Jesus paints a fearful picture of the final days: natural disasters, politicial turmoil, "men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world..." (Lk 21:25) For us pampered Baby Boomers such words seem exaggerated. We do hear about terrible violence in other parts of the world, but America appears a safe haven. Unlike refugees who come here seeking that safety, most of us have not experienced the social chaos which unleases the worst in human beings. We perhaps worry slightly about the present electoral crisis, but it has become one more part of the entertainment industry - television, newspapers, radio, all competing for our attention. As long as the economy doesn't nosedive, political rivalries* seem like sports contests.
Jesus warns against such complacency. It's not that the sky is falling - but the ground beneath us is not as firm as we imagine. However, rather than talk about what may happen politically or economically, I'd like to speak about what is certain to come. For me the year 2000 has been a school in the fragility of life.
At the beginning of the year my mom seemed like she had a number of years left. We were making tenative plans for her and my sister to go on the Envoy cruise to Alaska. On January 27 Mary Bloom died. The signs of decline were there. It just didn't seem it would happen so quickly. Within ten months her sister Katherine followed her. Even tho a couple years older, she enjoyed better health. However, toward the end of October, a stoke took away her vision and made her totally dependent on her family. The roles were reversed, she became the child. She died November 17.
A couple of days before her death, Aunt Katie called out for "Mary." Since that was the name of the hospice nurse, one of the children went for her. When the nurse came, Katherine said, "No, I want Mary." She stretched out her arm, then recited the alphabet as if she were a little girl back on their farm.
I don't know what to make of "Near Death Experiences." This past year I read a book** on recent studies - and it does sound a bit more convincing than the earlier Life After Life books. People on the frontier between life and death sometimes report meeting a loved one - a parent, a spouse, a child. Perhaps my mom was there to help her sister make that transition.
How quickly the years passed for Mary Bloom and Katherine Satushek. At the vigil service, my cousin Steve created for us an image of the two sisters walking up a hill near Lake McMurry, what they saw and talked about on the way. That was yesterday. The moment of death came, like Jesus says, "as suddenly as a snare." (Lk 21:34) So it will for me - and for you.
I find, as the years increase, the hardest thing is to keep focused. Jesus warns about ways we can lose focus. Obviously drunkeness, but also "dissipation." Many people dream about retirement, even take it early. I wish them well, but I hope it's not a time to slide. Of course, it would be just as fatal to get caught up in what Jesus calls "the cares of this life." What we need to do instead is to stay watchful, to pray for the strength to stand before the Son of man.
*With all the conflicting "spin" it's easy to become cynical. For us as Christians that is not an option. Political involvement is part of the way we obey Jesus' command to love our neighbor. Still it is a relatively small part in relation to other duties like doing our job well, talking with our children and saying our prayers. For example, while it is important to work for laws which protect the unborn (see abortion and free choice) there are many immediate things we can do each day to promote a culture of life.
**God, the Evidence by Patrick Glynn, has a chapter on the subject. It's worth reading, as is most of his book.
Obituary of Katherine Satushek
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