At that time there shall arise
Michael, the great prince;
it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress.
But those whose names are written in the book
A film called The Road, based on a book with the same title by Cormac McCarthy is the story about a father and his son making their way across a devastated, post-apocalyptic America. Every city, every community, every institution has been destroyed. The man and the boy push a shopping cart of their supplies. They scavenge landfills for their next meal.
All the while they are on the lookout for the “bad guys,” savage tribes of cannibals.
The father is sick and dying. He knows he won’t be around much longer to protect his young boy.
We’re going to be okay, aren’t we, Papa?
Yes. We are.
And nothing bad is going to happen to us.
Because we’re carrying the fire.
Yes, son. You and I, we’re carrying the fire.
We wouldn’t ever eat anybody, would we?
No. Of course not.
No matter what.
No. No matter what.
Because we’re the good guys.
And we’re carrying the fire.
Throughout the story, the man struggles against giving into despair. Yet at the same time, the man finds hope and goodness in his son’s innocence. Along the way, he tells his son stories of the world before its destruction. He teaches him skills to survive. But most importantly, the man teaches his son to “carry the fire”:
According to writer Bret McKay, whose reflections on this film undergird this homily, “the fire” is a symbol not only for the will to live, but to live in a life that is noble.
It’s having hope when all seems hopeless. In other words, the good guys carry the fire; the bad guys don’t.
In their current situation, this father and son could choose, like the barbarians and allow the ends to justify any kind of means. But, instead, they decide to hold on to goodness despite it all. No matter how terrible things are, as long as the man and his son keep the fire burning inside of them, everything is going to be all right in the end.
The story concludes when the man and the boy reach the ocean where they hope the coming winter will be less severe. The film closes with this scene on the shore where the father lies dying:
I want to be with you, says the boy.
You can't. You have to carry the fire.
I don’t know how to.
Yes you do.
Is it real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I don’t know where it is.
Yes you do. It’s inside you.
Just take me with you. Please.
You said you wouldn’t ever leave me.
I know. I’m sorry. You have my whole heart. You always did. You’re the best guy. You always were. If I’m not here, you can still talk to me. You can talk to me and I’ll talk to you. I’ll talk to you. You’ll see.
Friends, if your soul and the souls of your children are to survive periods of trial alluded to in today’s readings, we all must learn to carry “the fire,” the fire of faith. Faith in God. The true and eternal God in whose book our names are inscribed.
So, as we come to the conclusion of this liturgical year, we need to ask:
“Am I carrying the fire? What am I doing to stoke the flame to keep it alive? Does the light of faith, the light of truth burn brightly enough within me that others can feel that heat and warm themselves by it?
Am I carrying the fire?...Am I carrying the fire?