Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Rapture Didn't Come - What's Next?

But of that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be watchful!  Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come.        (Mark 13: 32-33)

A radio preacher in the United States predicted (based upon some calculations he had made and what he considered to be a "code" that he found in the Scriptures) that the world would end this past Saturday, May 21 at 6 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).  Obviously his "calculations" were incorrect.  He is now saying that this was to be a time of spiritual awakening and the end will definitely come this coming October on the 21st.

A large number of people believed his prediction and many worked very hard by advertising to bring the prediction to the attention of everyone so that the righteous would be ready for the "rapture" when it occured.  I must say I admire the fervor with which they attempted to present their message but I feel sorry for the number of people who spent large sums of money to advertise this only to have their savings wiped out because of the failure of the prediction to come true.

What do we really know about the end of the world?  The quote from Mark's Gospel above makes it clear (to me, anyway) that no one knows - no one has the right calculations to predict when the end will come.  Even Jesus himself states that he has no knowledge of that time.  In the time after Jesus' death and resurrection many (including St. Paul) felt that the end of times would probably come soon.  Later they were to revise their thinking and here we are twenty plus centuries later still wondering about it.

In an earlier post (Is the World Coming to an End? - March 18, 2011) I spoke about this and raised some questions about what we are doing to the great gift of this earth that God has given us.  I can understand why some would feel our times are presenting some premonitions about the end times when we consider what is going on in the world with wars and with violent weather that has destroyed many homes and businesses (in April alone in this country there were over 800 tornadoes and one of the most violent just decimated a part of a town in Missouri this past week).  Again we might ask - what are we doing to our world; is the progress we have made on so many fronts in technology, etc. causing havoc in the environment?  It is a question worth pondering.

Getting back to the "rapture," is there a question to be raised here as well?  Each one of us will face our own personal judgment at the hands of our God when our earthly time is finished and at some point the world as we know it will come to an end (I don't believe any of us can predict it).  One of my good friends, Father Bob Longobucco, was interviewed by a local television station prior to last Saturday to ask his opinion about the end of the world.  He stated (and I think it was a wonderful thought) that Jesus first came to this earth in love and with compassion and he believed when he comes again he would come in the same way.

When we face our judgment, what will be asked?  To paraphrase the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 25), I believe God will ask us:

       I was hungry - did you feed me?
       I was thirsty - did you give be something to drink?
      I was a stranger - did you welcome me?
      I was naked - did you see that I was clothed?
      I was sick - did you tend to my needs?
      I was in prison - did you visit me?

These are the questions we will be asked.  Because as Jesus tells us:  Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.  (Matt. 25:40)

I don't think we have to worry about October 21st.  We simply need to ask ourselves - are we ready to answer the questions God will put before us when we come to judgment?  The time is now to be ready - it is always the time to be ready.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mothers - A Tribute

We come again to the second Sunday in May when we honor and celebrate our mothers.  May the Lord bless all those who hold the title of mother in any way; may you have a blessed day!  I would like to take the opportunity of this post to honor two mothers who have been special in my life.  Let me share a poem about mothers as we honor them today:

Mothers are a special gift sent from God above,
They bless us with their nurturing and fill us with their love.
They pick us up when we are down, and when we're sad they know;
They're always there to lend a hand, and guide us as we go.

And mothers are like special jewels that can't be bought or sold...
A mother's love's more precious than the rarest gem or gold.
Yes, mothers are a special gift sent from God above,
And we'll be blessed forever with their never ending love.

                                                                                      Faye Diane Kilday (1996)

Yes, mothers are a special gift and there have been two such special gifts in my own life.  First is Mary Genevieve Hogan Hook - my mother.  One of thirteen children (only seven living to adulthood) she was raised on a farm outside of Troy, New York.  She attended St. Peter's Catholic Academy from which she graduated in 1921.  In 1930, she married my father - Paul Hook - and bore two children - my older brother and myself.  The difficulty she had with the pregnancy for me may have been the reason she never had any other children.

My mother was a woman of great faith.  I learned my prayers and learned about God at her feet and this began my own faith journey which has been a most important part of my life.  She and my father were dedicated to their Catholic faith and were very involved in the life of their parish.  From them I learned what it meant to serve and become involved in church life which I have been doing since my youth.

My mother was a "stay-at-home" mom in my early years.  That was a time when many women did not enter the work force but were "homemakers" and saw to the upbringing of their children while the husband and father was the breadwinner.  During my high school years, however, she had an opportunity to be temporarily employed.  Since my mother's brother was a priest in our diocese, she knew many of the clergy.  One of them who happened to be the director of the Catholic cemeteries in the diocese asked her if she would come in for a brief time to set some records straight at a local cemetery in Troy.  She went and her "temporary" employment lasted twenty-two years!  She became such an integral part of the workings of the cemetery that she was able to lay out the graves when the foreman wasn't available.  She acquired the nickname of  "Cemetery Mary" which she bore proudly.

