This is a guest post by Rick Snedeker. He writes at the Apostate Apostle blog.
This is the kind of thing that gives Humanists hives.
While distributing communion wafers at a morning Mass on Saturday in Honolulu, Hawaii, Rev. Mark Gantley was interrupted by a deacon who showed him an incoming-missile alert on his phone.
The all-caps alert, which was sent to all phones on the island, read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” If that was accurate, a missile (perhaps coming from North Korea) could hit the island within about 30 minutes. We now know that was a false alarm, but what Gantley did during the service deserves a closer look.
He just continued with the service, declining to mention the alert to his congregation. He explained his reasoning to the Hawaii Catholic Herald, the diocese’s newspaper.
“The first thought that came to me was that I am going to finish Mass,” he said. “I am not going to interrupt it.”
Oh, sure. Can’t ignore rituals entertaining imagined bliss in the afterlife when our mortal lives are in danger. (I guess we should be grateful he skipped the service’s closing song to save time…)
Nonetheless, the worshippers knew something was up, because they had never seen a service interrupted like this before. Some parishioners feared that maybe the head of the Diocese of Honolulu, Bishop Larry Silva, had died. But then he walked in the door.
Silva was still wearing a casual T-shirt, having immediately rushed over to the chapel from his residence nearby after himself receiving the alert. He told the congregation of the threat, but only after waiting for the Mass to end. He then offered the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a rarely used church Canon Law rite that allows a bishop to forgive a group’s sins when individual confessions are impractical in cases of “grave necessity” created by “imminent danger of death.”
“It would be impractical to hear individual confessions with an impending nuclear bomb threat or in cases of soldiers going to battle or an airplane crashing,” [Hawaii Catholic Herald editor Patrick] Downes explained.
Catholic doctrine, of course, holds that a person who dies with unrepented, unforgiven mortal sin (e.g., murder instead of lying) is potentially Hell-bound. Forgiving their sins, then, was the priority when there was a possibility no one would be alive in a matter of minutes. In other words, the priest and bishop, along with the entire congregation, chose to protect their souls over their flesh-and-bone bodies.
It may have provided the congregation with temporary comfort, but it also meant they weren’t immediately on the hunt for an underground bunker or some form of shelter. By putting fantasy before reality, those believers arguably wasted their final moments not doing something that could have saved their lives. And their religious leader chose not to give them a heads-up, because there were rituals to complete.
People often say, wrongly, that atheists “find God” on their deathbed. But maybe we should be wondering how many believers, facing an impending missile attack, realized they were wasting their time.