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Saturday, August 6, 2011

SBC Triumphs, Chapel Moves Forward

The following is excerpted from "Victory! And a Building Project" at SBC's main site. We here at SBC Watch are overjoyed!


A Major Legal Victory
We have fought six years for our right to build. In a landmark civil and religious rights case in New Hampshire, a Cheshire County Superior Court judge ruled that our right of free exercise was violated by the Town of Richmond. This was the judge’s decision in a motion for summary judgment. (You can read a PDF of that order.) It took a long time, but rather than allow the case to go to trial, the Town elected to settle out of court. The settlement included a cash payment from the Town’s insurance carrier.

We invested most of that settlement money, after paying our attorneys, on needed building repairs and maintenance of our present physical plant, which is now more functional and beautiful than ever. Even with the cash settlement in hand, we could not build the chapel, because the litigation was not yet over (keep reading to see why).

The Town also agreed, almost a year later, to drop the outlandish thirty plus conditions the Planning Board imposed on us. It was these conditions — some impossible, some illegal, all expensive — that brought us to the courts in the first place. The litigation was complicated by a group of “interveners,” Richmond residents hostile to the Center, who became a third party to the case. They dragged things out and made the proceedings more costly for both the Town and the Center.

But now it’s finally over, appeals and all — after two agonizing years of site plan review and four years of litigation — and we have prevailed! Or, rather, Our Lady has prevailed through us. Deo Gratias!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

SBC Will Have a Papal Knight at Their Conference!

From Brother André Marie's Blog...

The theme of this year’s conference will be Right and Freedom: Catholic Considerations on Misused Concepts.

Included in the list of speakers is author, papal historian, and lecturer, Charles A. Coulombe, K.C.S.S. By order of Pope John Paul II, Mr. Coulombe was created a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester for his services rendered to the Holy See. Author of the chart-climbing The Pope’s Legion, and Puritan’s Empire: A Catholic Perspective on American History, Coulombe is recognized internationally for his in-depth knowledge of Vatican politics and the influence of Catholicism in America and Europe. His audiences regularly range from graduate students at Oxford University, England to the New Mexico Military Institute, from which he graduated. His international articles have appeared in the New Oxford Review, National Catholic Register, American Thinker, Los Angeles Catholic Mission, Monarchy Canada, and The Irish Democrat.

Read the full press release here. Learn more about the conference here.

Monday, April 11, 2011

About Father Leonard Feeney, M.I.C.M.

Leonard Feeney was born in Lynn, Massachusetts on February 15, 1897. On the eve of Our Lady's Nativity, September 7, 1914, he entered the Jesuit Novitiate of Saint Andrew in upstate New York. During his 14 year formation as a Jesuit, he studied in England, Wales, Belgium, France, and the U.S.A. At the end of a brilliant scholasticate and theologate, he took religious vows as a son of Saint Ignatius, and was ordained a priest on June 20, 1928.

Father Feeney then embarked on what would become one of the most celebrated careers any priest could enjoy as a writer, lecturer and editor. During the 1930's he was literary editor of America, the Jesuit-run Catholic monthly. At the same time, his books, published by some of the major publishers of that time, were becoming standards in Catholic schools and homes all across the country. They include Riddle and Reverie (MacMillan, 1936), Song for a Listener (MacMillan, 1936), You'd Better Come Quietly (Sheed and Ward, 1939), The Leonard Feeney Omnibus (Sheed and Ward, 1943), Your Second Childhood (Bruce Publishing Company, 1945) Mother Seton, an American Woman (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1948), Survival Till Seventeen (Sheed and Ward, 1948).

Father's genius as a writer, speaker and theologian, was attested to by some of the most prominent Catholic figures of his day. Bishop Fulton Sheen once said that the only substitute he would allow on his radio show was Father Feeney. Frank Sheed, of Sheed and Ward said, "For Father Feeney, dogma is not only true; it is breathlessly exciting. That is his special vocation. . . to make his readers feel the thrill." During Father's days at Oxford, Lord Cecil, the famous Oxford don admitted, "I am getting more out of my association with Leonard Feeney than he could possibly get from me." Of the Jesuit's writing, Cecil said, "it shines with a pure, clear light."

