The slow, steady drumbeat of societal disruption sounds in the heads of concerned citizens throughout our great country. For many, internal alarms are deafening as society around them continues to grow in chaos and confusion. If we wish to remain a civilized society, we must, in the midst of this great storm, begin to consider how to rebuild a productive and civil world for our children and grandchildren. Recent events like the 1-in-1000-years flood in Louisiana or the catastrophic Hurricane Matthew give us glimpses of the resilient American spirit built on Judeo-Christian values that shall be our foundation for rebuilding a society founded in human dignity.
In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church compiled 12 years ago at the request of Saint John Paul II, we are given prophetic direction that reiterates what we know from our God-given nature. It is stated that Many experiences of volunteer work are examples of great value that call people to look upon civil society as a place where it is possible to rebuild a public ethic based on solidarity, concrete cooperation and fraternal dialogue.
This volunteerism has been an integral part of American culture throughout its 240-plus years and it has changed the course of communities and people alike. Stories passed down from generation to generation resound with events of communities, small and large, pulling together to lift each other up or to combat evil. We have all heard stories of house or barn-raising events where entire small communities would help families build their first home less than a century ago. History books reflect a multitude of events during World War II in which the American people pulled together to combat a great evil that threatened the world. These included simple things such as “victory gardens” where neighbors shared small garden vegetables to help feed each other, or the support provided to families who lost soldiers in battle. They are but a few examples of the spirit which built our great country.
Volunteerism is alive and well in the Deep South and with it brings a sense of love and well-being often referred to as a southern genteel spirit. Our family has, on more than one occasion, been the recipient of this southern hospitality and we were recently asked to share our own personal experience as it gives testimony to the effect of the many volunteers who have given selflessly of themselves to us and others around us. If you, my reader-friends, will indulge me, I would like to share this testimony as it was given at Mass before our parish family. I present this to you only to show the impact, seen and unseen, that your working hands have when used to lift up those around you.
My wife and I arrived early for each of the six scheduled Masses at our parish church in Lafayette, Louisiana. At the prescribed time, one of our parish priests called us forward. In my mind I wondered if our words would help those around us. The Louisiana flood of 2016 had just devastated many in our community, causing emotions to run high for all in attendance including my wife and myself.
After a brief, polite introduction, we began our story out of sincere love for each person in the congregation.
My wife stated, “Thank you for this time to share our personal testimony with you, our faith family. Being here today with you is humbling as we remember how we first came to be part of your family, having to evacuate from New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago. We evacuated to Lafayette solely because my husband had business in Lafayette and by chance we stayed at a nearby hotel on Kaliste Saloom. When we arrived, we had our five children, the dog, three days of change of clothes and did not know a soul. The thought of potentially having lost everything could have been overwhelming but, from the first moment that I walked through the parish doors for morning Mass the day after Katrina, I was given a sense of peace and belonging. Your prayers, faith, warmth and kindness gave us hope when we thought all was lost. We are thankful to you and God for being there for us and helping us grow in our faith through your example.”
As I listened to my wife speak, my heart was filled with emotion that could be heard in the sound of my voice as I began my portion of the testimony.
I stated, “Thank you for allowing us to share our journey with you. Many of our friends realize this weekend is a momentous mark in time for our family that we will cherish for the rest of our lives. This is the eleventh anniversary of Saint Pius adopting our family into your faith family. For that we are thankful to God and to you. Our lives were forever changed for the better. We have grown deeper in our relationship with Our Savior, Jesus, and have over time learned trust in His unseen divine plan.
“During the last three weeks we have been reminded of the support you gave us as we struggled to recover from the tragic effects of Hurricane Katrina. As happened during the tragedy of Katrina, our community and faith family have responded heroically to the recent storm that flooded homes and devastated families across South Louisiana and Lafayette. After Katrina, the response from you, the community of Saint Pius, was one of love, acceptance and understanding. Much like people struggling today, we were lifted in prayer, given food, clothing, a place to live and furnishings for our home. What struck us then and still does to this day is the patience and kindness that is a consistent behavior within our vibrant Catholic community. This beautiful example of Christianity allowed our family to gain peace in our transition while rebuilding our lives. Today, the needs of those who are struggling to pull their lives together are no different: prayer, love, kindness, patience, food, clothing and for some a place to live. Once again, we are seeing people of faith joined together to help each other. This is who we are! Throughout our 11 years here at Saint Pius X, we have been given opportunities to grow deeper in our faith through prayer and works. Whether it was through spending hours before Our Lord in adoration, evangelizing door to door offering prayers and help, or going on a mission to Mexico, the call to give of ourselves to Jesus and to His people continues to grow stronger over time.
“For those of you who have been flooded, we have been asked, over the last decade, more times than we can count, ‘How did y’all do it?’ I won’t lie and say it was easy. It was not. The next year, for those who have lost their homes and memories with it, will not be easy. Through a faithful prayer life, encouraged by you and our incredible priests, we were, as a family, able to let go of our own desires and trust – trust that it is okay to be angry and cry. Trust that it is still okay to laugh and be thankful. Trust that it is okay to ask for and accept help. Finding God’s hand in those that helped us through our own storm brought us closer to Him.
“As our community works together to recover from this 1-in-1000 years flood, I am filled with joy and anticipation of God’s plan. We have confidence in you, the faith family of Saint Pius X. We know from our own experience that our parish family will respond to God’s call to prayer and help in this difficult and miraculous time of love and generosity. Following your lead is what has deepened our prayer life and faith to levels we could not have understood before becoming a part of your family. From our family to yours, thank you for your prayers, faith, generosity of spirit and love.”
Our own testament is not a reflection of our own faith or works, but a testament to those who have reached a hand out to us and others around them. This hospitality can change our country for the better. It can unite us with those we find different from our own views. It can unite us through the recognition of the dignity found in our own humanity. God is good.
Honor everyone. Keep on loving the community of believers, fearing God, and honoring the king (1 Pet 2:17).