During their lifetimes, some saints were given a peek into the happiness of heaven and the horrors of hell.
Correggio, “Assumption of the Virgin,” Cathedral of Parma
by Joseph Pronechen
One of the earliest saints to receive a firsthand glimpse into the heavenly realm was St. John the Evangelist. In the Book of Revelation he described the heavenly Jerusalem coming with “the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels. … The city is pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel … each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass. … Its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” and “the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
He reminds us that there will be no more tears, death, crying or pain. “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 21).
St. Faustina on Heaven
Less than a century ago, St. Faustina Kowalska recorded her vision of heaven in her Diary entry for Nov. 27, 1936:
Today I was in heaven, in spirit, and I saw its unconceivable beauties and the happiness that awaits us after death. I saw how all creatures give ceaseless praise and glory to God. I saw how great is happiness in God, which spreads to all creatures, making them happy; and then all the glory and praise which springs from this happiness returns to its source; and they enter into the depths of God, contemplating the inner life of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, whom they will never comprehend or fathom. This source of happiness is unchanging in its essence, but it is always new, gushing forth happiness for all creatures. Now I understand St. Paul, who said, ‘Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love him.’
God has given me to understand that there is but one thing that is of infinite value in His eyes, and that is love of God; love, love and once again, love; and nothing can compare with a single act of pure love of God. Oh, with what inconceivable favors God gifts a soul that loves Him sincerely!
The sight of this great majesty of God, which I came to understand more profoundly and which is worshipped by the heavenly spirits according to their degree of grace and the hierarchies into which they are divided, did not cause my soul to be stricken with terror or fear; no, no, not at all! My soul was filled with peace and love, and the more I come to know the greatness of God, the more joyful I become that He is as He is. And I rejoice immensely in His greatness and am delighted that I am so little because, since I am little, He carries me in His arms and holds me close to His Heart.
She concludes: “O my God, how I pity those people who do not believe in eternal life” and prayed “a ray of mercy would envelop them too, and that God would clasp them to His fatherly bosom …”
St. John Bosco on Heaven
St. John Bosco, known as Don Bosco, wrote of his vision of heaven on Dec. 6, 1876. He said that “all was blue as the calmest sea, though what I saw was not water …”
He described “broad imposing avenues divided the plain into grand gardens of indescribable beauty.” He heard “music most sweet — so delightful and enchanting a melody that” he “could never adequately describe. … One could tell from the expressions of those happy faces that the singers not only took the deepest pleasure in singing but also received vast joy in listening to the others … and this was their song: Salvation, honor and glory to Almighty God and Father … the Creator who was, who is and who will come to judge the living and the dead forever and ever.”
As a multitude of boys approached, he said he recognized many who had been at “the Oratory and in our other schools, but by far the majority of them were total strangers. … Their endless ranks drew closer, headed by (St.) Dominic Savio,” followed by many priests leading the groups. Savio stood an arms’ length away from Don Bosco. “[A] crown of roses encircled his head.” A dialogue ensued:
Dominic Savio: ‘You are in the abode of happiness … where one experiences every joy, every delight.’
Don Bosco: “Is this the reward of the just?”
Dominic Savio: “Not at all! Here we do not enjoy supernatural happiness, but only a natural one, though greatly magnified.”
Don Bosco: “Everything here then is natural?”
Dominic Savio: “Yes, only enhanced by God’s power.”
Don Bosco: “Oh! I thought this was Paradise.”
Dominic Savio: “Oh no, no! … No human eye can look upon the beauty of Paradise.”
Don Bosco: “And this music … is it the music which you enjoy in heaven?”
Dominic Savio: “No, no absolutely not!”
Don Bosco: “Are these then natural sounds?”
Dominic Savio: “Yes, of course, but brought to perfection by God’s infinite power.”
Don Bosco: “And this light which outshines the very sun’s brilliance — is it a supernatural light? Is it heavenly light?”
Dominic Savio: “It is only natural light, fortified and perfect by God’s omnipotence.”
Don Bosco: “Might I be allowed to see a little supernatural light?”
Dominic Savio: “No one can see it until he has come to see God as He is. The faintest ray of that light would instantly strike one dead, because the human senses are not sturdy enough to endure it.”
Don Bosco: “Could there possibly be a natural light lovelier than this?”
Dominic Savio: “Yes, but if you could only see a single ray of natural light increased by just one degree, you would go into an ecstasy … I’ll give you a proof of what I say …”
(Don Bosco writes, “Instantly from the remotest heavens, a sudden streak of light flashed through space, fine as a thread, but so brilliant, so piercing that my gaze faltered in pain. … The filament of light was a hundred million times brighter than the sun; its brilliance could have lit up our entire universe. … After some minutes, I opened my eyes again …)
Don Bosco: “Was not that a heavenly beam?”