In 1942, during the height of his literary fame, Father Feeney was transferred by his Jesuit superiors to Saint Benedict Center, a Catholic student center which had been founded two years earlier by Catherine Goddard Clarke. Mrs. Clarke had sought the permission of the then-Archbishop of Boston, William Cardinal O'Connell, to establish an educational oasis of Catholic truth close to the renowned secular universities in that area. The Cardinal readily agreed to the project, admonishing Mrs. Clarke to "teach the Faith without compromise." So it was that Saint Benedict Center quietly came into existence that year at the intersection of Bow and Arrow Streets in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Center's initial purpose was to provide religious instruction for the Catholic students of the universities and, in keeping with the instructions of Cardinal O'Connell, its policy was to teach the authentic doctrines of the Church through the study of Holy Scripture, and the writings of the Fathers, Doctors, and Saints of the Church. This program of studies achieved immediate success, filling the spiritual vacuum created by an obvious deficiency in the neighboring academic institutions. The Center was attended in large and growing numbers.

With Father Feeney's transfer to Saint Benedict Center, a whole new era in his life — and in the lives of countless others — was to commence. Within three years, he came to see clearly that the Church was headed down a dangerous path of compromise and accommodation, leading to what is now universally recognized as a "crisis in the Church." Not only did Father see the problem before anybody else, he also saw the primary cause: the obscuring of the Catholic Church's teaching "outside the Church, there is no salvation" (extra ecclesiam nulla salus).

In 1949, with the loyal support of those who had become his spiritual children, Father Feeney founded the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. From the foundation of the Congregation until his death in 1978, Father Feeney continued to teach his disciples and form them into a community of apostles dedicated, not only to the restoration of the Dogma of Faith, extra ecclesiam nulla salus, but also to the conversion of the United States of America to the One, True Faith, outside of which no one at all is saved.

After Father Feeney’s death in 1978, the great Scottish apostle of Christ the King, Hamish Fraser, eulogized him as "one of the most outstanding prophets of our time. For not only did he most accurately diagnose the contemporary malaise, long before others became aware of it; he also put his finger on the very omission which was both symptom and cause of the plague of liberal indifferentism which eventually surfaced as post-Conciliar Neomodernism and oecumania."

About Brother Francis Maluf, M.I.C.M.

Brother Francis was born, in the town of Mashrah, Lebanon, about thirty miles from Beirut, in 1913. His given name was Fakhri Boutros Maluf. The Maluf family is descended from the ancient Ghassanids, Christian and Catholic Arabs who courageously kept the Faith in the face of Moslem aggression.

Though poor, Fakhri’s family saw to his education, which was provided at home, in a small school that his father operated. In 1934, Fakhri graduated from the American University of Beirut with a Bachelor’s Degree in mathematics. From 1934 to 1939, he taught physics at that same University.

In 1939, he moved to the United States to attend the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he received first an M.A. and, in 1942, a Ph.D. in philosophy. After receiving his Ph.D., he continued post-graduate studies at Harvard University and Saint Bonaventure University.

From 1942 to 1945, Dr. Maluf taught mathematics and science at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. From 1945 to 1949, he taught philosophy, theology, and mathematics at Boston College.

In addition to his academic career, Dr. Maluf's first decade in America was filled with great religious activity. On the Feast of St. Andrew (Nov. 30) in 1940, he became a Catholic. (Although he came from an historic Catholic family, his father had become a Mason and raised the children with no religion.) Two years later, he met Father Leonard Feeney, chaplain of Saint Benedict Center. In 1949, Dr. Maluf and two other professors at Boston College were dismissed from the faculty after charging the College, in a letter to Pope Pius XII and the Superior General of the Jesuit Order, with promoting the liberal doctrine of salvation outside the Church. That same year, Dr. Maluf became one of the pioneer members of Father Feeney’s religious Order, the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, eventually taking the vows of religion and the name Brother Francis, after Saint Francis Xavier.

