Heaven and Hell are not places

Backyard Theology in Orange County by Fr. Felix Just

Father Felix Just: “Heaven is where God is.”

The following comes from a July 18 story by Kimberly Porrazzo in the Orange County Catholic.

It’s been hot outside. Some would say it’s been hot as hell. But how do we know hell is hot? And where, exactly, is hell anyway? I was curious what Fr. Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D., and executive director of the Loyola Institute for Spirituality, had to say about the subject so I attended the July 10 Backyard Theology meeting at Santiago de Compostela [Lake Forest, Orange County], along with about 80 other people. The subject of the evening: “Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.” Who doesn’t want to understand more about these three places? And that was my first misconception. Fr. Just says they are not places.

In what was the first of four theology meetings held on Mondays in July, Fr. Just explained the Catholic Church’s teachings on the subject and answered questions from the audience.

Fr. Just shared the various views of heaven and earth ¬– from the Hebrew view of the universe to the Ptolemaic system to Copernicus’s view. Fr. Just said of heaven and hell, “They cannot be places.”

“Heaven is where God is,” he said, noting the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s glossary of terms that describes heaven as: “Eternal life with God; communion of life and love with the Trinity and all the blessed. Heaven is a state of supreme and definitive happiness, the goal of the deepest longings of humanity.”

Hell on the other hand, it should be concluded, is anywhere there is the absence of God. Fr. Just again noted the glossary of terms’ definition of hell. It is: “The state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed, reserved for those who refuse by their own free choice to believe and be converted from sin, even to the end of their lives.”

The word “purgatory,” he added, isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Bible. He did explain it as a period of purification that isn’t bound by the limits of time.

Fr. Just urged attendees to think of heaven and hell less in “location” terminology and more as a state of being, adding: “Our vision of heaven, hell and purgatory is more influenced by Dante and other writers than it is by the Bible.”

My vision of heaven has always been my grandmother’s dining room. It is filled with all those loved ones who have already passed on from this life. There is food. There is laughter. There is love and warmth and contentment.

Among the last of those to ask a question during the evening’s Q&A, I asked: “Will we see our loved ones in heaven?” Fr. Just, who shared that he lost both his parents last year, replied that if heaven is a definitive state of happiness, then our loved ones should be there.

I’m holding on to that.


  1. It is a known fact that Our Lady of Fatima showed the 3 Fatima children hell. The children have described it. I would suggest that we all read it! It is not fiction, and heaven isn’t la-la land.

    • Linda Maria says:

      Yes! And all the Saints of the Church have also described well, visions of Heaven and Hell, as well as Purgatory, the state of purification of the soul. Heaven is our hoped-for destiny — our earthly life is to be a pilgrimage, and a preparation for– Heaven! Many Saints also stated that one can attain the state of pure, holy union with God– Heaven– while still on Earth, too! The “Divine Comedy” of Dante, is an allegory– as we all know. Of course– Heaven has nothing to do with human social interactions, of personal human love and warmth, in a dining room, at dinner-time! How about a quote from the works of St. Ignatius of Loyola?? This Jesuit priest doesn’t know as much as the Child Saints of Fatima!!

      • Linda Maria says:

        Our Lady told the Child Saints of Fatima– as well as other Saints who had apparitions of her– that not all will go to Heaven– and not all of our loved ones, friends, and acquaintances, will be there… that is the Truth!! One must work very, very hard, and co-operate willingly and faithfully with Christ’s Plan of Salvation– and be a very, VERY GOOD practicing Catholic!!– to hope for purification of sin, ad holiness– and to hope eventually, to arrive at St. Peter’s Gate!! Also, Our Lady told us to pray and sacrifice daily, for our loved ones! I think most of us can hope for a long stay in Purgatory!! And a part of that reason– is a poor, modern Church, not very good at moral and religious teaching and leadership!

    • Thank you….spot on !!!

