They are “A People for others,” it says outside St. Ignatius Church in Houston. Even, as it happens, when they are under water.
“It’s devastating. . . . It is just unbelievable. Everything is under water. 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 for a first assessment of the damage Hurricane Harvey had done. Along the walk of what Harvey wrought, though, you could hear his hope, too.
When Father Norbert first sent a message to his parishioners it was Sunday. He wrote: “I have arrived at the Church for 7:30 am Mass. Cypresswood is completely flooded with water up to the stairs of the Faber Center [the old administration building]. The dumpsters are floating in the parking lot.”
He added: “All of the parking lot areas have water; the area in front of Gonzaga Center is a couple of inches (rain boots helped). Please do not risk high water. Stay safe.”
Eventually, waters rose so high he could access the front door of the church only by boat. He admitted: “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. We know that He constantly is watching over us, yet, we must awaken our faith and trust in Him.”
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 half-full mode, so to speak — embracing a spirit of gratitude: “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. White water 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 and 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.”
Sensitive to a people facing sorrow as the physical evidence of memories floated away — as he was experiencing the same — he wrote: “So many of you have commented that it’s only ‘things’/‘stuff’. True — but remember that for us, like others who have lost their homes, this is the place where memories were made as we encountered the presence of the Living Christ. Every object is symbolic of something greater; every ‘thing’ is a memory. Memories will never be washed away. They will always be with us. Our encounters with the Living Christ will continue and deepen as our community comes together.”
These Christians encounter God alive in one another, caring for one another.
These Christians encounter God alive in one another, caring for one another. Father Norbert sent an alert from neighboring Good Shepherd parish, which had flooding, too, but 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 they conveyed. Parishioners rallied to assess neighbors’ needs, pool resources, and help recover what had not yet been destroyed.
Consistent before and after the storm, he led this prayer, among others: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.” The Divine Mercy chaplet, as the devotion is known, is about total confidence in the Providence of God. One grows in confidence, even amid trial and tribulation — and, in this case, a home and a parish church facing much destruction
It’s a posture and a prayer we could all afford to better consider.
At a time when we all too often see the worst of us, in Houston, Father Norbert and his people and so many others showed us some of the best. When we live for others, we give the greatest gift. A witness 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.