At St. Therese of Lisieuxthe oldest of the Discalced Carmelite foundations in California, located in Alhambra, a small city in the San Gabriel Valley region near Los Angelesthe Saturday 5 p.m. vigil Mass seemed marked by the motif of drawing to a close . Fr. Jan Lundberg, OCD, the 62-year-old pastor, began his homily by noting that this Mass also marked the drawing to a close of the liturgical year, the last time that we would hear the Gospel of Mark proclaimed in the Sunday liturgy until two more years have gone by.
In the Gospel reading, we heard again this message from Christ himself:
In those days after that tribulation
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
[ . . . ]
Amen, I say to you,
this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.
But of that day or hour, no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:2432)
We need such reminders, Fr. Jan reflected, because we are prone to forgetas we get caught up in the present or deny what we know out of fear of the futurethat our lives, too, will come to a close. And yet they will continue, undeterred, down a path to their final resolution. In our daily actions, in the habits we form, we forge paths to heaven or to hell.
It is good to be reminded, said Fr. Jan, not only as a stern warning but also as a hopeful promise, that each of our lives will come to a resolution; no one, after all, truly wishes for this earthly life to go on forever. Quoting Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Fr. Jan asked, If it were possible for us to live four hundred years with some kind of vitamin, do you think that we would all swallow them? There would certainly come one moment in our existence when we would want to die. Rather, our happiest moments occur when eternity draws nearat moments of inspiration when we are freed of the before and after and experience the all at once ; when, in Bishop Sheens words, eternity almost seems to get inside of your soul.
There are two possible paths, Fr. Jan explainedtwo possible experiences of eternityand they do not just await us at the end of our lives. Fr. Jan drew again on the words of Bishop Sheen: Heaven is not way out there; heaven is in here. Hell is not way down there; hell could be inside of a soul . . . . I have met people who are in hell. I am sure you have too. I have also seen people with heaven in them. We are meant for heaven, said Fr. Jan. God created us out of love, and he will not let us separate ourselves from him without a struggle. He can call us to heaven even when it seems we are on a path barreling toward hell.
Fr. Jan concluded with a story from Bishop Sheen:
I remember once attending a man in a hospital. When I asked him to make his peace with God he said, “I suppose youre going to tell me Im going to hell.”
“No,” I said, “Im not.”
“Well,” he said, “I want to go to hell.”
I replied, “I have never in my life met a man who wanted to go to hell, so I think I will just sit here and watch you go.” Of course, I did not intend to let time pass without doing something, but I was absolutely sure that if he had a few minutes to himself, he might change his point of view. So I sat alone with him for twenty minutes. I could see him going through a kind of soul struggle.
Then he said to me, “You really believe there is a hell?”
I asked him, “Do you feel unhappy on the inside? Are you fearful? Is there dread, anxiety? Are all the evil things of your life coming up before you as a specter, a ghost?” Well, it was not long until he made his peace with God.
The liturgical year marks our existence in time. Now, especiallyon this second to last Sunday of the yearit serves us with a notice that our lives will come to an end. In light of that, questions may threaten to consume us: What will be the final resolution of my life? Am I on the right path? Will I persevere? We remember, then, that there is one more Sunday in the year. Its name reminds us that at the endnot only of the year, and of our lives, but of time itselfwill come the Solemnity of Christ the King.