I get The Catholic Virginian and have enjoyed reading your column over the years, but I do have a question that has always bothered me, even though I have made more than 30 retreats at a Jesuit retreat center and have taught religious education. In the Apostles’ Creed, why does it say that Jesus descended into hell and rose on the third day? How could Jesus go to hell? He had no sins — he was God. (Glen Allen)
During the celebration of the Mass, the Apostles’ Creed may be used as an option in place of the more traditional Nicene Creed, and that prayer does say that Jesus, following his death, “descended into hell.”
The answer has to do with the ambiguity, in early Christian times, of the Hebrew word “sheol.” That word could refer to the eternal abode of the devil and the damned, but it could also denote the place where the righteous awaited redemption. Until Jesus had completed his death and resurrection, the just could not yet know the joys of being in God’s presence.
So the first act of Christ after his death on Calvary was to go and rescue the just who had already died and bring them with him into the glory of the Father. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him” (No. 633).
It seems odd that genital intercourse is automatically excluded in theological views of heaven since Christian hope envisions the fulfillment of all things and, therefore, the redemption of our bodies. If God’s love redeems all things, then shouldn’t it redeem sexual life? Do you personally believe that there will be sexual intercourse in heaven in a physical, sensual and pleasurable way, as we understand it here on earth? (Houston)
You are correct that, in the view of most theologians, there will be no genital intercourse in heaven. That view is based, in large part, on the words of Jesus in such verses as Matthew 22:30. There the Sadducees, trying to trap Jesus, asked him about the woman who had seven different husbands and they wondered whose wife she will be in heaven.
In the verse in question, Christ replied, “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.” To answer your question: No, I don’t think “that there will be sexual intercourse in heaven in a physical, sensual and pleasurable way, as we understand it here on earth.”
There will be infinitely more gratifying delights in store for us — beyond our present imagination and based on our union with the divine. Psalm 16:11 says: “You (Lord) will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.”
C.S. Lewis, commenting in his book “Miracles” on the joys awaiting us in heaven, compared it to a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, asked whether you ate chocolates at the same time.
“The reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates,” said Lewis, “is that they have something better to think of. … We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in heaven, will leave no room for it.”
I am a teenage girl who would like some advice. I have committed a serious sin. I knew that it was wrong, that it was considered a mortal sin which would separate me from God, but I decided to do it anyway. Now I truly regret it. They say that if you die in mortal sin, then you will be lost forever. This thought scares me and makes me think that I cannot be forgiven because I went against God. How can I handle this? (City of origin withheld)
In 2015 Pope Francis, in a homily during Mass in his chapel, spoke to your situation. He said that God is willing to forgive all our sins, always and without exception, and that the Lord rejoices when someone asks him for pardon.
“God always forgives us,” said Pope Francis. “He never tires of this. It’s we who get tired of asking for forgiveness. But he does not tire of pardoning us.”
In 2019, when the pope spoke to a crowd gathered for the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, he pointed out that the endless mercy of God is at the heart of the Gospel.
“Each time we go to confession,” Pope Francis said, “we receive the love of God there, which conquers our sin. It no longer exists. God forgets it. When God forgives, he loses his memory, he forgets our sin, he forgets. God is so good with us!”
I know that you are sorry for your sin; all you need now is to go to the sacrament of confession, and then you will start over with the Lord — fresh and forgiven.