They are "A people for others," it says outside St. Ignatius Church in Houston. This was never more evident than during the last week.
"It's devastating. It is just unbelievable. Everything is underwater. And I do mean EVERYTHING." You could hear the heartbreak in Father Norbert Maduzia's voice when he took to Facebook to share his walkthrough of the parish entrusted to his care since 2006, now severely damaged by Hurricane Harvey. But you could hear his hope, too.
When Norbert first sent a message to his parishioners, it was Sunday. He wrote: "I have arrived at the Church for 7:30 a.m. Mass. ... The dumpsters are floating in the parking lot."
He added: "All of the parking lot areas have water ... Please do not risk high water. Stay safe."
As waters rose, he went from noting floating dumpsters to only being able to access the front door of the church by boat. He wrote: "I spoke with Cardinal DiNardo yesterday and said to him that as a native Houstonian I've never really felt fear in regard to a hurricane or major storm. However, with this situation I have been feeling a lot of 'angst' -- much like the apostles in the boat in the midst of a storm while Jesus slept."
In this storm, he still found room for faith in the future. He wrote: "With all of the news in media and Facebook, it's easy to become overwhelmed and allow fear to enter into our hearts and minds. Perhaps this constant barrage of news has numbed our faith or caused doubt to enter. We can sit and fret or we can pull together as a people for others and do something about it even now."
Days later, he found himself in glass-half-full mode, so to speak: "All of the chairs in the reservation chapel had floated and separated into two groups against the two walls leaving the center "aisle" leading to the tabernacle without obstructions! Amazing."
He even managed a touch of humor: "In front of the church, the waters rage on like rapids. Whitewater rafting experts would rate this as a beginner rapid, but rafts and inexperienced kayakers should definitely stay away." He finished: "Friends, I have heard from many of you and we are all saying the same thing: 1. We are the Church. 2. We will rebuild. 3. Our faith will be stronger because of all of this. and 4. What can I do to help? To hear everyone saying these things is the balm that is healing a broken heart. Scriptures tell us that the LORD will heal the broken-hearted and thus, through all of you, we are being healed and will be made new."
These Christians encounter God alive in each other, and find God in caring for each other. Norbert sent an alert from the neighboring Good Shepherd parish which had flooding, too, but which also figured out a way to create a welcoming space for people to have meals together or pick up food. "We're also flooded, but church is more than a building!" was the message Good Shepherd conveyed. Parishioners rallied to assess neighbors' needs, pool resources and help recover what had not yet been destroyed.
Before and after the storm, Father Norbert prayed the same prayer: "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world." This prayer is about total confidence in the providence of God. One grows in confidence, even amidst trial and tribulation -- and, in this case, a home and a parish church facing much destruction.
It's an attitude and a prayer we could all afford to better consider.
At a time when we all too often see the worst of humanity, in Houston, Norbert and so many others showed us some of the best. When we live for others, we give the greatest gift. It's a testament that our lives are meant for giving, on the model of the creator giving our lives to us in the first place. In storms and in calm, it's the way to live.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at email@example.com