Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 19, 2005
Heed warning or pay the price
New Orleans' response mirrors our very own spiritual indifference
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
This past June, my wife and I went invited to New Orleans where I was conducting a workshop for the National Catholic Partnership on Disability. Tropical storm Arlene was churning out in the Gulf of Mexico. There was considerable speculation about the storm turning into a hurricane by the time it reached land.
Residents of New Orleans went about their business apparently unconcerned about the talk of a possible hurricane.
Just another storm
My wife and I kept asking the locals if we should be concerned. The general consensus was No: “We’ve been through hurricanes before,” they said. “Just a little water in your basement. Don’t fret.” But we were uneasy coming from the land-locked Canadian prairies. Happily, a hurricane did not materialize and Arlene remained a tropical storm that fizzled out.
Still, my wife and I were struck by the indifference of the New Orleans residents we encountered, and we talked to each other about it. My wife found the apparent apathy toward the prospect of a major force of nature disturbing because, as she said, “One day a serious hurricane could happen.” I brushed off her comment by saying, “Oh well, the locals should know when to be concerned.”
Just over two months later Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, including New Orleans, with deadly results.
Authorities warned the people of New Orleans to evacuate the city as Hurricane Katrina approached. Many people stayed because they had no transportation or money. But other residents who did have the means and ability to leave chose to stay and “ride out” the hurricane.
I wondered how many people died because they were not sufficiently concerned or had grown indifferent because they endured many lesser hurricanes in the past.
How many people are equally unconcerned about grave eternal matters that can decimate their lives and result in spiritual death? They know that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead — they say it in the Apostles’ Creed every Mass — yet so many Catholics do not put their spiritual houses in order. Like the people of New Orleans, they have heard the warnings so often they’ve become indifferent to the critically important message.
That includes me.
So often I have left sins unconfessed — as though Reconciliation was not vitally important to my present and future. I passed by the confessional with indifference to Christ’s redemptive action at Calvary to reconcile people to God and the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1440-1445).
Throughout the centuries Calvary has held the mysterious capacity to transform human degeneration into spiritual regeneration, and change descent of souls into their ascent into glory. The regenerate heart is a gift from God.
A heavy heart
The Church teaches this about the human heart:
“The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give a man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: God gives us strength to begin anew. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced” (CCC, 1432).
Conversion is effecting justification before God through Jesus’ proclamation to repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 4:17, CCC 1989). “Justification” means that man is detached from sin — anything that contradicts God’s law (CCC, 1990).
We are justified “through faith in Jesus Christ” (CCC, 1991) and merited by his atoning sacrifice on the cross of Calvary (CCC, 1992). This redemptive action was started by God.
In St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he exhorted him to always be prepared to say what was needed, whether it is words of correction, rebuke or encouragement. He knew that people often do not want to hear words of truth (2 Timothy 4:1-5). Paul was writing his letter while languishing in prison, chained like a common criminal. He was in chains for the sake of freedom in Christ and reconciliation with God. It wasn’t a popular message, but it was critically important.
Like the authorities in Louisiana warning the people of New Orleans to evacuate the city in anticipation of a monster hurricane, many people did not listen to an unpopular message. They stayed and paid an awful price for their indifference.
Prison of poverty
Many of the poorest people of New Orleans could not flee the city and paid an even higher price with their lives. For that, the authorities must answer not only to the nation, but to God. They knew what was coming and did not offer transportation out of the city, until it was too late.
It’s the same for those who know Christ. We know the final judgment is coming. We have a moral obligation to warn people and point the way to salvation. As God told Ezekiel, we will not be held blameless (33:7-20).
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