30th Sunday of OT (B)
October 28, 2018
Archbishop: if all help, all will be cared for
October 28, 2018

God in times of disaster

A fireman assists in washing down St Francis of Assisi RC Church, Sangre Grande. Photo taken from Facebook.

Q: Archbishop J, is God still a Trini?

I will say a resounding ‘yes!’. God is still a Trini. But we must also hold that God is also still a Grenadian, a Bajan, an African, an American, an Asian, etc.

Many people have the mistaken view that if we are spared it is because God loves us more than those who are devastated. Jesus teaches us the opposite. When they came with news about Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifice and the 18 who died when the tower at Siloam collapsed, his response was clear. They are no more sinful than any others. He goes on: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Lk 13:1–5).

Disaster does not strike some because they are sinful and spare others because they are righteous. Disaster, especially natural disaster, is indiscriminate.

Trini generosity

Where I saw God clearly was in the tremendous generosity displayed in our country over the last few days: in the many people and groups who put aside everything to serve those who were most distressed.

I heard of young men who came into flooded areas to rescue stranded people, moving them to safety in anything they could find. I heard of families who cooked and sent hot food into flooded communities. Many shared food, clothes, cleaning materials, money and time to serve those who were most seriously affected.

One woman in Kelly Village told me about a man from San Fernando who came very early to her community with relief. Others spoke about the work of St Vincent de Paul and Living Water and their parish communities who came to their assistance on the weekend.

A resident of Mafeking community told me the parish priest came to her community with food several times a day and to help with the clean up. She was not a Catholic.

I have heard stories of heroism and pain, generosity and opportunism. What is clear to me is that the values of our grandparents are not far from us. We are capable of extreme generosity. One woman, a widow living alone, shared how her neighbour rescued her and then cleaned her entire house.

But, also amazing was people’s spirit of gratitude to God—I mean the people who lost so much. So often the opening remarks centred on praising God for life and what they were receiving and being able to share their story. There was a sense of deep gratitude to God for the small and simple things.

Gratitude and generosity are twin pillars of spirituality. An authentic encounter with God unleashes both. It is astounding to meet people who stared death in the face and now, two days later, are praising and acknowledging the goodness of God. There was both a sense of relief and gratitude for life itself.

But there was the opposite: people who used the opportunity for gain, going to regional corporation offices to quarrel while everyone else lined up patiently for assistance.

And then there were those who sought to claim on old flood-damaged appliances, although they claimed on the same items last year. This is the underside of the Trini—the Trickidadian—who seeks personal profit out of misfortune. This is what drives the individualism, the corruption and lawlessness in the society: putting self before the common good.

Unless you repent

The second part of Jesus’s teaching on unexpected disaster is a wake-up call inviting all to repentance. Michael of Mafeking community in Mayaro said, “God is speaking to us, I hope we listening”.

With the major earthquakes and now flooding one reporter asked if this was the end times? The truth is I do not know. In fact no one knows. What I do know is that this is a wake-up call for us in Trinidad and Tobago. We like to compartmentalise our living, disconnecting our values from the social ills—the rising poverty and the high murder rate in our nation.

This week we witnessed the opposite of the way to which we have grown accustomed: we put others first; we sought the common good; we praised God for small mercies; we became people of gratitude and generosity.

Repentance is recalibrating our value system. Ensuring our moral compass is pointing due north. The recent ordeal presents us with an opportunity to repent and reassess our values.

During the last year, in normal times, has gratitude, generosity and praise of God for small things and care for those on the margins marked our daily life? Let us use this opportunity to do deep reflection on the way we live.

The second aspect is how we treat the environment. Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ calls the earth our common home. He says that science is clear, we humans are affecting the health of the earth negatively through our selfishness. He says:

“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22)” (2, Laudato Si’ ).

I do not know if our flooding is directly a result of climate change and our selfishness. What I do know is that unless we repent and begin treating the earth with love and respect we will have many more unusual environmental anomalies.

We are in the second most vulnerable area on the planet. Let us look again at our use of water—are we wasting this commodity? Dumping of garbage: are we throwing garbage in our streets and waterways? Plastics and Styrofoam, which do not degrade easily, are dumped into our rivers and seas. Do we need to repent, to change the way we are treating the earth?

Key message: People who suffer disaster are no guiltier than others who were spared. But we are all invited to repent.

Action Step: Let us look at our values. Those core principles that guide us. Do we need to treat others differently? Do we need to treat the earth differently? Do we need to repent?

Scripture: Lk 13:1–5

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