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In the Wake of the Moore Tornado: What Can we Learn from the Disaster?

By Deacon Keith Fournier
May 22nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In the Wake of one of the deadliest tornados in U.S. history which resulted in the death of at least 24 people, including 9 children, our Nation is confronted with existential questions. We always seem to be able to reach deep down into that aspect of the American character when we face tragedy. That ability reveals the silver lining in that horrid funnel cloud which swept through Oklahoma City and its suburbs. We found our obligation in solidarity to and with one another and we responded in goodness. We can learn from this and begin to live differently after the storm.

MOORE, OK (Catholic Online) - In the Wake of one of the deadliest tornados in U.S. history which resulted in the death of at least 24 people, including 9 children, our Nation is confronted with existential questions. How we respond to them can help us to pave a better future after the storm.

We are vulnerable. We are fragile. But, we are also filled with a capacity for goodness and compassion. We always seem to be able to reach deep down into that aspect of the American character when we face tragedy.

That ability reveals the silver lining in that horrid funnel cloud which swept through Oklahoma City and its suburbs. As a nation, we found our obligation in solidarity to and with one another and we responded in goodness. Can we learn from this and begin to live differently after the storm?

The stories of the first responders fill the media, reminding us of what heroism looks like in the flesh. The courage of those teachers who covered their children, forming a protective shield of love, beckons us to live our own lives differently.

The compassion of civil leaders, including President Obama, reminds us of the proper role of civil government. After declaring the ravaged area a disaster area, he comforted a grieving Nation:

"In an instant, neighborhoods were destroyed, dozens of people lost their lives, many more were injured, and among the victims were young children trying to take shelter in the safest place they knew, their school. So our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma today."

The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner, issued an order that flags at the Nation's Capitol fly at half-staff. Elected officials from both major political parties spoke in unison the words which we needed to hear and did their jobs.

Religious leaders revealed the heart of the God whom they represent, reminding us of the meaning of the word compassion. It is from the Greek, to suffer with. Pope Francis tweeted "I am close to the families of all who died in the Oklahoma tornado, especially those who lost young children. Join me in praying for them."

In addition to the large charities such as the Red Cross, charitable and philanthropic responses poured forth from every corner of the United States. Radio hosts, whose views span the political spectrum, stopped their debates to stand in solidarity with one another and for those in need.

The University of Oklahoma and faith based outreaches pulled together in the area affected, offering housing, food and shelter. People used the social media to help family members recover the photos of their loved ones which had been swept up in the tumultuous winds.

America rose to the moment, as she always does in such disasters. She found her soul.

I was reminded of those words of Jesus contained in the Gospel (Matt. 25: 31-46): "I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you gave me clothing; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison, and you visited me."

How well I can understand the question posed by his stunned disciples, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs." (Matthew 25.35-36) They could not figure out what the Lord was saying.

But, have you ever considered the significance of the fact that the same Jesus who promised to be with us always also told us that the poor would be with us always? That is because the two are connected.

Indeed, in a sense, they are one and the same - in a way that is revealed with the eyes of living faith. "The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me" (Jesus, Matthew 26:11) "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Jesus, Matthew 28:20)

The face of Jesus is found in the face of the poor, in all of their manifestations. The word of Jesus is spoken through the poor, for those who cultivate the ears to hear Him. The cry of Jesus is heard in the cry of the poor, at least for those who stop to listen.

That is the deeper meaning behind the sobering scene recounting the last judgment recorded by the Evangelist Matthew in the 25th Chapter of his Gospel:

"Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'"

This scene follows the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 1- 28) where another sort of judgment is recorded. This one is a judgment concerning the contrasting way of life lived between two groups of people, those who believe that what they have is their own and those who understand that all that they have has been given - as a gift.

These two groups approach their relationship with the goods of this earth (which are all good because the Lord has made them) quite differently. The ones who were praised by the Master know the relationship they have with the Giver. They also know their obligations to bear fruit by living the call to love in deed and truth, the call to solidarity and stewardship, inherent in receiving those gifts.

These folks live their lives in gratitude. They look for ways to participate in the ongoing mission of the Lord. They know that He works now, through them. They understand what they truly have and invest it by giving it away to others.

Sadly, those who grasp onto the goods of this earth, thinking that they are their own and bury them, experience the barrenness of self centeredness and the hollowness of the empty pursuit of 'stuff'.

The point of this passage is as profound as the judgment scene. It participates in the same mystery. They both address matters of the heart and reveal what can be called the economy of heavenly scale. ""To anyone who has, more will be given, and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away." (Matthew 25:29)

Those who love the poor - like Jesus loved the poor- are an instruction manual for the rest of us. They are a sign of the kingdom, making it present in their wake. In the Wake of the Moore Tornado, it is time to learn from the Solidarity and Goodness of America and choose to live differently after the storm.  Why does it take a dsiaster to wake us up?

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