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What Was Really the Case

On Hell.

Daniel E. Flores is the Bishop of Brownsville, Texas. This short essay is an extract from a symposium that appeared in the Assumption 2022 issue of The Lamp magazine.

Hell and the judgment that would send me away may in the end be the same thing, or at least a perpetual moment and state with little distance between them. To be shown what really was the case in a single instant, and what could have been erased had mercy and its prior grace not been evaded for reasons I at the time chose not to see for what they were, obstinate loves horribly misplaced. In a moment I see it, and all the attendant shame that comes when no answer can be given other than to say it was so, an Amen spoken over the past tense, uttered to my own self misspent.

To see it as Augustine says, the way it was, but having missed the chance of which he spoke, to settle on the way to court. The chances missed to plead guilty then, when the Master walked at my side, and he and I had time to attend to every twisted limb. Guilty as charged, I should have said, while on the way. He was there, I knew it, but not so well so as to do what the occasional glimpse of a pierced hand might, under better circumstances, have moved me to do. What am I saying? Under better circumstances? The habit of excuse still wiggles and curls, like what’s left of a beheaded snake.

He walked with me, He did, close as my shadow, sometimes outside but then, by a trick of the light, drawing in. He was in all the shifting spaces and angles that made up my every living day. Let the shame and fear burn now, you said, so that time can open up a place for the milder mercy that fixes while it breaks. But no. Yes, I saw you. But no, I didn’t really. I didn’t want to. He wanted a repentance that would quicken my step, a moving forward, toward him with at least a stumbling, selfless act of brilliant dying. I helped a grouchy old lady get back into her locked apartment one day. It was cold; she’d lost her key. I know, He said, I remember that. But you let it slide and nothing more came of it, until it died.

Hell, not unlike the frozen lake, but lived in a perpetual moment of burning lament, knowing that the cold sea of regret cannot of itself towards repentance break. It’s too cerebral for that.

You are just, Sir. I did not want to see, which is why you see me here now. A place, yes, but more a truth I knew but decided not to need so didn’t heed. I decided then the truth of me; and all the grouchy ladies, poor and barely a threaded sweater to warm their thinning arms, the ones I never saw or meant to see, I see them now. They’re at the Gate; they recognize me, sadly, as one of those who passed them by, and I’ve no place to go now but away from them, like I always did, into the hole that my merciless soul its time on digging spent.