WAILING & WEEPING!
Years ago, following my attendance at a Cursillo Weekend, I began to attend a men's weekly Saturday morning Bible study. Following this meeting we would often go to breakfast and on occasion attend a local Catholic Mass. On one such occasion, the Mass happened to be a funeral Mass. Generally, I would elect not to attend a funeral liturgy as it tends to be somewhat elongated, and I am often in a rush to get home to start or finish some home project. Yet, on this particular morning I had a certain leading to attend and obeyed it. Little did I know that Jesus would use this leading to teach me about his heart of love for the lost.
Once in church, I settled into a pew a few rows back from the family of the deceased for whom the funeral Mass was being offered. The family appeared to be well-to-do and the two very pretty and animated young girls attending with their father were wearing gorgeous dresses that appeared to be velvet. I surmised from this that from a material perspective it was probable that these young ladies had little to worry about. Then, as the Mass proceeded, it was self-evident that this family was unfamiliar with the liturgical norms of the Mass as they were often confused. It was then that I began to further surmise that this family was in church for only one reason - the death of some family member very close to them. This was not intended to be a self-righteous conclusion on my part, but rather what I considered likely based upon what I was witnessing.
Now, the inexplicable - Communion Time!
If you you are familiar with a Catholic funeral Mass, you will know that during Mass the casket is located in the center aisle just before the altar. Consequently, during communion it is necessary to pass either to the left or the right of the casket to receive the Eucharist and this can sometimes be constraining. As I proceed to communion passing closely along the casket on the left side I am immediately overwhelmed with tremendous grief, sorrow and loss. The intensity of this emotion was all-consuming, and although I try with all my strength to suppress my flowing tears and my visible grief and agony - I could not. Wondering what God was doing I cried out to Him asking: "Why are you doing this to me!" Then, as I approached to receive communion from the Mass celebrant (who I knew personally), I was hoping that this priest would conclude that somehow I knew the deceased which would explain my open and visible grief - which by now began to embarrass me. After Mass I could not get to my car quick enough.
In the days following this somewhat traumatic event, I concluded that the Lord had shared with me His own profound sense of loss and grief regarding the state of the eternal soul for whom the funeral Mass had been celebrated - it seems, all to no avail. I cannot make sense of this experience in any other way. To this day, I do not know the name of the person for whom this funeral Mass was celebrated nor do I care to know it. Clearly, any final judgement for this person must be left in the hands of God.
As a Christian who came to conversion at the age of thirty-six through the ministry of Billy Graham, and who escaped the horror of the loss of my own soul (I still sometimes shutter at the thought of this.), I am deeply and profoundly aware of the existence of hell. Following my own conversion experience, I was allowed to see in a dream vision the place in hell from which I had been delivered through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It was not a place of great fires, but rather a cesspool of nothingness in which I existed (if you can call it that) alongside another creature having the same form and shape that I had (it was Armadillo like). There was no purpose, no hope, eternal lack of color, and unrelenting awareness of my eternal state. Unlike St. Teresa of Avila, who was also given a vision of hell and experienced its pain and loss, I did not feel actual pain or loss but only viewed my condition. Obviously, to this day I cannot forget the bitter experience of that funeral Mass celebration -which seems an oxymoron. And, ever since my own conversion, I have worked diligently for the salvation of souls (principally through the Alpha Course and Unbound and other ministries, witnessing to my own salvation experience whenever possible). Yet, I am certain that I could have done more. Yes, I am sure that each of us can and must do more. For, once you become aware of the eternal reality of hell nothing else really matters and a solemn obligation is attached to such a revelation. Yet, many hearts are hardened, and God's grace and mercy are required to shepherd souls towards times of repentance.
In this context, what continues to be so difficult for me is the obvious lack of concern regarding this ultimate eternal reality by many lukewarm Christians who doubt the existence of hell, and who live complex lives of intermingled black and white. Tragically, many of their churches do little to light the fires of conversion where 'maintenance theology' is all too often the norm.
This cannot please God.