Preparing for Hurricane Irma has given me a fresh perspective on what matters most. With each alert, evacuation notice, and email telling me that work would be canceled for “x” amount of days, my panic level rose. The uncertainty of the storm’s path falling on my city and then my family’s city kept us all in constant contact reviewing our emergency plans. Social media messages from friend to friend with notes of encouragement and “hurricane hacks” brought us all closer together around the state. Thankfully, I am located in north central Florida, where Hurricane Irma caused less damage than its two landfalls near Naples and The Keys.
Prepping my house and selecting the most important items to protect for survival is very humbling. While packing, I thought of my fellow Floridians who evacuated south Florida not knowing if they will have a home to come back to. I thought of those in the Caribbean who received the brunt of Hurricane Irma’s force. I thought of the victims in Texas who battled Hurricane Harvey and continue to cope with its aftermath. These natural disasters remind us of the sanctity of life, what is most important.
With the hurricane covering the entire state of Florida, I thought of how small I am—especially in comparison to what God can accomplish. During times of natural disasters, reliance and trust in him increases. One of my neighbors reminded me of the story in Matthew 8:23-27, when Jesus calmed the storm at sea. Jesus told his disciples, “‘Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?’ Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.” My neighbor told me, “He did it once, and he can do it again!” Her faith was inspiring to me and instantly calmed my nerves.
When someone asks, “Where is God in this storm? Why did he create this?” my answer is that God is in those who help others and respond with service and compassion during times of trial and suffering. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that we are Christ’s body and form individual parts of it. We are the hands and feet of Christ in the world. We may not see the ways God is helping at first because these ways may not necessarily be our ways.
I truly believe acts of kindness, such as neighbors checking in on one another and helping one another prepare their homes and families, provide hope during times of fear or suffering. The selfless love of fellow citizens encourages each of us to do what we can for others, in this case, those affected by these recent storms. There are students, faculty, and staff from the University of Florida, where I work, who are ready to jump into action after the storm passes to help others by donating food and clothing, assisting displaced pets, and more. We grieve with those who hurt and find ways to help alleviate their suffering.
Rather than filling my thoughts with why this storm has happened, I instead thank God for the blessings he has provided my family and me. Ultimately, God does not cause the storm (or evil), he simply permits the natural way of the world, just as he does with the free will of human beings. Romans 8:28 tells us that God is always working for our good or working to bring about good and turn even a bad situation into a blessing. I am comforted by this thought. During this time of hardship for many in our country, I pray that we may come together and serve one another in order to bring good out of suffering. May we continue to be the hands and feet of Christ to our brothers and sisters.
It is no secret that when disaster strikes, human beings band together to take care of each other. Regardless of race, age, gender, or belief system people come together to help rebuild homes and people’s spirits. This held true in the wake of Hurricane Sandy: a hurricane that barreled up the eastern seaboard bringing destruction to parts of New Jersey and New York. Across the country, people held food and clothing drives to try and bring relief to the affected areas. In the midst of a tragedy faith, hope, and love were restored because of the actions of people across the country.
Thankfully, there was no damage done to my home when Hurricane Sandy hit, but some of my other friends were not as lucky. Their homes have been destroyed and all their memories have been washed away with the floodwaters. After talking to some of the people who did lose everything, they said their faith in humanity was restored through the charity of others. When they said it, I didn’t think much about it. But then I began to think of what the word charity and being charitable truly means.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words”. Charity is an action that embodies this idea. When sharing our faith and living out what it means to be a Catholic, we do not have to use words and preach to people. Instead, we can use actions to evangelize and show the world what it truly means to be a Catholic. Actions speak louder than words and this holds true for the New Evangelization. This has been true for years, but I have not seen it displayed as prominently as I have through the hurricane relief efforts. Regardless of age, people are pitching in and donating both time and money. Their actions are showing what it means not only to be charitable but also Christian.
Young adults can use charity and Catholic Social Teaching to live out the New Evangelization not only during a time of crisis but during their everyday life. Catholic Social Teaching provides guidelines that people can use to live a just and moral life. Seven key themes of the Church’s social teaching include: life and dignity of the human person, call to family, community, and participation, rights and responsibilities, option for the poor and vulnerable, dignity of the rights of workers, solidarity and care for God’s creation. Catholic Social Teaching offers ways to live out our faith in everyday life and helps us in becoming tangible signs of Christ’s love.
I tell my students everyday that what we learn in class does not stop when they walk out the door. We are all walking signs of God’s love and it is our mission to spread it to everyone. Through our actions let us work to restore faith, hope and love in our world and be part of this New Evangelization.
Erin Flynn is a religion teacher at The Mary Louis Academy in New York.