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Were we supposed to learn a specific lesson from Irma and Harvey?


Lt. Zachary West | CC

Larry Peterson - published on 09/19/17

Perhaps these storms are permitted so we can learn once again that God's hands look a lot like our own.
“Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears — of everything that concerns you.” — St. Alphonsus Liguiori

Officially, the annual hurricane season begins June 1 and and ends on November 30, and every year we Floridians receive our annual Hurricane Preparedness Newsletter.

The fact is, most of us who live here are usually prepared and ready for these storms. We know the drill.

By the morning of September 10, Hurricane Irma’s journey was predicted to go from the Florida Keys up to the Florida Panhandle and points north. People the world over had been informed that Irma was the biggest, fiercest, mightiest hurricane in the history of the Atlantic Ocean.

I’d like to say millions of Floridians simply boarded up their houses and waited with elan, but truthfully, most everyone was afraid this time. I know I was. There is not one thing you can do about these storms except get into a secure facility or evacuate; otherwise you do NOT stand a chance. All the “models” suggested our area would take a direct hit from a Category 4 storm with sustained winds from 130 -156 mph, and that the flooding would be catastrophic.

Amid all the dire predictions, however, there is one thing print and broadcast media fail to mention, that Catholic media does: the powerful and important weapon of prayer that so many of us bring to these storms. For the millions of Americans who have faith, no matter their religious preference, prayer was a key weapon against Irma.

Here’s what happened in my parish located in Pinellas Park, adjacent to the City of St. Petersburg. Bishop Gregory L. Parkes cancelled all Masses for September 10, which was a Sunday. The only Mass available before the storm was projected to move in was the 4 p.m. Vigil Mass on Saturday. With the winds already starting up, the church was packed.

The Mass was quite beautiful. There was a sense of anxiety that filled the church prior to Mass, but once the liturgy began, you could feel it begin to evaporate. Father Anthony’s homily confronted the impending danger we all were facing, and calmed us by inviting us to embrace the fact that Christ was, and always is, with us.

At the Mass’s end, he blessed boxes filled with tea candles, and each household took one. There was a sense of comfort and solidarity in know that while sitting before the lit candle in your own home and praying, you were connected to all those other folks who also had the blessed tea candles in their homes. During the early morning hours of Monday, 9/11, Hurricane Irma became a Category 1 Hurricane and began moving away from Pinellas County. Aside from power outages, damage was minimal.

I cannot explain nor do I understand why our area was spared. Much damage and destruction and death have occurred in other places — some communities have been upended — yet I know people were praying everywhere, not just in our parish. The Florida Keys, Miami, Jacksonville, Houston and many other places will be weeks and months putting themselves to rights, and in the Caribbean, entire islands must rebuild. It is a mystery, and a humbling one. To parapharse St. Paul, “Who can know the mind of God; who can tell him what to do?” (Romans 11:34).

All we can do is pray for strength, and then reach out to give aid where needed.

Maybe God lets us see and feel his presence in ways we sometimes do not understand. Maybe these storms are permitted to teach us something about how his handiwork requires our hands. Perhaps the brutality of some storms are meant as a relief from the vitriol, contempt, nastiness and hatred that has consumed our society recently, and are meant to remind us who we are.

Read more: “Now you are his arms”: Our forgotten role in a ‘godforsaken’ world

We’re only halfway through the hurricane season. Is it possible that these storms, Irma and Harvey (and perhaps others down the line), are being permitted to make refugees of some of us, in order to instruct us about the reality of suffering and loss that refugees encounter, everywhere?

Could it be possible? “Who has known the mind of God…”

Perhaps we are meant to remember the lessons of Job, who said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Is it possible we actually needed these storms? Is it possible that one day people will believe that these storms were actually God’s gift to us? Has the Holy Spirit been helping us to see beyond all the divisive daily ranting — to see each other again as simply people, loved sinners all, who need to help one another?

I guess that is for each of us to decide for ourselves. I have decided.

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