The faith professed by the Catholic Church claims that it is God’s will for all people to be given the gift of eternal life with God in heaven. Loss of heaven and eternal damnation to hell is a result of repeatedly rejecting the gift of God’s grace.
God allows every person to have freewill over the decision to accept His gift of love. By allowing human beings to have freewill, God insists that the human person must take responsibility for their choice to participate with God’s plan for their lives. This plan does not necessarily mean being Catholic or even being Christian. Pope Pius IX taught that it meant having the love of God inscribed upon one’s heart and obeying the truth of one’s Creator who is the Creator of all.
The person who has accepted the gift of God’s offer of love is like a runner who begins a long marathon race . The route is predetermined. The runner has little say over this route. The runner simply decides to run the race. There are points along the route where water and food are available. These nourishment points are similar to the grace given by God to all those who love Him. Sometimes, the runner experiences very steep hills and great thirst. God may permit the runner to be tempted to the limit of their own powers. God may do this to prove to us our deficiency. Yet, He always gives us the grace to pray for His supernatural help.
The runner always has the freedom to sit down on the side of the road and stubbornly refuse to run anymore. The runner can walk away and quit the race anytime. However, St. Bernard reassures us that God desires for all people to realize their human limitations and humbly run to God for mercy. God is very generous with those who have committed to running the race. “God is solicitous for the salvation of those in His friendship, surrounding them with helps of all kinds to sustain their supernatural life, tiding them over difficulties, and finally (provided they do their part) giving them the gift of final perseverance” (Hardon 231).
God is also concerned about those who have not entered the race. There are many people who do not know about the race. These people are not to be condemned. Pope Pius IX states that no one can establish limits on God’s mercy. Those people who labor in ignorance of religion will not be charged with any guilt on this account in the eyes of God.
There are others who have been invited to participate in the race, but refuse to run. No one is deprived of God’s supernatural aid. Even the worst of sinners will receive some measure of grace. Those who waste their lives in selfishness may die having only taken one step onto the race route that God had planned for their lives. This is a loss to all humankind. However, this soul has accepted God’s gift of eternal life just like the parable about the workers in the vineyard who came to work late in the day accepted their pay (Matthew 20:1-16).
The tension between God’s will and any individual’s selfish will grows less and less as the race nears completion. The human person changes, God doesn’t change. Catholics believe that some souls will complete the race on earth and experience a touch of heaven on earth. These are the saints. Others supposedly complete their race in purgatory. Unfortunately, some are lost for eternity due to repeatedly rejecting of the gift of God’s grace.
As a chaplain, I can only recall one death out of many where I personally believe that the deceased person was probably going to experience eternal damnation. The spiritual essence around the body was filled with a deep darkness. The individual had died suddenly of a motorcycle accident. The police said that on the body there were weapons of various sorts, which were intended to be used to throw at passing cars to puncture tires and damage windshields. There were no loved ones to contact, only a long list of jilted lovers. No one came to grieve this death. God ended a life that was destroying lives. I believe that God’s mercy for this particular soul came to an end.
So, the answer is “Yes!” Yes, there is eternal damnation. However, I believe that most Christians are way too quick to play God and decide who is going to hell and who is going to heaven. It is much better to focus on completing one’s own race while showing mercy to everyone else believing that they are simply other runners in the race. The world would be a better place if we were to assume that others are running the best race that they can instead of rejecting them, or condemning them for their sins which we can observe, or worse, for sins which we can only imagine. It doesn’t help humankind if we try to trip up other runners, erroneously thinking there can be only one winner.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Hardon, John. History and Theology of Grace. Ann Arbor, MI: Sapientia Press, 2005. Print.