She was a quiet but fun-loving woman.  Rarely did she ever raise her voice to us but we knew what was expected of us when it came to behavior.  One of her "weaknesses" was her extreme fear of thunderstorms.  This she inherited from her own mother who used to be very fearful when thunderstorms would arise on the farm and would bewail the fact that her men were out in the storm.  My mother's fear of storms had some humerous side to it.  Once when I was about ten years old, she and I were alone in the house when a strong storm arose.  Besides lighting a candle (which she often did) and sprinkling the house with holy water, she decided it would be a good idea to take our minds off the storm.  So what did she do?  She got down the encyclopedia and read to me about the causes of thunderstorms.  Great way to get your mind off it, right?

My mother died thirty-one years ago, a few days after her 78th birthday.  My father had suffered a stroke three years before and she was the caregiver.  Because she tended to worry a lot she was always afraid something else would happen to my father.  I believe this stress led to her suffering a fatal heart attack.  I still remember her fondly but know that she is with God and awaiting the time when I will see her again in eternity (my brother had that joy when he passed away eleven years ago).

For those who still have their mothers living and with them I just wanted to share a light-hearted story from the pen of a great story-teller, Father Bill Bausch.  It's entitled Famous Mothers and goes like this:

Alexander the Great's mother:  How many times do I have to tell you - you can't have everything you want in this world.

Franz Shubert's mother:  Take my advice, son.  Never start anything you can't finish.

Achille's mother:  Stop imagining things.  There's nothing wrong with your heel.

Sigmund Freud's mother:  Stop pestering me!  I've told you a hundred times the stork brought you!

I finally found a Mother's Day card that expressed my feelings for my mother in real terms.  It said,  Now that we have a mature, adult relationship, there's something I'd like to tell you.  You're still the first person I think of when I fall down and go boom!

Thanks, Father Bill.

The second mother in my life is the mother of my children - my best friend.  Carol and I met in 1961 and dated off an on over the next year or so.  Deciding that she was the person I wanted to spend my life with I proposed marriage and we were married in September of 1963.  She has borne me three wonderful children (a fourth pregnancy unfortunately ended in miscarriage).  If the way children turn out is any indication of the kind of parents they have had, I have been extremely lucky and I credit my wife and their mother for this. 

We have had our share of difficulties as well as blessings in our life together.  There was a period of time in the early 1980s when I was unemployed for about five months and Carol was the glue that held the family together during a difficult financial period.  Our blessings, of course, have been our great children and our now beautiful grandchildren - Jessica (17) and Julia (3).  I believe what has kept our marriage the way it has gone has been our faith.  Carol, like my mother Mary, is a woman of great faith.  She, too, has been involved in various aspects of church life - from being the director of faith formation in one of our parishes for eleven years to serving as a eucharistic minister.  Her support of me in my pursuit of the diaconate was something I can never fully appreciate.

She is also a woman who is quiet and unassuming - but this doesn't mean she doesn't get things done!  Her generosity knows no bounds, especially when it comes to the less fortunate.  I don't know how many items have come forth from her knitting needles or her sewing machine but I certainly believe it has been in the thousands.  She makes items for the homeless and has sent a large number of items to Mississippi to aid people who are less fortunate than we are.  My daughter, Christine, just gave her some more yarn as a Mother's Day gift knowing it will be put to good use helping others.

In addition to the items she herself has made, she has been instrumental in beginning three groups of women who come together weekly to knit and crochet items for the needy.  This she has done in each of the three parishes where we have been members (and the first two groups are still going strong today!).

The Church may never canonize my mother or my wife but in my heart I know they have been saints living among us.  This is why I saulte them today.  The author John Killinger in his book Lost in Wonder, Love and Praise has the following statement:

I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who was born of the promise to a virgin named Mary.  I believe in the love Mary gave her Son, that caused her to follow him in his ministry and stand by his cross as he died.

I believe in the love of all mothers, and its importance in the lives of the children they bear.  It is stronger than steel, softer than down, and more resilient than a green sapling on the hillside.

It closes wounds, melts disappointments, and enables the weakest child to stand tall and straight in the fields of adversity.  I believe that this, even at its best, is only a shadow of the love of God, a dark relfection of all that we can expect of him, both in this life and the next.

And I believe that one of the most beautiful sights in the world is a mother who lets this greater love flow though her to child, blessing the world with the tenderness of her touch and the tears of her joy.