  2. we can’t get around Jesus’ words in john 14:1-3, ‘ i go to prepare a place for you’. we don’t have the authority to round off Jesus’ words or suggest that he was using the categories of his day, trying to ‘keep it simple’. maybe just maybe it’s a mystery and states of being have places. it seems to fit with the fact that we are a unity of body and soul, perhaps heaven as a place is hard for modern man to believe . it’s a mystery and denials of the revealed word show our limitedness, not the shallowness of scripture.

  3. St. Christopher says:

    Not all get to Heaven, Father; it is likely not all of anyone’s “loved ones” will be there. And, as our Holy Mother tells us (that is, if you believe in Her appearance at Fatima), Hell is a place of torment, and many, many are there.

    God has wonderful things in store for those who love, and chose to serve, Him. Too bad about your comment on Purgatory, Father. That is what Protestant’s say. Of course, Vatican II clergy are largely Catholic Protestants anyway, but there is Catholic Tradition to consider, Father.

  4. Covfefe says:

    Everyone’s “loved ones” will be in heaven? Another universal salvation promoter?

    According to Aquinas, the blessed in heaven will rejoice in God’s justice, by which unrepentant grave sinners are condemned to eternal punishment, even if someone who had been a “loved one” on earth is in hell. The blesseds’ knowledge that some people, perhaps even a “loved one”, are in hell will not diminish their happiness in heaven one iota because their vision of God’s glory will include grasping God’s justice and its consequences for those who die in mortal sin.

  5. Although heaven and hell cannot be places within the boundaries of our universe, if the Church’s faith in the resurrection of the body is true then heaven and hell certainly have physical dimension and can thus rightly be termed “places”. How could a risen body exist in a non-dimensional realm? Impossible. Since Jesus and Mary both exist with their risen bodies in heaven right now, heaven is at least a three-dimensional spatial place right now but not a place within our universe. I wish the author had known enough to respond to Fr. Just in such a way. I wish a more knowledgeable reporter had covered the talk.

    • Sawyer, “heaven and hell certainly have physical dimension . . .”??? “heaven is at least a three-dimensional spatial place…but not within our universe”.
      Might you be limiting what is possible with God by implicitly assuming that He is limited by what our own human senses can experience? If you omitted the condition that heaven cannot exist within our universe, the fairly recent physics insight called “string theory” may solve the quandary. It posits a universe which has many more dimensions than 3, and which exists all around us right now. It’s just that human senses have not been constructed to apprehend more than 3. Could heaven exist spatially within one of these additional dimensions?

      • One more observation. You ask the question “How could a risen body exist in a non-dimensional realm?
        Impossible.” Really? Impossible only if the human mind, assisted by the senses, is the ultimate measure of all things. I’m sure you don’t believe that—because if you did, how accept the concept of the Trinity? It seems that Jesus didn’t accept it, either: in the Gospels He specifically tells us that nothing is impossible with God.
        Quoting snippets of Scripture as proof texts?? Recall the Church claims only that Scripture accurately reveals THE TRUTHS NECESSARY FOR SALVATION. It does not teach that Scripture is inerrant as to historical facts or science and must be taken literally in those areas.

      • roberto, the additional dimensions posited in some versions of string theory are coiled in on themselves so tightly that nothing larger than an elementary particle could fit in them; certainly nothing as large as a human body could fit in any of them.

        It boils down to: wherever there is a physical object there must be a space to contain it because bodies can only exist in space; space is a condition for the existence of bodies. If there are (resurrected) bodies in heaven, then heaven has space. If heaven has space, then heaven is a place. Same for hell.

        • Two quick comments, Sawyer.
          1. I am NOT saying that string theory IS the answer, only that one should consider it. You seem to dismiss out-of-hand all versions of string theory, but name one version as causing [in your view] an apparently insuperable problem.
          2. But, again, the problem you cite is insuperable only if you hold that God cannot accomplish anything unless it can be apprehended by the human senses. That is the fatal flaw in your arguments—which, by the way are based entirely on insufficient Newtonian physics. By the way, who are we to say

          • that God does not have the power to fit all the risen bodies that ever were or will be, into the space of a single atom? Can we hold He cannot, simply because it is not comprehensible to our finite human minds? That begs the question. Or can we hold that God can’t do it because it violates the principle of contradiction? No, we couldn’t say that—because to hold that He could do it contradicts only Newtonian physics. But Newtonian physics is valid only in explaining “gross phenomena”. Einstein and others proved that Newton’s “laws” are dead wrong when dealing with other than “gross phenomena”. You are thinking like a Biblical literalist. The Church has warned us not to.

