The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Storm, Soup Kitchen, Funerals and more

It's been a remarkable week, one that has surprised us with the unexpected and taught us much and  blessed us through everyday experiences.

The most unexpected event was the storm that someone named Hermine. It's a rather odd name, isn't it? Do you actually know anyone named Hermine? I certainly don't. I'm not sure how they decide on these stormy names, but in recent years they have definitely changed, become far more exotic. Most people don't realize that earlier -- much earlier -- major storms were named after saints, most often the saint on whose feast day the storm first appeared. And then, for many years, storms went unnamed. For example, I was born in the midst of a storm that was called simply, "The Great Hurricane of September 1944." It wasn't until the early 1950s that the National Weather Service began to assign female names to hurricanes and major tropical storms. I remember well some of the storms that roared up the East Coast when I was much younger -- for example, Carol, Edna, Diane, and Donna -- all given rather common female names. It wasn't until the late 1970s that nascent political correctness led to the assignment of both male and female names to major storms. This change actually surprised me. I would have thought that the more radical feminists would approve of these impressive, mighty storms being given feminine names as a kind of metaphor reflecting the power of women. But no, political correctness trumps all and male storminess must be recognized as equal to that of women. But I digress...

Hermine made its appearance in the Gulf of Mexico early last week as the cleverly named Tropical Depression #9. It wallowed about in the gulf for several days before it began to display some organization and direction. By Tuesday the weather-guessers called for it to strengthen into a tropical storm and ultimately a hurricane, predicting landfall on Florida's west coast sometime early Thursday.

This forecast was particularly disturbing because Diane and I are the Thursday cook and captain at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, and Wildwood, Florida was on the storm's predicted path. On Wednesday morning we finally decided to close the soup kitchen for Thursday, not wanting to subject our drivers who deliver meals or our walk-in guests to the dangers of a major storm. As it turned out, Hermine changed both course and speed, drifted to the north and west, and finally made landfall early Friday just south of Tallahassee. We were, therefore, spared its most damaging effects. We experienced gusty wind and heavy rain but nothing too exciting. Hermine has since moved up the East Coast and once again is wallowing about, this time in the Atlantic. And so we are able to share this storm with three of our children, who live in coastal New England.

In the midst of all this storminess, I have been asked to conduct two funerals, one vigil service, and one committal service, all in the space of four days. The committal will be at the National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida. As you might expect, because of our large retired-age population in central Florida, funerals, vigils and committals are common, much more common than baptisms and marriages.

Most funerals are celebrated in the church during Mass, but sometimes, for any number of reasons, a family wants a funeral outside of Mass in a funeral home. Because no Mass is celebrated we deacons are usually called on to conduct these funerals. I have always considered them among the most important liturgies I am privileged to conduct. For most people this is a time of real need, a time when confusion, emptiness, and doubt overwhelm the mind and heart. It is a time calling for the affirmation of faith, a time for the proclamation of God's Good News in the midst of man's bad news. But most importantly, it is a time to listen. And in the listening I have found these difficult times to be wonderful opportunities for evangelization. It's not unusual to encounter family members who have drifted away from the Church and are simply awaiting a call to return.

Anyhow, because of all this, I spend a considerable amount of time preparing for funerals and vigils and committals. I always try to meet with the family in advance, not only to learn about the deceased as a person, but also to get a sense of the relationships within the family. Out of this, the family's  spiritual needs become more evident, important considerations when selecting the Scripture readings and preparing my homily.

I conducted two of these services -- a funeral and a vigil service -- yesterday, while the other two are scheduled for early next week. I am truly humbled by the remarkable faith I encountered yesterday among the family and friends of the man and woman who had died. Even in their grief, they were aware of God's presence and His enduring love. How often this happens! How often do I come to realize the true holiness of God's people, a holiness that often far exceeds that of the clergy, of priests and deacons.

Just as I finished writing the last sentence we suffered a lightning strike. It was the closest and loudest strike I've ever experienced. The flash was right outside our master bedroom window, and the crash of thunder, being so close, was instantaneous and deafening. The circuit breaker for the bedroom electricity flipped off, the smoke detectors all sounded, and Maddie, the wonder-dog, was greatly displeased. Our neighbor just called on her cellphone and said their telephones are out and their PC was fried. We apparently are in better shape. Telephones and computers all seem to be working. I checked the attic for signs of fire, reset the circuit breaker, and gave the house a blessing. 

All seems well. God is good.

Lightnings and clouds, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever.
[Dan 3:73]

God's peace

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