And I believe that this beautiful sight has taken place both in my mother's and my wife's lives as they have let that great love flow through to their children.  May God bless all mothers today and every day as they bring God's love to the world.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Tale of Two Men

Two men made the news this week.  Their stories are ones of contrast, the contrast we find often in today's world.  One man chose to speak about the importance of all human life and its dignity; the other was responsbile for fueling a hatred that ended up in the taking of thousands of innocent human lives.  What causes such contrast in persons?  We can never really enter into the mind and heart of anyone else; we can only see the results of their behavior(s).  Judgments will be made about their lives and why they said or did what they said or did.  Some will have thoughts of praise for either of them and others thoughts of criticism or condemnation.

The first man was born on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice in Poland.  Christened Karol Josef Wojtyla he would grow up in a country that knew tyranny and oppression first under the Nazis and then under the Polish communist state.  He would lose his mother when he was only eight years of age; an elder sister died in infancy before he was born; his older brother became a physician but died from scarlet fever.  He was reared by his father who later died in 1941 leaving the young man (at age 20) without any other family.  He became a poet and playwright and studied languages at the university in Krakow until it was closed by the Nazis in 1939.

During the Nazi occupation he worked as a messenger and a manual laborer.  He began studies in a clandestine seminary to prepare him for his vocation as a Catholic priest.  He was ordained to the priesthood in 1946 and began a path of ascendancy in the Church which would eventually lead him to become an archbishop (later admitted to the College of Cardinals) and finally in October of 1978 the 246th pope of the Catholic Church taking the name of John Paul II (in honor of his immediate predecessor).

John Paul II would eventually lead the Church for over 26 years becoming one of the most influential men ever to sit in the Chair of Peter.  He would travel extensively (visiting 129 countries), write numerous encyclicals and become a key figure in the demise of communism in eastern Europe.  The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev once said: The collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II.

This past week the Church recognized his life and virtues by raising him to the ranks of the blessed in a beatification ceremony presided over by his successor Pope Benedict XVI.  He may now be revered by the faithful as Blessed John Paul II .  John Paul II had his critics from both within and without of the Church.  Within the Church he was seen by some as being too conservative and not allowing the spirit of the Second Vatican Council to be fully implemented.  Regardless of these criticisms his piety and personal holiness were well regarded and his championing of human rights and the dignity of the human person is well documented and appreciated.

On March 10, 1957 a child was born to a wealthy and influential family in Saudi Arabia.  The young man whose name was Osama bin Laden was a devout and religious young man, mild mannered and soft spoken.  He studied economics and business administration and was involved in a variey of charitable works.  Like Karol Wojtyla, he too was a poet.  Somewhere along the line as he grew older he began to see what he considered the need to impose a very strict approach to Sharia (Muslim) law.  He would finally take this approach to its extreme and would end up being isolated from his home in Saudi Arabia.  He began to recruit others to his way of thinking from which would grow a network of followers pledged to him and to his extreme ways.  He developed an animosity for four particular "enemies" (in his thinking): the State of Israel, Shia Muslims, heretics, and the United States of America.

Through his teaching and training of others he would end up being responsbile for the death of thousands of innocent people through various terrorist attacks on a number of places and peoples, the most glaring being the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 where targets were struck in New York City and Washington.

There we have a tale of two men: one who chose life and proclamation of the dignity of all human life and the other who chose violence as a means of carrying out his extreme views.  We can see why Karol Wojtyla arrived at his views through his study of Scripture and the following of Jesus Christ.  Why did bin Laden choose the path he chose?  His followers, who will certainly consider him a martyr, would say he was following his beliefs in the purity of Islam and how it must be the way the world should go.  I would wonder, however, how his approach to life (and the taking of human life) is consonant with the message of the Qu'ran where we read in Surah 25:

And the servants of Allah, Most Gracious, are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, "Peace!"  (25:63); or

Those who invoke not, with Allah, any other god, nor slay such life as Allah has made sacred except for just cause...and any that does this (not only) merits punishment.  (25:68); or

...The penalty on the Day of Judgment will be doubled to him, and he will dwell therein in ignominy.  (25:69); or

Unless he repents, believes and works righteous deeds, for Allah will change the evil of such persons into good, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.  (25:70)

The world can rightfully judge the actions of Osama bin Laden as violent and cruel resulting in the loss of many human lives.  The final judgment of his life remains, however, not with us but with God.  We may feel relief that a "most wanted criminal" has been brought to justice but we can also be assured that this will not necessarily end terrorism or actions of such violence against others.  We can only hope for the peace that John Paul II so often would pray for.  Let me share a prayerful thought written by Father John Walsh of Maryknoll:

Let us become lovers of God and enablers, enabling people to encounter a loving, liberating God.  Let us grow as co-seekers of the trust with others and reconcilers, conscious of our own trespasses and forgivers of our enemies.  Let us be promoters of life in all stages and celebrators, giving voice to the love, joy, and longing and aspirations of peace makers.

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us and pray that the peace so close to your own heart may descend upon the peoples of the world.