Since that time, Brother Francis continued to teach Sacred Scripture, philosophy, theology, science and mathematics at various levels. For many years he was the Superior of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary monastery in Richmond, New Hampshire. While in his 90s, he continued to give weekly lectures on various topics, teach high school, head the Saint Augustine Institute of Catholic Studies, and oversee the publishing apostolate of Saint Benedict Center.

On July 19, 2009, Brother Francis marked his 96th birthday. On September 5 of that year — a first Saturday — Brother went to his reward.

Although our Order is of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, Brother Francis was a Melkite Rite (Byzantine) Catholic. 

Please read Brother Francis’ Obituary and the Ad Rem, The Funeral of Brother Francis, in Thoughts and Pictures.

He gave numerous lectures and courses that are available on our online store in books or on audio.

About Brother Andre Marie, M.I.C.M.

A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Brother Andre Marie graduated from that city's Holy Cross School in 1988. He went on to study at Louisiana State University's (LSU) main campus in Baton Rouge, on full scholarship as a music major. After three years at LSU, he transferred to Holy Apostles College and Seminary, in Cromwell, Connecticut, where he took a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spring of 1993 (major in Humanities with a minor in Philosophy). In September of 2007, he received the degree of Master of Arts in Theology, Summa cum Laude, also from Holy Apostles.

He entered as a postulant for the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in May of 1993, and went on to the novitiate on Christmas of that year. He made profession of vows on Epiphany of 1996.
Since 1993, he was mentored in philosophy and theology by Brother Francis Maluf, M.I.C.M., Ph.D., a published philosopher of note.

His apostolic work has included various facets of the publishing apostolate of the congregation. For ten years, he was also part of the community's small "mission band" of brothers who traveled to different cities distributing literature to interested persons in an effort to spread the Catholic Faith and bring wayward Catholics back to a sacramental life. He oversaw that apostolate for four years.
He has edited three of the Order's books, published dozens of articles, and presented numerous lectures in apologetics, the history of doctrine, the Church's ecumenical councils, ecclesiology, and devotional topics. He is currently giving lectures on making America Catholic as part of the "Catholic America Tour."

Since 2002, he has been Prior of St. Benedict Center, an apostolate of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond, New Hampshire.

Past memberships include the Knights of Columbus, the Tubists Universal Brotherhood Association, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Brother maintains a weblog called Brother André Marie’s Theology Blog.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Battle over Richmond project isn’t over yet

St. Benedict’s and neighbors ask judge for help

By Kyle Jarvis
Sentinel Staff
Sunday, January 23, 2011 8:47 AM EST
Though the town of Richmond and the St. Benedict Center settled a religious discrimination lawsuit last year, the legal battle rages on.

The center is asking the court to approve an agreement previously negotiated with the town on conditions of approval for a proposed construction project, while a group of residents, including abutters to the center’s property, is asking the court to send the matter back to the town’s planning and zoning boards. Residents say they’d then have a chance to be heard.

At a hearing in Cheshire County Superior Court Thursday, the center and the group of residents each argued that town officials have not followed the proper process on a previous court order.

The discrimination lawsuit stemmed from the center’s plans to build a 10,000-square-foot school and chapel on its Fay Martin Road property.

Following several hearings, the project received approval from the town’s planning and zoning boards, but with that approval came a list of 30 conditions.

The center argued it could never meet all 30 conditions, which amounted to a violation of its constitutional rights under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and Judge Philip P. Mangones agreed.

Rather than go to trial, the town settled for $1.15 million. It was hailed as one of the largest settlements of its kind.

