Lesson #15 The Second Exercise On Hell

Mary’s School of Sanctity

Lesson #15: The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius – The Second Exercise on Hell—On the Pain of Loss of God; the Worm of Conscience; and the Eternity of Hell

Meditation on the pain of the loss of God and the other moral punishments of hell is so efficacious that we wanted to add it to our series of the Spiritual Exercises.  Even though the following considerations are not given by St. Ignatius, the holy writers of the Church have focused so much on them because they aid souls in increasing the soul’s desire for God and in acquiring a filial love of God.  Since the highest perfection requires the filial love of God, we Catholics should aspire to obtain filial love.  In fact, the part of this meditation about the loss of God should intensely move us to desire to love God ever increasingly.  This meditation can and should be done often to strengthen our love of God and to help us remain faithful children to Our Heavenly Father.  One crucial additional advantage to this meditation is that it helps a person have perfect contrition.    

We will set this out as in the previous exercises.

The preparatory prayer is the same as usual: I ask God Our Lord the grace that all my intentions, actions, and works may be directed purely to the service and praise of the Divine Majesty.

The FIRST PRELUDE is the mental representation of the place.  Here it is to see hell as we saw it in Lesson #14.

The SECOND PRELUDE is to ask for the grace to acquire true filial love of God and a great horror of sin and its malice which so displeases God Whom we should love with all our hearts, minds, and souls. THUS, WE SHOULD BEG GOD THAT WE BURN WITH SUCH GREAT LOVE FOR HIM THAT WE HAVE A GREAT FEAR OF LOSING OUR WILLINGNESS TO LOVE HIM WHICH COMES AS A CONSEQUENCE OF US HAVING BLINDING PRIDE.  Hence, we beg Him to give us self-knowledge in order to foster our knowledge of Him, and the proper humility necessary in order to have a divine friendship with Him.  Furthermore, we will consider an additional way to conceive a true horror for sin by trying to understand the ugly malice which is found in the mind of the damned so as to conceive a true fear of imitating such a wretched soul.  Hence, we beg God to help us shun all sinful pride.    

The FIRST POINT is the pain of the loss of God.  Here it will be to ponder deeply about what it means to lose our most beloved Spouse of the soul, Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom Himself.  I will take the sobering words of Our Lord to allow myself to feel the intense anguish of losing Him Who I was created to love and be united with for all eternity in sublime bliss.  In His parable about the foolish virgins who did not care to keep the oil of sanctifying grace in the lamps of their immortal souls while they waited for the Divine Bridegroom, Our Divine Lord said, “Amen, I say I know you not.”  And again, Our Lord tells His Apostles what He will say to those who did not love Him or want to obey His Commandments, “Depart from Me, ye cursed into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [St. Matthew 25; 41].  I will make many more considerations to penetrate this GREAT LOSS.

The SECOND POINT is to consider the worm of conscience and its remorse.

The THIRD POINT is to consider ETERNITY.  The pain of loss and remorse of conscience will never end.

 The COLLOQUY: Enter into a colloquy with Our Lord speaking to Him about His mercy and thanking Him profoundly for His mercy.  Also the exercitant should humbly beg God for His continued mercy on his soul.  Included in this begging heart to heart talk with Our Lord is to beg for a humble and fervent love for Him in order to desire Him with all one’s heart and to want to be with Him for all eternity.

Considerations for the FIRST POINT – the Pain of the Loss of God

One can begin this meditation on the pain of the loss of God, by taking some moments to consider what loss means in general.  When one loses something he owns and cares about, he grieves for its loss.  Logically, the more important the object lost, the greater is his grief for having lost it.  For example, if one loses his car keys, he is not pleased.  Go further and consider if he loses the car itself, he would be even more distressed.  Now take the example of him losing his house key and think about his reaction.  Then go further and consider his house burning down from top to bottom, we would say that he suffered an enormous loss. 

Still, we can go further and consider what it is like to lose a loved one, e.g., a loving spouse, or a child.  How horribly grieved one is for such a loss!   Now we must consider the ultimate and most crucial loss possible for man: THE LOSS OF THE ALL-GOOD GOD FOR ALL ETERNITY!!!

