Sitting at Mass this morning listening to the Gospel I was struck at how appropriate it was for these days here in my village on Long Island. Lindenhurst has made national news in the last few days as being one of the hardest hit communities by Hurricane Sandy and the devastation here has been heartbreaking. Many, many people lost homes and something like 80% of homes lost power. My laptop is currently plugged into a generator which is fueled by gasoline which my dear husband has spent hours everyday on line trying to get, five gallons at a time. The generator is on loan from a neighbor who has power and as soon as he saw we didn't he dragged it over and offered it freely to use for the duration.
Procuring gas has become a little dangerous in the last few days as fights have broken out at the gas pumps and people are coming armed and dangerous to fill up. State troopers and local police have had to patrol the gas stations in order to keep the peace and there have been more than a few arrests here this week. Looters have also been an issue, and the National Guard has set up check points and delcared curfews in the parts of the village most hard hit to keep those working on the wreckage of their homes safe from thieves.
However, for every one of these stories of people behaving badly there are one hundred of people giving and giving. Strangers using their precious gasoline to deliver food and clothes to people whose homes are still flooded. Our local fire department has establised a center for people to bring donations and they are using trucks to deliver donations. Many local businesses have been donating their resources, in spite of the economic hit they are taking through this storm.
Most poignantly for me is the response of my parish. Anyone who has been a followerer of my blog knows how very much I love the community I am blessed to be part of here. The people of Our Lady of Perpetual Help have some of the largest and kindest hearts anywhere and their response to people who are suffering never ceases to amaze and humble me. OLPH has a brand new pastor and since he is just getting a feel for how things work here he could be excused for being on the sidelines during this tragedy but this is not the case. He and his associate pastor have set up many ministries in the last few days to help and comfort those who are suffering. The practical and homey way they have set about this has me completely convinced that these good men are truly inspired by the Holy Spirit and are living out their vocations in a way that all priests should.
Not only are they working closely with the community at large, getting food, clothes, toiletries and other supplies directly into the hands that need them most, they have opened a large part of the school to Catholic Charities as a warehouse to store and sort donated items. There is a computer room going live tomorrow where people can come in and check emails, charge their electronics and fill out FEMA forms and insurance documents. There will be an early morning and evening coffee house for people to come in ana rest, get warm, have a cup of coffee and a snack and share stories with others as they gear up for another day of work.
These little acts of charity truly exemplify our Church as Holy Mother. The Church in whose arms her children can find rest and peace, not only in a spiritual way but in a physical one, having our most basic needs attended to with great dignity and love. The church that Jesus himself founded and in giving us the greatest commandment showed us how to set about caring for others.
The Catholic Church has always loved thy neighbor and done it so well because that love stems directly from God's own love. To love your neighbor because you love God is to put that neighbor's needs ahead of your own and to do so without thought to your comfort. These ministries are going to cause a lot more work for the priests of my parish, who like most priests, are already overworked but that seems not to be a consideration as they give freely of themselves and their resources to comfort those who have lost so much. Those people in my community who have no power or heat or gas but are dragging bags of clothes and groceries to donation centers anyway they can are the living breathing Body of Christ – in action. This is my church, and I am so grateful to be part of it and humbled by my complete unworthiness.
My Church, my loving and beloved Church will take in all, as they always have. Those who love us and those who hate us, those who believe and those that do not because God's love does not ask those questions, God's love just loves.
I am so blessed to be here in this waterlogged village with trees uprooted and smelly water and fallen down houses, amidst these beautiful souls, these children of God, these heroes and heroines who are taking up their crosses, putting one foot in front of another and moving forward. It's palpable, this feeling of being surrounded by this great love and in it we are all growing closer to the kingdm of God.
"The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
'He is One and there is no other than he.'
And 'to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself'
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
"You are not far from the kingdom of God."
And no one dared to ask him any more questions."