          • roberto, Atoms are not spheres with empty space inside; they are combinations of subordinate particles: protons, neutrons and electrons. Atoms (and all their components) exist within space. To posit that a human body, itself composed of atoms, could exist inside of another atom is absurd.

            God cannot do anything that involves a contradiction. Aquinas affirmed that.

    • Your Fellow Catholic says:

      Could heaven exist within the three dimensional confines of a single atom?

      • No. That would make matter superior to God. Before anything had been created there was only the Triune God: no space, no time, no creatures.

        When God created the angels, he simultaneously created the spiritual realm in which they exist because that was necessary for their existence. God created the physical universe as the realm for the existence of human beings for similar reasons.

        In order for human beings with risen bodies to exist in heaven with their bodies, heaven must have a spatial aspect.

        • Sawyer, when did God appear to you to tell you that?
          If He didn’t, I’d suggest that in dealing dispositively about God MUST do or CAN’T do, it’s best that we humans not go above our pay grade.
          You keep making dogmatic proclamations which, if they have any reality basis at all, derive from superseded Newtonian physics or from a literalist approach to Sacred Scripture. That [and your never addressing alternate explanations] is why I can’t take what you say seriously.

          • Nothing is impossible for God means that no “thing” is impossible for God. Aquinas explained that a logical contradiction cannot be a “thing” since a contradiction cannot be understood as an idea. Hence God’s omnipotence does not extend to contradictions.

            I’m not thinking above my pay grade, but perhaps above yours.

        • Sawyer, in reply to your 21 July post at 7:41 p.m.
          I have tried to explain above that no logical contradiction exists. [What you have done, AGAIN, is to assume that something is impossible for God because you can’t envision it. That approach throws out the whole fields of relativity and quantum physics. Not to mention Heidigger’s uncertainty principle]
          I certainly accept the Thomistic principle of contradiction. But Thomas was in no position to to determine whether the “things” I mention are rendered impossible because of it. He wrote in the 13th century [I think]. Physics has advanced quite a bit since then. I refer you to some of them above in this post.

          • You apply the valid Thomistic principle of contradiction to NEWTONIAN physics. In so doing, you render your arguments as completely beside the point, especially as to whether the contradiction principle invalidates the principles of modern-day physics. Why? Because no physicist in his right mind holds that Newtonian physics is an adequate and accurate description of material reality.
            Since you raised the question of qualifications, let me ask about your own advanced study of physics. As for me, I hold a doctorate [in mathematical physics].

          • roberto, it’s Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, not Heidegger. Can’t believe a Ph.D. in physics would make that error.

            I understand relativity and quantum physics well enough. Relativity is a theory of invariance: because there are constants (speed of light), reference frames differ in their experiences. It’s an expansion of Newton, not a rejection; Newton is a specific reference frame. Quantum physics considers reality at the minute scale, where Newtonian gravitation isn’t as strong as other forces.

            People throw out terms like relativity and quantum physics without understanding them and try to apply them to spiritual realities to sound avant-garde. You can fool the ignorant, but not anyone who knows who Heisenberg was.

          • Your Fellow Catholic says:

            roberto vicente, thanks for your replies in this thread but I suspect you are waisting perfectly good ink. People who do not believe in science will never be pursuaded by an argument based upon science.

          • YFC, I’ve shown that I understand and accept science. What I don’t accept is people entertaining an absurd hypothesis, like bodies composed of atoms could fit inside another atom. Particles have fixed characteristics. In order to fit bodies inside an atom the characteristics of particles would have to change in a way (size, for example) that introduced a contradiction into the universe: a proton in the body would not be a proton, for example. A = ~A is a contradiction.

      • YFC—please see my above post to Sawyer, if you’d like. My answer to your question is “why not”?