For this to have a profound impact upon us, we must ponder deeply Who God is.  In our Lessons #10 and #11 on the Principal and Foundation, we spoke of God and His magnificent attributes.  We meditated on the fact that we were created to praise, revere, and serve God, and this really means to love Him with our whole heart and mind.  “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and are restless until they rest in Thee,” is the famous quote from St. Augustine.   Oh, how St. Augustine captured this tremendous truth!

Think about it: to be cursed by God; to be separated from our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier!

If we were thus cursed, then this deserved curse means that we did not appreciate being created, redeemed at such an enormous price, and also that we shunned the Holy Ghost, the Divine Love, by our refusal to cooperate in His most loving assistance, to sanctify us and make us happy in this life and in eternity.

The pain of the loss of God really involves a soul realizing the lesson of what we meditated on in the Principle and Foundation.  The lesson, that is, that we are creatures of God, made in His Image and likeness in order to praise, revere, and serve Him during our lifetime, and thus save our souls and be happy with Him for all eternity.  The happiness that God planned for us to have is the only perfect happiness there is, seeing God in the Beatific Vision for all eternity.  This means seeing God in the state of glory, which St. Thomas Aquinas explains is the only way man can see God.[1]  The damned soul knows there is no possible happiness available for him.

Yet, the reprobate, whilst he was on earth did not concern himself enough or at all, with this moral obligation.  He tried to be happy in his own way and not in the way that God designed.  He was made for happiness and still wants the happiness that he was created to enjoy; yet because at his death his will was fixed against God, it remains fixed against God for all eternity.  Nevertheless, he still wants happiness in eternity in his own way, which doesn’t include God.  This constant contradiction of the truth about his happiness and his own proud designs for happiness on his own terms constitutes this horrific pain of loss.  In other words, he will never get his way.  In life this soul didn’t want to obey God’s way of things, namely, do God’s Will and therefore in hell, he does not want to do God’s will.

Let’s further penetrate the mindset of the damned.  Because the reprobate rejected God and served himself by giving into selfish sensuality, this base selfishness naturally brought forth an excessive opinion of himself, which we usually call self-conceit.  The natural result of his self-conceit is pride, which is none other than he wishing to appear above what he really is.  His reason tells him what manner of man he is and that he owes all praise to God.  However, because he is not consulting his reason when seeing himself, he becomes completely blind.   God, in His Infinite Wisdom, allows the reprobate to remain in his blinding-pride.  The reprobate lived his life on earth as the enemy of God, despising God’s precepts.

In addition to this wretched way that they lived, at their deaths these souls cared more about the punishments they deserved and their plight than they cared about the injustice their sins against God have caused.  They show further false judgment and injustice to God by not thinking about His mercy.  They falsely judge that their own wretchedness is greater than God’s Mercy, thus heaping a far greater insult on God.  This is a sin against the Holy Ghost and is known as dying unrepentant.  This sin can never be forgiven.  Because they refused to acknowledge what they owed to God, He allows them to die in their self-centered self-pity and despair.

Of course, we can also well imagine the case of a completely blinded soul caught up in the pride of presumption at his death.  This person shows his insulting and audacious pride by not recognizing the injustices that he committed against God, and presuming that God will take him to heaven.

Therefore, the souls in hell are punished not only for their malicious disregard for God’s commandments but also for their selfish disregard for His justice.

The unrepentant sinner sees at his particular Judgment that God is Just and He rightly condemns the sinner to eternal separation from the Infinite Good, namely, God.

So now in hell, being fixed in his blind pride, he knows that he deserves to be separated from God FOREVER!  We must remember that the lost soul’s heart is fixed in evil in hell as it was found at death, and indeed, as it was in his life on the earth.  As the saying goes, as we live, so we shall die.  If we try to make ourselves our own god and disregard God and His Commandments, we show that we hate God.  There are no repentant sinners in hell.  These souls think to themselves in hell, as they did in their lifetime, and at the crucial moment of their death, that, “since I cannot have happiness on my terms, I don’t want the Author of happiness at all.”  And yet they know they are miserable because they were made for God’s Way of happiness, and not their own.

They have lived according to Satan’s motto, “Non serviam,” and now they are not surprised to find that they are living that motto for all eternity.  They plainly hate God and blaspheme Him and His justice.  THEY HAVE BROUGHT UPON THEMSELVES THIS ETERNAL DENIAL OF TRUE HAPPINESS!!!

