The warning was clear: Be prepared.
Again and again, it was repeated. You heard it on TV. You read it in the newspaper. It seemed to seek you out in the supermarket.
Before each hurricane roared through Florida this past storm season — four direct hits over a six-week period — the warning was the same. Something big and power ful is coming, and, if you fail to prepare for its destructive might, you could lose your property. Maybe even your life.
Many people listened to the meteorologists. The long lines at stores and gas stations were proof of that.
Meanwhile, the Church has been repeating Jesus' warning for 20 centuries: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Yet much of the world allows that warning to go unheeded.
The juxtaposition of those two responses came to me as I prepared for the hurricanes. And, along the way, I realized that I am woefully unprepared for heaven.
Before I started to take my Catholic faith seriously — before I came to see each day as an oppor tunity for deeper conversion — heaven seemed more like a destination on a map than an intense desire to be with God forever. That's changed now, for I know that I'm really striving for holiness. I still have a long way to go, but my love and desire for God grow day by day.
As I bought extra supplies of food and water before each hurricane, I considered it amazing that a computer may be able to predict a storm's strength, duration and path. Then I thought: But there is no way any technology is ever going to forecast the day, month and year I will die.
This helped bring home the fact that I may be able to save my life with smart hurricane preparation — but doing so would be of little consolation if I were not, at the same time, striving to allow God into my heart. I need to invite him in with the same urgency and focus that went into preparing for the storms.
I'm convinced that, if more of us understood this principle, the lines would be even longer at the confessionals than they were at the checkouts.
Our Lord said: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing” (Luke 12:49). Yet, at many times in my own life, my love for him and his mystical body, the Church, has been lukewarm. Nor do I have to look far for evidence that this condition is widespread among people who profess the same faith as I.
If there's one lesson I learned from the hurricanes, it's this: We have to prepare. We have to love more; we have to forgive more; we have to pray more. We have to listen more to God. In short, we have to heed Jesus' exhortation to “seek first the kingdom of God” rather than second-guessing the past or worr ying about the future. We have to stock up on the supplies that God makes available to ever y Catholic: the Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation, the full truth of the Gospel.
Like the meteorologists during their endless encores, God speaks again and again. Through the Bible, by the witness of a friend's actions, in a priest's homily. Anywhere and ever ywhere.
Are you listening? Are you prepared?
Carlos Briceno writes from Seminole, Florida.
- November 21-27, 2004