Hurricane Harvey: A lesson in merciful discipleship

September 26, 2017

These past weeks, since the arrival of Hurricane Harvey to our Texas shores, have seen great devastation and loss of life and property.

Many of our own parishes have been impacted in ways that will require large recovery efforts and sacrifices of these parish families and of our Archdiocese as a whole.

We have all been touched by Harvey, either personally in the loss of our homes and property or as one who has assisted in providing donations, volunteering at shelters, or taking people into our homes.

Texas has come together in extraordinary ways that have not even been realized to support our brothers and sisters, regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation.

Many of us have been on an emotional roller coaster — crying over those navigating the flood waters to safety and cheering on those who rescued people in their own boats or on anything that would float. Some first-responders gave the ultimate sacrifice in their rescue efforts.

Families have involved their children in these efforts in collecting donations, selling lemonade at the corner for hurricane relief, setting up their own homes to house victims of the flood, praying together for those affected and for those ministering to them.

We have all been exercising our baptismal call to being missionary disciples.

Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, tells us: “In virtue of their Baptism, all members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization... that calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.” (#120)

This personal involvement on the part of many was immediate action to relieve the suffering of others. It was mercy.

Pope Francis reflects in The Joy of Mercy by saying, “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”(# 11)

I was proud to be Catholic — to see how my own parish responded in mercy to Harvey’s punishing cruelty to our area by serving as a Red Cross Shelter and caring for hundreds of local people.

Many other parishes and schools in our Archdiocese became shelters, donation centers, prayer centers, ministering to both the spiritual and physical needs of thousands.

It didn’t matter if the victims were Catholic or not. This was an exercise in bountiful mercy and witness to the faith and love of our Catholic community for the people of God.

This is what being a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ means. “The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant in this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself.

Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident.

In our parishes, communities, associations, and movements — in a word, wherever there are Christians — everyone should find an oasis of mercy.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of Mercy, # 12)

There is still a long way to go to recovery. We will be asked to do much over this next year to again and again show mercy as a follower of Christ.

Big Idea 4 in our new Archdiocesan curriculum provides us with a timely question for personal reflection and discussion with our families: “How are we called to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ?”

How can you personally respond to that question? How is each of us called to be a missionary disciple? How will we respond to this call by virtue of our baptism? How can we respond as a family?

We are called to this every day of our life as a Catholic christian but perhaps now, in the aftermath of Harvey and Irma, we have an opportunity to immediately respond in mercy with the love and compassion of Christ to our brothers and sisters, exercising the Corporal Works of Mercy. This is part of being a member of the human family through the lens of our Catholic faith and teachings.

We preach the Gospel not only with our words but with our actions. We evangelize by being an example of Catholic christian discipleship.

Let us all go forth in mercy and love actively responding to our call as disciples through our actions and our prayers. In ministering to our brothers and sisters in need we will encounter the face of Jesus Christ.

“I see somebody dying, I pick him up. I find somebody hungry, I give him food. He can love and be loved. I don’t look at his color. I don’t look at his religion. I don’t look at anything. Every person whether he is Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist, he is my brother, my sister.” (Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” (St. Teresa of Avila) 

Julie Blevins is the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.