  6. Clinton R. says:

    Fr. Just, at a Theology on Tap conference at my parish last year, also
    said the Eucharist is just a symbol and not the actual
    Body and Blood of Christ. Take what he says with a very small
    grain of salt.

    • If that’s what Fr. Just said, it is perhaps defensible: the Eucharist is not the physical body and blood of Christ; it is the substance of Christ’s body and blood. So it’s true that it isn’t Christ’s “actual” body and blood if by “actual” is meant Christ’s biological cells. However it is Christ’s “actual” body and blood if by “actual” is meant the substance of Christ’s body and blood. The reality is substantially present under the species of bread and wine, but it is not physically present via Christ’s cells. Use of the word “symbol” would be problematic regarding the Eucharist; it’s not merely a symbol.

      • Linda Maria says:

        Sawyer– I think that we are all multi-dimensional beings! Can we see our souls? No, but they are there, along with our bodies, and our thoughts, and emotions! It all is real! We know about sound waves and light waves, and the realms of physics and chemistry. And the Saints do mysterious things– healings, miracles, bi-locations, levitations, etc. Padre Pio had many mystical gifts! How could he read souls, in Confession? How did he do bi-locations, to help people, and to heal them?? How could he be in two places at once?? And how can the same Christ be in all Eucharists, as well as all Sacraments—all over the world?? We cannot know the answers– except by Faith! God is a Mystery!

        • Linda Maria says:

          Sometimes, small children chase shadows, or waves of light in pretty designs– and some claim to see creatures from other worlds, such as Angels!! A small child may also ask, where the “place” of the shadow, or ray of light, or also– a pretty musical tone– might be! They cannot touch it, but they know it is there! And why must pretty light waves, or sound waves, come to an end?? Can we “touch” the imaginary (or REAL!) Angel, that a child might play with?? We mostly know just the material world. But God is from the spiritual world, and I think He has a well-ordered “place” for all things in His design– but He is a Mystery to us, and always will be!

          • Linda Maria says:

            I think that in the modern world– modern people are so immersed in material things, and so far from Nature– that many people no longer have a sense of wonder, mystery, and awe, of Nature, which God created! Many people, not so long ago– came to know God, by being immersed in the beauty and mystery of God’s Creation, every day! Many also had great awe, wonder, and respect, for the perfect designs of all things in Nature– which God created! Every little thing has a perfect design, a perfect place, a perfect ordering, a perfect unfolding, to a perfect destiny! Fantastic!! “A perfect place for all things!”

          • Linda Maria says:

            Saints who have had visions of Christ, Our Lady, or Angels, always report a strong presence of bright, intense, pure Heavenly light. Christ’s holy body went into Heaven with Him, at His Resurrection. Our Lady also was assumed, body and soul, into Heaven, upon her holy death. Many of the bodies of Saints are mysteriously incorruptible. It is said that Heaven is a glorious, eternal realm, shining brightly with holy light, and exquisitely beautiful, with angelic songs of praise to God! Well– that is the way I, too, always thought of Heaven! A great Mystery!

          • Linda Maria says:

            In regards to my July 21 post, at 7:55 p.m.– Not so long ago, people would often say, “How can you not believe in God, when you behold the glories of His Creation?”

          • Linda Maria says:

            Sawyer— Perhaps our resurrected bodies will someday be similar to Christ and Our Blessed Mother, in Heaven. St. Faustina gives a really good description of Christ, in her Diary, and the Fatima children, as well as St. Bernadette, St. Catherine Laboure (of the Miraculous Medal) and many other visionary Saints, gave good descriptions of Our Lady. When we are in that beautiful state, in the resurrection of the body– it will be like nothing we have ever known before! Incomprehensible to us, as of right now! We will have no illnesses, no deformities, no sins, no problems at all! Fantastic!

  7. Joel Fago says:

    To paraphrase Padre Pio, tell that to Satan if you get to that place!

    • terriific reference, joel! is there any possibility that you could find the full original? i just read that pope john paul II spent a week with padre pio shortly after his ordination. it is reported that padre pio helped to strengthen him for the many tasks that would face him.