In April, officials from the center met several times with some members of the planning board and board of selectmen to revisit the conditions, said Michael J. Tierney, the center’s attorney. The result was a revised list of 23 conditions.

In June, the center and the town asked Mangones to approve the conditions. The judge Mangones declined the request, instead ordering the town to seek “meaningful input” from the planning board and zoning board.

“It is not clear ... that the planning board and zoning board of adjustment, as the entities with the power to make decisions with respect to land use issues, had authorized counsel to enter this settlement,” Mangones said in the order from June.

Then, things changed when some planning board members made 21 changes to the new revisions, “which I argued are more onerous than the 23 conditions agreed upon in April,” Tierney said.

But the full planning board never gave the okay for going ahead with the changes, according to two planning board members, which didn’t sit well with Tierney and the residents.

At least two planning board members claim a selectman told them their input wasn’t needed.

Mangones took the matter under advisement and will be issuing a ruling.

Richmond attorney Daniel J. Mullen could not be reached for comment on the town’s position.

Kyle Jarvis can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1433, or kjarvis@keenesentinel.com

Friday, December 31, 2010

Letter to the Editor: Jesus Insulted at Christmas

Spotlight photo was insulting to all Christians

Published: Friday, December 31, 2010
“ ’tis the season,” right?

It seems as though ’tis the season to insult and revile Christ and Christianity!

I refer to the photograph in your Spotlight section of Thursday, Dec. 9, “celebrating” holiday concerts and shows in the region.

This offensive photograph purports to publicize a show called “Jewmongous” which “pokes fun at the producer’s Jewish heritage and modern Jewish life.”

So I ask, why in heaven’s name does one of the figures in the picture obviously represent Jesus Christ? Is he a part of modern Jewish life? I don’t think so. Too bad the makeup man did not include the blood streaming from his head and face as a result of that crown of thorns and a torn bloody cloak from the terrible scourging he received.

This is funny? It is an outright mockery of Christ and every Christian, no matter what his or her affiliation, should be outraged at the newspaper’s selection of this particular photograph from the show.

Would you print such a depiction of Mohammad? I seriously doubt it, as it would call upon your heads a fatwah (sentence of death for blasphemy).

Remember the cartoonist in the Netherlands? He still fears for his life long after the incident and is under 24-hour guard.

Shame on you!


22 Fatima Way


Edited for style.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Merry, Marian Christmas!

This is from the main SBC site:

To all our tertiaries, friends, benefactors, and regular readers, I express the heartfelt wishes of all the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Brothers and Sisters: May the tender Virgin and St. Joseph bring Jesus into your homes, and may the grace of God the Father, the wisdom of His eternal Child, and the charity of Their Holy Ghost be with you all this Christmas.

Please feel free to read our Christmas selections on this site, as well as my Christmas Letter.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Fire of Pentecost

By Brian Kelly
Summer begins on my calendar after our May Procession. In meteorological time, it begins June 1. What this means is that the season of summer extends through the warmest months of the year, which in the Northern Hemisphere are June, July, and August. I only discovered today, while beginning this article, that in Great Britain and Ireland (and other northern countries) summer follows weather, or meteorological time. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream the play takes place during the shortest night of the year, June 21, although this is not, in meteorological time, mid summer. That would be mid July. 

