From the Bishops Averting Storms

One of the most compelling scenes of the Gospel is that of Jesus being awaken in the boat by his frightened apostles in the midst of a storm (Matthew 8: 23-27). Jesus calms the storm by rebuking the rain and the wind; but, He also rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith.

We have just begun another hurricane season – a two days into the season we have had already a named storm. For the next six months, we will be understandably more anxious every time a new tropical depression forms off the West African coast or in the Gulf.

Like the apostles in that storm tossed boast, in our fear we cry out: “Save us, Lord.”

Yes, we rightly pray that God may spare us from nature’s fury. But, in the face of trial and tribulation, we also ask God to strengthen our faith by calming the storms of anxiety and fear that rage within our hearts. We know that God can bring good out of evil. Indeed, the many acts of solidarity – of neighbor helping neighbor – are eloquent witness to what God’s Providence inspires in the hearts of men and women of good will. Strengthened in faith, we will not be overcome by any adversity but will overcome evil – whether physical or moral – with good.

Once again the forecasters predict an active season – and of course, given our lived experience over the past several years, our consciousness has been raised. We have heard of the devastation in Myanmar.  And yesterday, our parishes took up a collection, in part, for the victims of the cyclone that ravaged that poor nation. And of course, after the three storms that hit central Florida in 2004, after Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, we recognize that we can no longer be complacent.

Prayer, of course, does not give us an excuse to return to the complacency of the past, nor is prayer some magical way to force God to do our bidding. Prayer brings us to place ourselves under God’s dominion and not the other way around. And recognizing God’s dominion – that he is in fact in charge of our lives – gives us confidence to face whatever challenges that lie before us with confidence and trust in his Divine Providence. As St. Paul was to say in his Epistle to the Romans, “We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

The catechism teaches that prayer “is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God.” And while we pray that God keep the storms away this year, we, in the very act of prayer, also seek to keep our hearts turned to the Lord whatever may happen. In fact, if our hearts are sufficiently turned to the Lord, then we won’t need any calamities to teach us to keep our priorities straight. If our hearts are turned to the Lord, we won’t need the fury of nature to remind us of the brevity of life, or of the importance of person over possessions.

At the beginning of this hurricane season, we turn to God and pray that we will be spared from the ravages of nature this year. We pray for the safety of our nation, of our neighbors in the region. And in prayer, we ask that our confidence in his will inspire courage in us. Such courage will help us be ready to meet whatever challenges that lie ahead of us. Here, in Central Florida Catholic Charities whose disaster response efforts have been recognized by the governor of this state stands ready to assist those who might be affected by any storms that may come our way.  As Catholics we can be proud of our Catholic Charities agency:  Catholic Charities is ready for this season – and so should we be.

And prayer is part of readiness if only to remind us that we are never left alone on our own. We were created by God’s hands and we are always in his hands. Please allow me to quote a homily Pope Benedict gave late in 2006.  He spoke about fear. He said:

“This world of ours is a world of fear: the fear of misery and poverty, the fear of illness and suffering, the fear of solitude, the fear of death. We have in this world a widely developed insurance system; it is good that it exists. But we know that at the moment of deep suffering, at the moment of the ultimate loneliness of death, no insurance policy will be able to protect us. The only valid insurance in those moments is the one that comes to us from the Lord, who also assures us: ‘Do not fear, I am always with you.’ We can fall, but in the end we fall into God’s hands, and God’s hands are good hands.”

I don’t know if Pope Benedict has ever seen that All State Insurance commercial.  Or that he even knows that there is an All State Insurance Company.  And given the precarious state of insurance policies in this State of Florida, we do well to pray to God that we be spared any serious storms this year.  As the Pope said:  The only valid insurance in those moments is the one that comes to us from the Lord, who also assures us: ‘Do not fear, I am always with you.’ We can fall, but in the end we fall into God’s hands, and God’s hands are good hands.”

Homily given June 2nd at St. James Cathedral in Orlando, Florida at a special Mass asking God's protection at beginning of hurricane season.

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