  8. Clinton R: I suspect you may have misunderstood Father Just’s remarks regarding the Eucharist. I heard Father Just give a talk on the sacraments and his discussion of the Eucharist was completely faithful to the long standing teaching of the Church.

    This is one of the best articles ever posted on CCD.

    • Clinton R. says:

      Not only did I, but our Associate pastor took offense to
      what Fr. Just said on the Eucharist. The Associate pastor
      told Fr. Just point blank his statements were heretical.

  9. Heaven and hell are fake news.

    • What does it matter if everyone goes to heaven anyway? Oops, if heaven isn’t a place then nobody can “go” there.

  10. The Watchman says:

    Jeanie you are absolutely right because the children of Fatima were showed hell. This made such an impression on the children that they willingly offered up all their sufferings for the conversion of sinners so that they would not go to hell. I would also encourage you to read St. Faustina’s Divine Mercy Diary where she talks about hell and actually describes it and shows why people went to this horrific place. St. Faustina actually describes what sorts of punishments certain sins got. Hell is a real place and Heaven is a real place. The choice is all yours. Repent and covert! Pray America Pray.

  11. The Watchman says:

    Further to my first post on this story God created hell for satan and his demons that rebelled against him. Human beings by their sins and actions choose to go to hell. Jesus Christ King of Kings Lord of Lords True God and True Man willingly gave up his life for the remission of our sins and our eternal salvation. I urge everyone reading this post to seek God’s love and mercy while you still can. This time of God’s mercy won’t last for ever. Convert and Repent! Pray America Pray.

  12. Bob One says:

    What does the Catechism say? That is what should decide this discussion. Hell is the absence of God, isn’t it? If we go to hell we will not be with God. The readings this weekend point to the idea that if you believe in God and live his commandments, you will be justified. You will live in glory with Him. I, and most others on this site don’t know what heaven and hell are. What does the Catechism say?

    • Do you accept what the Catechism says about homosexuality, homosexual acts, and marriage? What does the Catechism say? That should decide the discussion. Hmm…

      • Linda Maria says:

        Sawyer, try to talk to the S.F. Archdiocese on that subject! They had a big ad (again) in last week’s Archdiocesan newspaper, inviting everyone to go and pay good money, at USF, to hear the infamous, liberal, pro-gay marriage advocate, Fr. James Martin, S.J., of “America” magazine fame, give a lecture. Of course– he could give a lecture on Christ’s true teachings, and leading a CHASTE, happy, and successful life, being a good, devout, practicing Catholic– a pilgrim on the pathway to Heaven! That is what a priest is called to do, lead souls to Christ, and to Heaven! Want to put your question to Fr. Martin? LOVE to see what he would say!

        • Linda Maria says:

          P.S. In a well-known “America” magazine article, as well as in many speeches and writings– Fr. James Martin, S.J., has quoted the Catechism, the writings of Pope Benedict, and many others, on the topic of Catholic teaching on homosexuality– and has listed all the things a poor “LGBT” cannot do, according to Catholic teaching– and how celibacy should never be “forced” on a poor “LGBT,” either! Fr. Martin thinks the Catholic Church is MEAN and CRUEL in her teachings! Well– read the Bible, Christ is even stricter! Are priests like Fr. Martin big babies, who cannot teach any kind of mature religious discipline at all??

          • Linda Maria says:

            The other day, I signed a big petition of a concerned parents’ group, based in Washington, D.C., to demand that big publishers of teen-age magazines, in New York, refrain from publishing articles on gay sex acts, inviting teens to try them out, complete with “how-to” diagrams. A major culprit was the fashion magazine, “Teen Vogue,” the teen version of “Vogue” magazine, which long ago, was decent! Our Nation is completely corrupt! We need to re-claim it, for Christ!

        • Linda Maria says:

          Sawyer— you might have read Fr. Martin’s infamous “America” magazine article of Nov. 13, 2009, “What Should a Gay Catholic Do?” It is also online. Also, he has his new, best-selling book, “Building Bridges,” on the same subject. Plus, a great many lectures, books, and articles, as well as online videos, everywhere!