However, in North America we start our summer with the summer solstice, June 21, which, I think, makes more sense because it marks the longest day of the year, and even though the days begin to slowly grow shorter after the summer solstice, June, July, and August are the months with the longest days of the year overall. School time, of course, summer begins when school gets out, or, on the average, Memorial Day, the last Monday in May. In the Southern Hemisphere our summer is their winter; so June 21 for them is the winter solstice.
Liturgically, in the summer, the Church lives in the season of Pentecost. On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the Birthday of the Church, the Day the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth, descended on the fearful Apostles and changed hesitant men into roaring lions for Christ.
“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak” (Acts 2:2).
The Holy Spirit, who is everywhere, made His presence known in this place, in this city of Jerusalem, in this house of the family of Saint Mark, in this Upper Room of the house where the Holy Eucharist was instituted, by way of a “mighty wind” and “fire.”
The sun in the summer is high in the sky and gives off its greatest light and heat during the season of Pentecost. The sun is fire, and without fire there is no light and no heat. There is a trinity in all created things. Light proceeds from the fire, as the Son from the Father, and heat proceeds from the fire and light, as the Holy Spirit proceeds from Father and Son as Love.
Why did the Third Person of the Trinity appear as tongues of fire upon the heads of the Apostles? What is it about this material element, or rather, its manifestation as light and heat, which makes it so spiritual that indeed, although invisible itself, all material things must be seen by means of it and, although unfelt itself, makes all things warm that are touched by it. Fire, by its nature, is material, but it is the closest of all material things to immaterial realities.
The Greek Philosophers on Change and the Causes of Change
Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, who lived around the fifth century B.C., was convinced that fire was cause of everything in the cosmos. He was one of many philosophers of that time who studied at Ionia (Miletus, in today’s western coast of Turkey) at the school founded by Thales, the father of western philosophy. The thinkers of that Eleatic school, as it was called, were looking for the ultimate causes of the material universe, and they were stuck in the material realm until Anaxagoras came along. He came up with the idea that nous, or mind, was the ultimate reality that formed all things, and that purpose (telos) was behind the order in the cosmos. However, Plato said that he fell short of attributing design, and, therefore, knowledge to his nous. The Greeks, among others, believed that there were four ultimate elements: earth, air, water, and fire. Thales thought that water was the ultimate element from which all things arise and participate in. Anaxamenes thought that air was the basic element. Heraclitus considered it to be fire, because, he said all things are in flux and always changing and fire underlies all change. He was the first philosopher to use the term logos (reason or word) although he did not rise to the spiritual realm with that concept as Plato did later. For him, logos, was creative of all things, but still material, although utterly ethereal, containing all things, even opposites.
This kind of speculation may not seem very brilliant to us, but we must remember that the ancient Greeks were pagans and had no knowledge of holy scripture, hence creation from nothing by an Omnipotent God. By the light of reason alone they were unable to entertain the concept of a beginning (creation), believing that matter, even if formless, or chaotic, was eternal and infinite. In fact one of their philosophers, Anaxamander, posited that the cosmos arose out a force that was limitless and infinite. He was a fascinating thinker and studied directly under Thales. He was, among many other things, an astronomer and mathematician and he calculated solstices and equinoxes. He had a peculiar theory that the Earth, which he held to be cylindrical, was orbited by a revolving dome that was punctured with holes and that outside the dome was fire, hence the stars were merely small holes in the canopy and the sun was a big one. Nevertheless, I was always impressed by Heraclitus, whose errors, like other Greek philosophers, helped the advance of natural wisdom as much as his correct theories. If we understand by “fire,” in Heraclitus’ thought, the reality of “change,” then that element takes on a deeper significance that mere flames, light, and heat.
Fire in Nature
But enough of that. It is fire that I wish to write about, albeit briefly, in its relation to our Faith. The word “fire” in holy scripture is used analogously and really, spiritually and physically. When Jesus said, “I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I, but that it be kindled? (Luke 12:49), He was, of course, speaking analogously of spiritual fire. As was His Precursor, John the Baptist, when he told the penitents who had come to his baptism: “I indeed baptize you in the water unto penance, but he that shall come after me, is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire” (Matt. 3:11).
