St John's Q&A

Friday, September 02, 2005

Big Hurt in the Big Easy

Sorry it's taken me a little while to get back on here to make a post about World Youth Day... it was awesome! Probably over 1,000,000 Catholic youth there to greet Pope Benedict and celebrate our Catholic faith. I actually got to shake the Pope's hands at one point! We toured churches and tombs of saints in Rome, Assisi, and Padua before heading off to Germany. In Germany, the crowds were huge for the Opening Mass, conferences, prayer vigil, and Closing Mass. For the vigil and Closing Mass, our group (of about 125) walked 6 miles, and slept outside with a million other people. The 2 week pilgrimmage was an encounter with Christ and his Church for many in our group. Pretty cool stuff!
It is very painful, frustrating, and sad to watch the TV coverage of the devastation in the South from Hurricane Katrina. The networks are trying to show positive stories of heroism with every story of heartbreak. And, there are many great people rising to the occasion and doing selfless acts of love for their neighbor. But, there are also some people who are either acting immorally or illegally in acting solely for themselves. In other words, God is very much at work in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama right now, but so is the Opponent.

Some of the glimpses of the conditions down there, especially in New Orleans, remind me of Calcutta, India. I was there in 2000, working briefly with the Missionaries of Charity. There are many similarities between Calcutta and New Orleans at the moment. One thing I saw a lot of in Calcutta is many people wandering the streets with nowhere to go, nothing to eat or drink, and unclean conditions all around them. I saw the exact same thing on the TV on Wednesday; people walking around New Orleans with nothing except the shirts on their backs. What is going on in the Big Easy is the norm for Calcutta.

Can any good come out of this? Physically, yes, but it will take much time, effort, and money. Spiritually, yes, too, and I believe it will be much more immediate. In Calcutta, I saw the poorest of the poor; we are seeing them every night in New Orleans on TV. They really have nothing. For the men and women of Calcutta who sleep on sidewalks or for those in New Orleans who walk back and forth on Interstate 10 with no food, clothing, or shelter, it's really just them and God. They have nothing else except Him right now. Maybe for the first time in some of their lives, they are talking and listening to their Father in Heaven.

Do we who are rich do that? Or do all of the things ("toys") we have distract us from talking with God? Have we tuned God out with all of the noise of the world - I Pods, cell phones, internet, etc.? Are we focused more on things of this life or things of the next life? Jesus warns us: "Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth... but store up treasures for yourselves in heaven" (Matt 6:19,20). Also, he tells the rich young man to "go and sell your possessions and give money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me" (Matt 19:21). Our Lord knows full well the danger of riches. Possessions can become evil if we become attached to them.

I don't believe that all of this has happened to the people of the South because they're evil, and God is angry. On the contrary, I believe that God has allowed his children down there a great opportunity to reach out to Him. He has allowed them to be humbled, stripped of almost everything, and suffer greatly; He allowed the same things in His own Son's life. In a radical and paradoxical way, Christ honors the poor but condemns the rich (see Matt 19:24). Our Southern brothers and sisters are the poorest of the poor; they are the 'poor in spirit' whom Christ calls 'blessed' (Matt 5:3).


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