Peter, Paul, and Mary & Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria
Shakespeare penned a seemingly eternal question: "What's in a name?" As the western hemisphere continues to be pummeled by storms, we are meeting people we hardly know. Not those named Irma, Jose, and Maria. Rather, the people impacted by the hurricanes who bear these names.
The personification of catastrophic events has the potential to remind us that vulnerable people are at the center of every hurricane that strikes land. The severity of storms is measured by numbers, categories one through five, but they are named for people as people feel their effects, often long after the storms subside.
Standing in solidarity with our neighbors who have been beaten by these recent storms is praiseworthy. We donate, we pray, and we work to live more simply, conserving water and respecting the environment whose brokenness is evident in such weather events. Again, we are reminded about the primacy of people—their dignity, families, and futures.
This is also one of the primary charges of the church, a person-first, Gospel-grounded, and Spirit-driven movement of grace to bless the world here so that we can all live hereafter in peace with the God who gives us life.
As storms are named for people, so are churches. St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Mary, for example, are churches likely found in almost every diocese. These parishes and others like them recall the saintly heroes who have been canonized for us to honor and emulate their lives of holiness. Named after people, these places also remind us that the church exists for people, to enhance our lives and enrich our spirits to soar to live Jesus.
A number of parishes among those staffed by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales have been greatly impacted by recent storms. Two still have no electricity. Attached here is a picture of Jesus the Worker Parish in Fort Myers, Florida. It was named after the Lord, who was a simple worker, to inspire parishioners, most who are poor, migrant farm workers struggling to raise families in faith and compassion. Fr. Patrick O'Connor, pastor, recently wrote:
East Ft. Myers was hit pretty hard by the Hurricane. Many in our area still don't have electricity, and many also don't have water, since they get their water from wells, and there is no electricity to operate the pumps. We are using Jesus the Worker Church as a site for distribution of food and water to those most impacted by Irma. We are receiving truckloads of food and water, from Catholic Charities and FEMA, which our volunteers/parishioners are helping to give out daily. It is no easy task, since we have not had electricity, and it is very hot.... But it is good to be a part of the recovery effort!
The liturgy of service recalls the foot-washing love that inaugurated the Eucharist on Holy Thursday. To turn a parish campus into a relief center, funded in large measure by Catholic Charities, is a grace-filled expression of what the church is and what it is called to be: People serving people.
No wonder we name our churches after people.