, the life of a bishop can be kind of isolating, so I value very much my time with my brother bishops,” he said.
He also returns home several times a year to visit his parents, Donald and Marita Kemme, who now live in a small home in Effingham. From time to time, his priest friends and former parishioners stop by to visit him in Wichita. He says he remains grateful to all the people he served as a priest and all the friends he made in the Springfield diocese. “All of you helped make me who I am. … I have nothing but gratitude.”
Bishop Kemme said no matter where he has been in life, he has never once stopped relying on and believing in God’s grace. “It has always been my experience that God helps us all and He gives us the grace to do what we are called to do. God promised the Holy Spirit and when we are open to that, God is ever-faithful, and he walks with us in our lives,” he said. “God is right here, and He never fails us.”
Want to hear more from Bishop Kemme, including more thoughts on serving his people, God’s grace and his devotion to a particular young person on the road to sainthood? Listen to Dive Deep, the official podcast of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Go to dio.org/podcast on DATE.
Anonymous in the diocese
For those who are unfamiliar with the Catholic Church’s devotion to the Blessed Mother, Mary the mother of Jesus, it may seem like the Catholic Church is lifting her up as a god. After all, many churches are adorned with pictures, statues, and images of the Blessed Mother, as well as other saints. So, what is the difference then of worshiping and venerating, in particular with regard to the Blessed Virgin Mary?
The Catholic Church recognizes that there is only One Triune God — the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Church also recognizes that only through God are all things created, kept in existence, and saved so that we may have the hope of eternal life in Heaven with God. So, we do only teach that God is God and no one else is.
We do, however, also recognize that Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection demonstrated to us that God uses intermediaries in this earthly life to help draw others to Himself. He does not do this because He needs to, but because in His love and generosity, He invites us to be a part of His ongoing plan. So, when we look throughout Scripture, and throughout the long history and tradition of the Catholic Church, we see Christ, and His Church, lifting up specific people who have demonstrated by their own lives what it means to be an authentic follower of Christ. Furthermore, since we believe in the Communion of Saints, we recognize that even after a person’s earthly death, they are still connected to us through God, and by the power of God are allowed to intercede for us and help us follow the Lord.
Therefore, the Catholic Church teaches there are three levels of devotion. First is latria which is what we would know and understand as true worship. This is worship and devotion due only to God and God alone, recognizing Jesus as our savior.
The next two are devotion not in the sense of worship but rather extreme honor because the Lord lifted them up as part of His plan of salvation. First, there is the Blessed Mother Mary because she was conceived without original sin in order to be the mother of Christ (the Immaculate Conception). She is recognized with the highest respect of created things. We call this respect and devotion, hyperdulia. The saints, because they can intercede for us and pray for us, are given a great respect and devotion that we call dulia. Neither dulia nor hyperdulia are worship, for worship is due to God alone, but rather, a way to remember that God, who created all things, often uses those things He creates to draw us closer to Himself.
Father Marty Smith is pastor at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Jerseyville and St. Patrick Parish in Grafton and is an associate vocations director for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.