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What about hell? We don't seem to be hearing much about that place of late, not from the pulpit, not from elsewhere.

It's a puzzling part of near-death episodes: we get tremendous descriptions of Heaven's splendor -- but few who describe the netherworld.

It's why we carried a bizarre blog entry the other day alleging that seven Colombia "born-againers" had been taken on a collective trip to Heaven and sheol. We asked the question: is there any truth to it? Was there any truth to the dismal picture they presented? It was "right on" in descriptions of Heaven (matching impressively with near-death experiences), but it was extreme in its depiction of who goes to hell (to say the least), seemed to have everyone headed there (for what some may see as lesser infractions), and was in obvious error in dismissing Catholic notions like purgatory. In asking if there was any truth to the revelation, it was obvious that we didn't accept the majority of it.

Be careful especially of mystics or anyone who claims to know who is in hell or purgatory.

Scripture tells us to take from an alleged mystical experiences what is good and leave the rest (as opposed to throwing the baby out with the bathwater) and we must say that, if nothing else. the notion of hell sobers us. Too often, perhaps, we think all we have to do is smile to get to Heaven -- and no doubt, love and kindness pave the way. They are the big part of the ticket.

But we must also purify internally.

"We were in a horn-shaped tunnel, and we started to see shadows, demons and figures that moved from one place to another," claimed the Colombians. "We kept going deeper and deeper down. In just a matter of seconds, we felt an emptiness and a great fear. 

"We then arrived at some caverns; at some horrible doors, like a labyrinth. We didn't want to go inside. We noticed a terrible smell and a heat that choked us. Once we entered, we saw terrible things, frightful images. The entire place was engulfed in flames; and in the middle of these flames, there were bodies of thousands of people. They were suffering in great torment. The sight was so horrifying, we didn't want to see what was shown to us.

"The place was divided into different sections of torment and suffering. One of the first sections that the Lord allowed us to see was the 'Valley of the Cauldrons,'  as we called it. There were millions of cauldrons. The cauldrons were inlaid at the level of the ground; each of them was burning with lava inside. Inside each one was the soul of a person who had died and gone to hell. 

"As soon as those souls saw the Lord, they started to shout and screamed, 'Lord, have mercy on us!  Lord give me a chance to get out of this place!  Lord, take me out and I will tell the world that this place is real!'  But the Lord didn't even look at them.  There were millions of men, women and young people in that place. We saw all of these people shouting in such great torment."

Tough stuff. Too tough? Was it a fabrication?

Perhaps. We reject notions that are not Catholic. And we must say, that hell is rarely recalled in near-death experiences. Some hypothesize this is because those who encounter hell block it out of their memories, while others argue it's because there is no place as is described above. Still others claim that the afterlife becomes what we expect. St. Teresa of Avila also described hell as like a muddy cellar with cells or caverns. Others say the fire of purgatory can be confused with the fires of hell. Less than ten percent of near-death experiences are negative.

We believe, of course, that there is Heaven, hell, and purgatory (we carry the largest selection of books on purgatory on the internet). It can be good for use to contemplate the negative side of the afterlife. It certainly makes us take a quick self-evaluation. In our current day, hell is under-preached. At Medjugorje, the Blessed Mother allegedly said that most go to purgatory, and a large number go to hell. It is the place for those who disdain God.

Moreover, hell was glimpsed by the seers at both Fatima and Medjugorje (both of which involved fire; in the case of Fatima, bodies tossed around in the flames like charred embers; at Medjugorje, a beautiful woman entering the fire and coming out as half-human, half-beast, as in classic descriptions of demons, and as in the episode of near-deather Dr. Howard Storm, who is now a minister building Catholic churches!).

But it is also clear that God is a God of Mercy -- and that most brushes with death reveal the incredible extent of that mercy, and a place beyond that personifies whatever is within us. The vast majority of those who have near-death experiences report what they glimpsed as incredibly joyous and delightful -- to be greatly looked forward to.

An aroma of sanctity that heals. A light that revivifies. Music that ministers to the soul (after that tough trial called earth).

They realize that Heaven is our true home.

By and large, they no longer fear death -- and neither do we, when we have Christ, and when we have the special assistance of the Blessed Mother and the Archangel Michael.

The afterlife will reflect the goodness and love in each of us: radiant flowers, crystal waters, grass that sways in praise to God.

[resources: afterlife books]

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