Have you ever asked the question: what if we all were truly one; the way Jesus asked us to be church? Why does it take a disaster or a tragedy to actually see Christians come together? The recent flood event across much of south Louisiana has caused me to reflect and to confront our religious partisanship. I hope to acknowledge some of that in my own life in this reflection.
First and foremost at the top of this story must be the tens and tens of thousands of Louisiana citizens dealing with the reality of flooded homes which includes but not limited to the back-breaking work of mucking out a house, loss of sense of normalcy and security, dealing with lost memories, displaced family members, fighting with the insurance company, fighting with the government to name a few. All of these people, whose lives embraced their own normal before the rains came, are at the top of our prayer list and hopefully feeling those prayers as well as the many tangible efforts to help each and everyone of them!
Yes there is a role for government to play in the recovery from such a disaster and from organizations like Red Cross to name but one. But strong to rise to the challenge of such a disaster is many churches; people of faith, Christians for the most part, Christians working hard for others yet still separated by denomination, faith tradition, various doctrine and practices. Yet they are here and working hard; being the hands and feet of Jesus.
What I wanted to do in this post is highlight some things I would normally not highlight because my focus is very much Catholic, after all I am a Catholic Permanent Deacon. I am not the least bit surprised by the quick and overwhelming response by the Catholic Church. The agencies and institutions within the Church immediately sprang into action; Catholic Charities serving the dioceses of Baton Rouge and Lafayette, in fact all the dioceses of Louisiana, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Second Harvest Food Bank, St. Vincent de Paul Societies and the Knights of Columbus. And yes, I know there are many more. But I'm equally excited to see individual Catholics springing into action to go and help; physically showing up to clean out houses, do the physical stuff, and to help collect donations. I am witnessing that effort this weekend at my home parish of St. Jane's. I've also been struck with the incredible effort from one small parish that sits next to the interstate in Albany LA known as St. Margaret's. When people became stranded on the interstate for what turned out to be 36 hours, people began walking to the church to find a bathroom and maybe a sip of water. When the pastor and the people realized this was going to be huge, they sprang into action and for over a week now they have been doing so much for their neighbors, many of which were their own parishioners. But many were not members of their parish, heck, they were not even Catholic. And none of that mattered. From this one example from one small church we see this kind of effort across the footprint of the flood and across denominational lines.
I know so many faith traditions are on the ground and working so hard for the people that need help. Like their Catholic brothers and sisters they become the hands and feet of Jesus. Thanks to having so many friends on social media I have been able to witness the incredible help from the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, Churches of Christ, Samaritans Purse (Franklin Graham/Billy Graham affiliation) and I know many, many more. Just the other day as I was driving on the interstate I saw trailers titled Lutheran Disaster Outreach.
All of this is Church; all of this is Christian! It's a beautiful testimony to not just what we do, but who we are. And it's helped me to realize that this is most likely the reality everyday, not just when a noteworthy disaster occurs, but when just one among us is hurting, when one among us is battered and broken, when just one among us so desperately wants to escape the clutches of sin. Yes, many Christians are there for all these events and more; all the while giving all the glory to God and not seeking fame or fortune for helping those in need of help.
Yet sometimes I ponder in prayer would our response be even more powerful, even more efficacious if we were all one? We are one in many ways and thankfully in our collective desire to respond, as Christ expects us to respond. We may come to realize one day that there is so much more that unites us, that we agree on, then divides us; that keeps us separate; which is a scandal to Christ. Churches have so much to offer, so much and all of us benefit from their presence.
I am no stranger to ecumenical efforts on behalf of others; I know firsthand that sometimes it's important to work shoulder to shoulder with Christians of all denominations. In the prison ministry I love so dearly I have loved helping with the Kairos Ministry. Here, Christians from every kind of church come together to introduce Christ to hardened, un-churched inmates over a long 4 day weekend. I have made so many good friends and prayed with folks from St. Timothy's Methodist Church, Aldersgate Church, the Baptist Church in Bogalusa and count among new friends an Anglican Priest and an Episcopal Deacon and a couple Methodist Pastors. Recently, I was made aware of a building project in Pearl River to give a home to a family still displaced since Katrina, which happened in 2005. The man who approached me is the Pastor of the largest Baptist Church in Pearl River. Among the many things he asked me to help with was to give introduction to the Catholic Church in town and I did. The result is all worked together on behalf of the family in need and the new home is almost done. Volunteer men's groups came to town to work on the house from churches in Iowa, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania too. Yes, I know firsthand to see Christians coming together!
I am thankful to God for the powerful response, the awesome witness of Churches everywhere, even the one's I know I failed to mention in this post. Remember, I named the ones I was personally made aware of but I know so many more are out there. And yes, we all have to acknowledge that many individuals with no church affiliation, not even considered Christian have also responded because at the heart of humanity there are many more people of good will and desirous of being a good citizen, a good neighbor.
God is love Scripture tells us and there has been a lot of love to go around these days. Thanks be to God! Let's keep it going to all our neighbors are whole again, to all our neighbors feel a return of a sense of security, comfort and peace.
That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. John 17:21