Our Lord calls their punishment eternal death.  St. Thomas Aquinas says that before the general resurrection, the damned with suffer as if they had their bodies.   And so before and after the general resurrection, their eternal death is always occurring.  They will feel the awful intense pain as if they were at the moment of their souls actually separating from their bodies, namely, death.  We must imagine in this meditation the concept of being forever on the point in which our souls are being separated from our bodies.  This is a fitting punishment for the damned because it shows all the better the absolute malice of one trying to make himself his own god and not wanting to be humble and comply with God’s Plan.

The soul that damns itself truly has rejected God.   Nevertheless, we must not think that the inability to have the happiness their human nature desires, does not give these souls the greatest pain—for truly it does!

Fr. Cochem, in his book, The Last Four Things, quotes St. Bonaventure as saying, “The most terrible penalty of the damned is being shut out forever from the blissful and joyous contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.”[2]

Likewise, Fr. Cochem follows this with the authority of St. John Chrysostom saying, “I know many persons fear hell because of its pains, but I assert that the loss of the celestial glory is a source of more bitter pain than all the torments of hell.”[3]

Fr. Cochem also informs us that:

For the vision of God is so beauteous, so blissful, so full of rapture and infinite delight, that all the joys and attractions of earth cannot compare with it in the remotest degree.  In fact, all celestial happiness, how great soever it might be, would be turned to bitterness if the vision of God was wanting; and the redeemed would choose rather to be in hell, if they could there enjoy that beatific vision, than be in heaven without it.  Just as the privilege of beholding the divine countenance constitutes the chief felicity of the blessed, the one without which all others would be no happiness at all, so it is the chief misery of hell, that the lost souls should forever be excluded from it.  On this subject St. John Chrysostom says: “The torments of a thousand hells are nothing in comparison to the anguish of being banished from everlasting bliss and the vision of God.”[4]

Let us think about what St. Paul writes, “That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him.”[1st Corinth 2:9]

Also, St. Paul writes, “We see now through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face.” 1st Corinth 13:12.

Here St. Paul is alluding to the wonderful Beatific Vision that awaits the Elect.  Certainly the mystical saints saw visions of God and were completely in love with Him.  They were so much in love that they longed extremely earnestly for heaven.  We were all made for this union with God, which is the Beatific Vision.[5]  

Since spiritual pains are much worse than physical ones, the damned suffer the most exquisite pain in always knowing they cannot have happiness in any way whatsoever.  Now let us pass on to our second point, which we must keep in mind is ongoing in conjunction with the pain of loss.

Considerations for the SECOND POINT – the worm of conscience – “this worm that dieth not”

Fr. Cochem, in The Last Four Things, says:

All the senses of the reprobate have each their peculiar punishment: their reason, or intellect, is punished by the pain of loss – a punishment surpassing all the senses.  The memory of the reprobate is tormented by “the worm that dieth not,” that is, by a most keen and constant remorse of conscience, which will give them no rest.

The lost sinner will remember how many graces and means of salvation he had during life to save his soul; how God sent him so many good instructions, how he had the grace of  prayer within his power to enable him to practice the virtues of his state, to overcome temptation, to keep the commandments of God and the Church; how his pious friends exhorted him to lead a good life by their exhortations, but especially by their good example; he had so many opportunities of instructing himself in his obligations by the hearing of the word of God and the reading of good books, and of  strengthening himself in the discharge of his duties by the reception of the sacraments and by the practice of devotion to the blessed Virgin![6]

The damned feel an overwhelming shame.  The reprobate will see how easy it was to have saved his soul.  He will see that he could have taken the means and lived completely for God.   He could have made the necessary efforts to amend his life.

