A Hopelessly Inbound Ballistic Missile




It was Saturday morning, January 13, 2018, at 8:07 A.M. in Hawaii Standard Time (HST) when I received that text message.

Hopeless Thoughts

There are no emergency shelters for a nuclear bomb on the Big Island of Hawaii. Besides, I reasoned, if a nuclear bomb were to be dropped on Hawaii, it would most certainly be dropped over Honolulu on the island of Oahu, two islands, and about three hundred miles, away. That gave me plenty of time to figure out what to do.

I turned on my computer to check the international news. Before I could log on, my daughter called and asked me what she should do. She lives a few miles away. She and her husband have a six-year-old son. She was crying.

I did not know what to tell her. I shared with her what I had just begun to think, that we had some time before we had to react. Radiation from Honolulu would take several hours to reach us. She asked if there were any shelters nearby. I reminded her that houses and buildings on the Big Island do not, as a matter of course, have basements, due to the rock-solid and ever-present lava from the volcanos.

Remembering that we had been drilled to huddle under our school desks in grade school at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, I started to suggest she and her family get under some tables in their house. I quickly realized that they might be under that table for a long time. I then suggested they stay put. She told me she loved me.

The other thing we did during the Cuban Missile Crisis was to go to church every evening and pray the rosary. It’s sad for me to realize that I never even gave a thought to prayer during the 38 minutes before the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency reported at 8:45 A.M. that the alert was false. I had spent that time talking with my wife and joking that it was our day to die. Even afterward, I did not think of praying in thanksgiving. I had hardly given the mistaken missile attack any further thought throughout the rest of the day. Instead, I finished work on an online course in the Catholic Catechism that I am giving soon.

Hopeful Re-Thinking

Only 24 hours later did I discover the reasons for my seeming indifference to such a possible tragedy. I had been studying the sins against hope in the First Commandment, which are despair and presumption. The Catechism states:

There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit). (CCC 2092.)

I had sinned against hope through the former kind of presumption, by presuming upon my own capacities. I had never considered that I could save myself without hope from on high; I had just never even thought of it, perhaps ameliorating my responsibility for my sin.

The puzzle was only completely solved when I realized what the early Church Father, Origen, had to say about temptation, as quoted in the Catechism:

There is a certain usefulness to temptation. No one but God knows what our soul has received from him, not even we ourselves. But temptation reveals it in order to teach us to know ourselves, and in this way we discover our evil inclinations and are obliged to give thanks for the goods that temptation has revealed to us. (CCC 2847)

My sin of presumption was only revealed to me when thinking about this quote from Origen. I now have a chance to do something about it.

I did learn later from an altar boy that in a nuclear attack one should go to a room in the house where there are few or no windows and duct tape any air passageways into the room. This would decrease the danger of radiation, but only for a while. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency recommended having two weeks of supplies available in homes, and venturing outside very little.

I like falling to my knees in prayer. Hope is a priceless virtue and is in short supply in the times in which we live.

I can do better. But hopefully, there will not be an inbound missile alert again.

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