Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
We’ve watched as a nation, as the coast of Texas weathered a catastrophe, and revealed some of the very best of who we are as a people. The waters washed through and left a mess, but they also cleaned away some moral debris. Folks saw a need and they got to work. They knocked on doors. They traveled back and forth on boats; they carried each other. Businesses opened their stores and their stockrooms to service the broader community. Neighbors took in families and pets. On the internet, people posted links to donate to Red Cross and Catholic Charities and countless other organizations to provide relief for neighbors they did not know, but knew to have deep need.
If we look at the pictures of the Cajun Navy, of the first responders, and of the everyday people who went out and helped whosoever they encountered, we see what our heated political discussions obscures. We are not merely political animals. We are not enemies or devils. We are not always exploitive or raging or unjust. People cannot be merely lumped into categories like “Trump Voters,” and “Hillary Voters.” We are a fallen but chosen people, who sometimes recognize how to serve selflessly, and sometimes, serve ourselves selfishly. We want to solve problems, we often fail to recognize, we are the problems. We are all of us, both and.
The cities and communities of Texas hit by the storm will take years to repair, to restore, to recover, and some of it will never be again, and it will not be the same. However, when we’re hit by storms, we sometimes take years to repair, restore and recover and we’re not meant to stay the same. We were never meant to be static. We are always supposed to be learning how to stretch out our arms and commend our spirit to doing the will of God the Father. We’re always to be learning how to surrender our will to the service of others. In this storm, we saw witness after witness after witness, of what that surrender looks like in the actions of those who braved the waters, of those who gave up sleep and time with their own families, who gave of their labor and their property, their talents and their treasures. Those witnesses stand in sharp contrast to everyday, the way the sun shines through the moon in an eclipse. Being reminded of how we are supposed to be, how do we in the ordinary time of things, strip away all that keeps us from being heroic, courageous, generous and willing to see each person as a person of innate dignity, worthy of being served?
The physical storm of Hurricane Harvey and the heroics of those countless people in the storm, is a straightforward example of how we are to respond to each other in the midst of suffering. The trick is to recognize, there are countless Hurricane Harveys going on in our parish, in our broader community, which do not have the benefit of being on the news, but which should be on our radar. Are we being shelters from the storm for those stuck in the path of such events. Do we know about these storms? What are we doing to be a source of salt and light, warmth and grace to those who feel battered by their lives?
If we consider the vastness of the community in which we live, it can be tempting to be overwhelmed. Each person is carrying a cross we do not know, and how can we be a Simon or a Veronica to someone else if we don’t know their burdens? Here is the challenge. We need to not merely serve our neighbors, but know them. We need to not merely be acquainted, knowing their names, but be invested. If we learn who our neighbors are, rather than merely what positions they hold, we will come to see them more as we can in that moment of crisis, as brothers and sisters in Christ rather than people we can unceremoniously unfriend and block and ignore, Facebook to Facebook. If we see them as brothers and sisters in Christ, we will begin to engage them as Christ engages each person He encounters, face to face. If we take on the cross of loving our neighbors rather than trying to change them into people more loveable, the world will begin to be restored, renewed, and we will never be the same. This is not the Gospel of popularity or prosperity; it is the promise of the Gospel itself. We’re called to be Christ to each other, and to try to serve each person from the lowest position. If we do this, if each of us do this for all we encounter, the future will be so bright, we’ll need those eclipse glasses to see clearly.