Heraclitus made a good point when he spoke of the power of this incandescent, or flaming, combustion of fuel and oxygen, that seems to defy an adequate definition. Physical fire is not limited to what we are familiar with everyday; lightning is fire; and the sun and stars are fire, but much hotter than the flames that end up as carbon gas in our ordinary experience.
The fire of the sun is the cause of almost all energy related substantial change: photosynthesis and evaporation, which give us plant life and rain; without CO2 in the atmosphere and H2O plants would not live, nor animals, nor man. Carbon dioxide is what plants take in to grow (call it plant "respiration") like our lungs do air. We exhale CO2 on account of our 98.6 degree body’s fire. What we produce in CO2 is not enough for plant life, but it helps. Volcanoes certainly exude a lot, as do forest fires, and all decomposing fossil fuels.
Fire in Supernature
Point being: fire changes things. When Jesus calls us to penance, and fills the world with the grace for all men to amend their lives, He likens it to casting fire upon the earth. We need the fire of grace from the Spirit of Christ to do penance and “change our minds” as the Greek word for penance, metanoia, implies. The sacrament of baptism does even more. The baptized become members of the Mystical Body of Christ and are “washed” (baptizein, in Greek, means “to wash”) from all sin by the fire of the Holy Ghost. That is why John the Baptist was so excited about Jesus’ baptism, which was far greater than his. As the church teaches us, the grace of baptism (and all the sacraments) works ex opere operato, from the act itself of receiving the sacrament; all that is needed for those with personal (and original) sin is Faith and sorrow for sin, and all sin and punishment due to sin is wiped out. That’s a change worthy of supernatural fire, isn’t it? How much of a change? How about being translated from mere children of Adam to becoming children of God and heirs to the kingdom of heaven!
When we see or feel fire we stand away from it lest we get burnt. For all the good that it does for us, it can also kill us. But God has other things that he does with material fire, and you will be surprised to know what He does.
He sometimes manifested His presence in the Old Testament by fire. God spoke to Moses in a burning bush, and that fire, although material with flames and all, did not consume the bush. The laws of nature were suspended by the Author of nature, so that Moses would realize who it was who was speaking to him. A pillar of fire led Moses and the Israelites through the desert nights on their way to the Promised Land. An angel from heaven took a burning coal from heaven’s thurible and purified the lips of Isaias the prophet with it. This fire did no harm, but purified him. And, speaking about suspending the laws of nature, when God punished Pharaoh and the Egyptians for refusing to allow the Israelites to depart their land, one of His punishments was fiery hail. How could hail be on fire? Well, God can make anything, except a contradiction, which is not a thing. Fiery hail is not a contradiction, as would be dry rain, or a square circle.
“And the hail and fire mixed with it drove on together: and it was of so great bigness, as never before was seen in the whole land of Egypt since that nation was founded. And the hail destroyed through all the land of Egypt all things that were in the fields, both man and beast: and the hail smote every herb of the field, and it broke every tree of the country” (Exodus 9:24&25).
Purifying Fire
So fire, material fire, can purify. This is what the fire in purgatory does. It purifies the souls waiting there to be taken as perfect vessels to heaven. Even here on earth fire purifies, as you know. Pure iron is extracted from impurities in iron ore by fire, and iron is purified by fire again to make steel. Iron and brass were being produced by Adam’s grandson Tubalcain. Even steel is mentioned in the Bible (Jeremais 15:12). Today there’s about 1300 million tons of it produced annually.
How does material fire purify souls? Well, we know that it cannot consume souls because the soul is spiritual and immortal. How then does it torment a soul in purgatory? First of all one must realize that the torments of the fire in purgatory are of a different kind than the fiery torments of hell. The fire is material in both places, but in purgatory the suffering souls have holy joy, and they desire to suffer. They know that they will see God and they also know that, although their guilt has been erased by confession, they must be “refined” spiritually from all the dross that the effects of personal sin has stained their wills with. This is why we pray after Holy Communion at Mass that the Body and Blood of Jesus will “cleave” to our very entrails (literally, yes, that is what the Latin viscera means) and wash away “every stain of sin that remains” in us.