Dominic Savio: “It was not a supernatural light,” Dominic replied, “though ever so much superior in brilliance than the light of the world. It was nothing more than earthly light rendered ever so dazzling by God’s power. Even if a vast array of light as strong as the ray you saw at the end of that crystal sea were to cover the whole world, it would still not give you an idea of the splendor of Paradise.”
Don Bosco: “Then what do you enjoy in Paradise?”
Dominic Savio: “Ah, that defies all telling. The happiness of heaven no mortal beings can ever know until they die and are reunited with their maker. We enjoy God — nothing else!”
St. Teresa of Ávila on Heaven
St. Teresa also spoke of indescribable light in her vision, which unfolded gradually. She wrote:
One day, while I was in prayer, Jesus was so kind as to show me his hands. They were so beautiful that I do not know how to describe them. … A few days from then I saw His divine face and I was left completely enraptured. … The Lord showed Himself to me little by little, given that He had to give me grace in order to see Him entirely. However, I understood that it suited my natural weakness to happen this way. May He be forever blessed!
A creature so miserable and vile like me could not have resisted such glory if that God of bounty that I knew had not prepared me little by little. … My Father, how could I not want to contemplate two hands and a beautiful face. But these glorified beautiful bodies glow of such glory and such an elevated supernatural beauty that the sight of them muddles all reason.
The very sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ appeared to me complete and whole on the Feast of St. Paul, while I was assisting at Holy Mass. He was in that form that one gets used to seeing in depictions of the resurrection, but yet of an incomparable beauty and majesty, as I had already written in detail after the formal command that I had been given [after seeing] Heaven and such ecclesiastic beauty of these glorious bodies that have forever an immense blessedness, especially in contemplating the Humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. If He is like this on Earth, where He shows Himself in proportion to our natural weakness, what will be in Heaven where one will enjoy Him in all of His splendor?
It is a light that does not wane, a candidness full of sweetness, a splendor infused that deliciously enchants the eyes without tire, as does the clarity in which one sees the sublime reality. It is a light so different from ours that shines from the sun, that in comparison the sun seems very dim, this light so bright that after seeing it one cannot even open his eyes. … Not yet has sun or light had any resemblance to that light. Besides, our forms of light seem rather artificial and that one only natural: light without sunset, that nothing can disturb it because it is eternal, of such force that nobody could even imagine it, not even a great genius that contemplated it for life.
The Children of Fatima on Hell
The children of Fatima, Sts. Jacinta and Francisco Marto and Servant of God Sister Lúcia, are the best known of those who saw the horrors of hell. In her Memoirs Lúcia gave the details of their July 13, 1917, apparition:
Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent. This vision lasted but an instant.
How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly Mother, who had already prepared us by promising, in the first Apparition, to take us to Heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror.’
Jacinta was so filled with horror at the sight and thought of people going to hell, she offered penances and mortifications to convert and save sinners.
“Some people, even the most devout, refuse to speak to children about hell, in case it would frighten them,” wrote Lúcia. “Yet God did not hesitate to show hell to three children, one of whom was only 6 years old, knowing well that they would be horrified to the point of, I would almost dare to say, withering away with fear.
Jacinta often exclaimed: “Oh, Hell! Hell! How sorry I am for the souls who go to hell! … I’m so sorry for sinners!” She would say to Lúcia, “If Our Lady lets you, tell everybody what hell is like, so that they won’t commit any more sins and not go to hell.”
St. Faustina on Hell
St. Faustina similarly saw hell and wrote about it in her Diary:
Today, I was led by an Angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw: the first torture that constitutes hell is the loss of God; the second is perpetual remorse of conscience; the third is that one’s condition will never change; the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it, a terrible suffering, since it is a purely spiritual fire, lit by God’s anger; the fifth torture is conditional darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own; the sixth torture is the constant company of Satan, the seventh torture is horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies. These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the torments of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin.
[I am] writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like. I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence. I have received a command from God to leave it in writing. The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright. How terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God’s mercy upon them. O my Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, then offend You by the least sin.
We can help save souls from hell’s tortures and obtain heaven’s glory and beatitude. The Blessed Mother told the Fatima children: “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.” She is the surest way to Jesus, to whom we pray: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fires of hell; lead all souls into Heaven, especially those who are in most need of thy mercy.