        • Linda Maria says:

          P.S. Fr. Martin ‘s USF (or St. Ignatius) lecture actually was last week, on July 15th!

      • Bob One says:

        Sawyer, of course!

      • Linda Maria says:

        Pope Francis recently appointed Fr. Martin and Michael Warsaw (of EWTN), to the Vatican’s Secretariat of Communications.

      • Linda Maria says:

        Of course– Fr. Martin is obviously leading many souls to the state of mortal sin– and if they go down that path in life, with no repentance — how can these poor souls possibly reach Heaven?? Fr. Martin, and many of his fellow Jesuits, are destroying our Church, and destroying the young people of our country! They are all immoral liars and heretics– very dangerous, subversive, false priests!! (And they make a lot of money, too, with their immoral schools and publishing enterprises!) The Pope is so wrong, not to try to correct his own errant religious order– the infamous, post-Conciliar Jesuits!

        • Linda Maria says:

          Well, Sawyer, I feel so badly, after writing all of these posts! Of course, they are not really replies to your posts– they are just thoughts of my own. I feel so badly, and I hurt so much, for our Church and our Nation, so “gone astray!” No decent religious and moral leadership– and Pope Benedict says that the Church is “collapsing!” Why must things be so terrible for us all, who are devout Catholics, decent people, and good American citizens? So depressing!

      • Catherine says:

        continued for Sawyer,

        The Holy Eucharist is the Whole Christ by Father John A. Hardon SJ

        “Shortly after Trent, Pope St. Pius V authorized the publication of the Roman Catechism which built on the Council of Trent and explained its teachings for the pastors of the Church.”

        Regarding the Real Presence, the pastors were told to explain that “in this sacrament is contained not only the true Body of Christ-and that means everything that goes to make up a true body, such as bones, nerves, and so on-but also Christ whole and entire.”


      • Catherine says:

        continued for Sawyer,

        “Consequently the Eucharist contains Jesus Christ in the fullness of his divinity and the completeness of his humanity.

        Jesus is therefore in the Blessed Sacrament “whole and entire: the Soul, the Body and Blood of Christ, with all their component parts. In heaven a complete human nature is united to the divine nature in one. . . person. It is a denial of the faith to suppose that in this sacrament there is anything less.” – Father John A. Hardon SJ


      • Catherine says:

        continued for Sawyer,

        The Holy Eucharist is the Whole Christ by Father John A. Hardon SJ


        “It is not speculation but cold revealed fact that the Holy Eucharist is the Son of God who became the Son of Mary.

        Whatever makes Christ, Christ, is in the Holy Eucharist; nothing less.”

    • Linda Maria says:

      Bob One– On p. 289, No. #1023, in our 1994 Catechism— we will find the section on “Heaven.” It begins– “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ.” Further down the page, No. #1024 begins, “This perfect life with the Most High Trinity — this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed— is called “Heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” At the top of the next page, p. 290, we find, “To live in Heaven is “to be with Christ.”” (I always capitalize the “H” in “Heaven.”)

      • Linda Maria says:

        I will give the famous quote from the Baltimore Catechism, which millions of Catholic schoolchildren once knew by heart, prior to the Council:
        Q. 150 Why did God make you?
        A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.

      • Bob One says:

        Linda Maria, Thank you. You made my point.

        • Linda Maria says:

          Bob One, I really appreciate clarity on any subject, rather than just people’s ideas and opinions! Clear, precise explanations are so helpful for me, so that I can understand a subject better! Also, I used to appreciate memorization, as a child, because that sticks with you forever, and can be so helpful!

  13. Clinton R: is your Associate Pastor a member of SSPX or Church Militant? The leadership as well as selected members of these two groups like to engage in phony arguments with priests and Catholics who are faithful to the Church.

    • Clinton R. says:

      Saying the Eucharist is a mere symbol and not the Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity of Our Lord Jesus is heresy. To say otherwise is to contradict the words of the Lord in the Gospel.

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.

Speak Your Mind

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.