I do not claim to understand why God chose fire to purify holy and imperfect souls in the next life, but I do know this, and I’ve been repeating it all along: Fire changes things! It cannot change a soul substantially, like it could a mortal body, but it can change a soul accidentally, by refining it. Therefore, it is better to refer to the punishments in purgatory as a chastisement. Chastisement is medicinal for the soul; it is inflicted in order to bring about change for the better. This is what Saint Paul meant when he wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus. Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble: Every man's work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work burn, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire” (3: 12-15).
Hell Fire
The fire in hell does not purify, but it torments in just punishment. It is not a chastisement. These torments are not the essential punishment of hell, but the accidental. The essential punishment of hell is the pain of separation from God, the pain of loss. To miss out, through one’s own fault, on the end for which one was created, the eternal vision of God, is the greatest of all pains that the damned suffer. Some of the more modern opinions proffer that the misery of the damned lies in that they have to live forever with the choice they made final at death to reject the love of God. This is, of course, true. But it is only one side of the coin of misery. The other side, the worse pain, is knowing that in opting for this final act of rebellion, the damned “feel” the turning away of the face of God from them. No, they do not see the face of God in His essence, but they do see the face of Christ the God-Man at their particular judgment. They do experience, and that forever, the horror of His just sentence: “Depart from Me.” And, this is yet another torment, their self-knowledge. They know their sentence is just. They see their own state of perpetual rebellion, which accuses them of a fixed will of preferring to continue in their sins even if they had the opportunity of a thousand more years of life, of two thousand, of a million.
But I am speaking here of fire. How does material fire torment an evil spirit or a human soul? For that matter, after the resurrection of the body, how does fire torment an immortal body in hell, since it does not consume the material substance and does not feed off any fuel. Tough questions, for sure. Nor are there any sufficient answers; for the fire in hell, although material, does not manifest the same nature as that with which we are familiar. The fire in hell, or so say the saints who have seen it, does not give off light. Our Lord referred to hell as “the exterior darkness,” “everlasting fire,” where “the worm dieth not,” and where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This does not mean that every one who is damned suffers in the same degree. Hell has its own “mansions,” some far more wretched than others. Even when it comes to the fire, not every person in hell is roasting over the flames. What the children of Fatima saw and what Saint Theresa of Avila describes below, is the place where the vast majority of the damned are tormented, each according to their particular vice or vices. But there could be other places in hell where the fire is not burning the unrepentant sinners from within but where it acts from without, tormenting the person by way of ligation. So, says Saint Thomas. The fire acts upon these less evil creatures as would the walls of a prison, afflicting them by way of confinement. But still, and justly, a most horrific end that will never end.
Saint Theresa describes her vision of hell:
"A long time after the Lord had already granted me many of the favors I've mentioned and other very lofty ones, while I was in prayer one day, I suddenly found that, without knowing how, I had seemingly been put in hell. I understood that the Lord wanted me to see the place the devils had prepared there for me and which I merited because of my sins. This experience took place within the shortest space of time, but even were I to live for many years I think it would be impossible for me to forget it. The entrance it seems to me was similar to a very long and narrow alleyway, like an oven, low and dark and confined; the floor seemed to me to consist of dirty, muddy water emitting foul stench and swarming with putrid vermin. At the end of the alleyway a hole that looked like a small cupboard was hollowed out in the wall; there I found I was placed in a cramped condition. All of this was delightful to see in comparison with what I felt there. What I have described can hardly be exaggerated. What I felt, it seems to me, cannot even begin to be exaggerated; nor can it be understood. I experienced a fire in the soul that I don't know how I could describe. The bodily pains were so unbearable that though I had suffered excruciating ones in this life and according to what doctors say, the worst that can be suffered on earth for all my nerves were shrunken when I was paralyzed, plus many other