Yet he was too lazy and/or slothful.  He was seeking comfort and ease instead.  He certainly did not think about what happens to souls immediately after death, the particular Judgment.  He did not meditate on the four last things.  He could have kept his mind focused on his duty and pleasing God.  He will see all the lost opportunities for virtue and his growth in virtue.   He will constantly reproach himself and hear the reproaches of Christ and all that Christ suffered in order to help him save his soul.  But now it is too late!!  He can never change what he did in his life.  He will feel intense despair and will wail, lamenting and gnashing his teeth.  His hatred of God will ever be manifest to him and his fellow-inmates in that abode of doom.[7]

Here again we quote Fr. Cochem in The Last Four Things:

St. Thomas [Aquinas] tells us that the sins of each one will be a fully known to the others as if they could behold them with their bodily eyes.  Every one can imagine what anguish this must be.   For what is so painful on earth as to be put to open shame? [8]

Jeremiah 23:40, “I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame which shall never be forgotten.” [9]

Thus, as St. Ephrem says, this shame and infamy will be more insupportable than hell-fire itself, because it will keep constantly before their remembrance the sins whereby they defiled themselves on earth.[10]

Their shame is most bitter and is intensified by the fact that every soul in hell knows all of the sins of his fellow inmates.  All reputations will be public.  The Catholics will especially be mocked in hell because they were given the supreme benefits of the Church and they still failed to save their souls.  This suffering of intense shame will be worse because of the fact that IT WILL NEVER END!!!

This brings us to the third point—the consideration of eternity.     

The THIRD POINT is to consider ETERNITY.

Not only is this suffering without end, without mitigation, without interruption, but it is also without consolation.

Fr. Cochem explains why hell must be eternal:

Rather than humble himself before God, and implore His pardon, he [the reprobate] would endure yet greater tortures in hell.  Therefore, because the sinner will not repent of his sins, nor ask pardon for his sins, he remains eternally in a state of sin, and because his sin is never expiated or repented of, the punishment is likewise eternal.[11]

The torments of the damned will never end, never pass away.  When a thousand years have gone by, another thousand will commence and so on for evermore.[12]

One can meditate on this concept of eternity and think of how if I damn by soul I will NEVER get out of this place, I will be here FOREVER!

The damned see clearly that they will never be released from the prison that they deserve and they shriek with despair and blasphemies against their Creator and Judge for punishing them so.  THEIR DESPAIR AND HATRED ARE AT THEIR HEIGHT AND WILL NEVER DIMINISH AS LONG AS GOD IS GOD – THUS, FOREVER!!!!

COLLOQUY: After considering these points, let us speak with heart-felt prayer to Our dear Lord about all He has done for us.  Let us beg Him to give us a genuine sorrow for sins and fear of displeasing Him ever again in our lives.  Let us desire with the mystics to be with Him in the highest contemplation.   Let us beg Him to enkindle our hearts with love and gratitude for sparing our souls up to the present time and not allowing us to fall into hell.  Let us tell Him of our desire to be so strongly attached to Him that we shudder at the mere thought that anyone could actually hate Him.  Let us end our colloquy with begging Him to never let us fall into carelessness in our service of Him, knowing that such carelessness is the road to ruin.

It is also a good idea to speak to Our Lady and St. Joseph, begging their intercession in order to increase our love for God and our hatred of sin. 

 In our next lesson, we will consider DEATH both in the state of grace and in the state of mortal sin.  This meditation is done with the same motivation of intensifying our love for God and our hatred for sin.

[1]           St. Thomas explains that without the light of Glory, man cannot see God in His essence because God’s essence is too much for our finite minds.  We cannot comprehend God completely as He understands Himself, but we can truly understand Him intellectually.

[2]           This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 155 (first letter of this quote was made a capital “T”).


[3]           This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 155-156.


[4]           This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page157-158.

[5]           Here is how St. Thomas Aquinas, greatest Doctor of the Catholic Church, explains this truth:


It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e. of man’s appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true.  Hence it is evident that naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation.  Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of Psalm 102:5: “Who satisfieth thy desire with good things.” Therefore, God alone constitutes man’s happiness.


Summa, Ia IIae, Q.2, a.8, respondeo.

[6]           This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 163.

[7]           St. Thomas Aquinas says that the souls of the damned hate God as their punisher but not in His essence because then they could not hate Him if they viewed Him as all-good and all-loveable.

[8]           This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 150.


[9]           This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 150.


[10]         This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 150-151.


[11]         This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 172-173.


[12]          This quote is taken from The Last Four Things, Fr. Martin von Cochem, O.S.F.C., ©1899, Benzinger Brothers, page 170.