Hell as eternal punishment

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Hell as eternal punishment
Question from on 07-01-2007:
Dear Father Torraco--I am a middle-aged woman, and the older I get (and closer to death) the more frightened I become at the prospect of spending eternity in hell. I think the thing that I am having trouble coping with is the idea that God would punish someone for all eternity. I can understand the concept of Purgatory, where we spend time being cleansed of all sin before we enter into His Presence. I am a parent of three grown children, and when they were young and disobedient, I would punish them, but, because I love them, I cannot even imagine wanting them to spend FOREVER in a lake of fire. If God loves us as we love our own children, how could He want us to spend forever in eternal torment? It scares me so much. We never know when our time to die will come, and it is sometimes easy to succumb to mortal sin, particularly the sins of the flesh. Our bodies are full of desires that are sometimes hard to put to rest, but we can spend forever in hell if we succumb. I am very troubled by this. Do you think God gives us second chances when we die (like Jesus did to the thief on the cross)?
Answer by Fr.Stephen F. Torraco on 07-02-2007:
Let's first be clear about the reality of hell. God does not "send" anyone to hell. People choose this eternal destiny themselves.

In the third part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, under the fifth commandment, the Church speaks to the evil of suicide. There the Church tells us that we ought to pray for those who freely commit suicide because, in ways known only to God, God can bring such people to repentance. It follows that God is able to do that for each of us.

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