sufferings of many kinds that I endured and even some as I said, caused by the devil, these were all nothing in comparison with the ones I experienced there. I saw furthermore that they would go on without end and without ever ceasing. This, however, was nothing next to the soul's agonizing: a constriction, a suffocation, an affliction so keenly felt and with such a despairing and tormenting unhappiness that I don't know how to word it strongly enough. To say the experience is as though the soul were continually being wrested from the body would be insufficient, for it would make you think somebody else is taking away the life, whereas here it is the soul itself that tears itself in pieces. The fact is that I don't know how to give a sufficiently powerful description of that interior fire and that despair, coming in addition to such extreme torments and pains. I didn't see who inflicted them on me, but, as it seemed to me, I felt myself burning and crumbling; and, I repeat, the worst was that interior fire and despair. Being in such an unwholesome place, so unable to hope for any consolation, I found it impossible either to sit down or to lie down, nor was there any room, even though they put me in this kind of hole made in the wall. Those walls, which were terrifying to see, closed in on themselves and suffocated everything. There was no light, but all was enveloped in the blackest darkness. I don't understand how this could be, that everything painful to see was visible." [Source: The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume 1, Chapter 32: paragraphs: 1,2,3.]
This is the beginning of wisdom, to fear God. First, to have a servile fear of Him, then, after growing in love, to arrive at a filial fear, which is to fear offending God on account of His goodness, rather than His punishments. “But I will shew you whom you shall fear: fear ye him, who after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell. Yea, I say to you, fear him.” (Luke 12:5).
Holy Fire
Surely, even a greater mystery than fire serving as an everlasting or temporary torment in the next life is fire serving unto glory. I do not know if the saints who spoke of such holy fire, as it burned within them, were speaking of the element analogously or in its reality, but I am inclined to think that it was both real and symbolic. Saint Francis Xavier used to have to splash cold water on his breast to relieve the intense heat that he felt inside when God would strike a chord in his heart in one wayward pulsation of divine love. There were numerous times where witnesses saw him do this in public, when the fire in his heart was so torrid that he could not wait until he had found some privacy. Another saint who had to deal with a similar “problem” was Saint Philip Neri. When he assisted at Holy Mass, the fire in his heart used to cause the beating pulsations to become so violent, that not only his body but the walls of the church would shake. During one particularly alarming episode, a fireball was seen to shoot through the church’s ceiling and down into the mouth of the saint then out his chest and back through the roof. Philip collapsed in agony. The ball of fire had burst through his ribs, opening them wide beneath the skin, thus providing his passionate heart more room to express its intense fervor.  Then, there was Saint Catherine of Siena. While in ecstasy that seraph of love once cried out: “My nature is fire!”
The Holy Ghost, Author of Grace, used tongues of fire as a symbol of His transforming presence when He filled the hearts of the Twelve Apostles with the fire of the virtue and power of His seven Gifts. The seven Gifts are not habits in the soul, as are the three theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, but they are given, infused, to prompt the receiver to holy action. They are like a spark; hence they ignite, like a spark, like a flame, like tongues of fire. “I am come to cast fire on the earth.”
The highest choir of angels are called seraphim. It is a Hebrew word, derived from sarap, which means “to burn.” Each of the nine choirs performs some service to God that befits their class. The seraphim are the highest lovers of God among the angels; they reflect in the highest brilliance the Nature of God, which is Love. The seraphim ceaselessly praise God in unending chorus: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts (Armies). Heaven and Earth are full of Your glory.” It was a seraph who took a burning coal and purified the lips of Isaias, who had seen two of these angels each with six wings, chanting in a song of praise before the thrown of the King of Glory in heaven.
As we live our Faith during this season of Pentecost, let us renew at times the vows of our baptism as we did during the Easter vigil. Let us deeply desire, as we pray, that the Holy Ghost truly “come” and truly “fill” our hearts, and the hearts of our neighbors in Christ. Baptize us again, O Lord, not, of course, sacramentally, for we can only be born again once, but by Your purging fire. Through Your sanctifying power, may we be worthy flames in that holy conflagration which Jesus came to cast upon the earth.