As a Houstonian, the past few weeks have been a struggle. As a Houstonian living away from home, rather than dealing with flood damage and other chaos, I have struggled with being away from family and friends when they most needed help. As a Jesuit with a vow of obedience, I go where I’m told. Currently, I’m assigned as the assistant pastor in Albuquerque, New Mexico. From nearly 900 miles away, I watched on the news and on social media as the city I love was torn apart. I saw desperate posts from friends and co-workers at Strake Jesuit High School (my alma mater and former employer) who watched as the water rose higher and higher in the streets outside of their homes and eventually came inside. I watched as co-workers from the fire department I worked at prior to my life in the Jesuits struggled to respond to the sheer volume of calls and rescues necessary during such a tragedy. I felt, and was, helpless to do anything about the suffering. For more moments than I would care to count, I even considered that I may have had a mis-fire on my vocation – perhaps I should have been a diocesan priest? At least then I would be able to serve God in the midst of the people I know and love in my hometown while they cope with tragedy.
On the Wednesday before the storm hit, I celebrated Mass for the parochial school at our parish. That morning I asked the students to pray in a special way for all of those in the path of the storm. As we prayed and offered petitions for Texas, I reminded the students that they should keep the soon-to-be-impacted areas in their prayers with their families before meals and prior to falling asleep at night. Later in the day I went over to the school to spend time with the younger students in their classes. One of the first graders raised his hand as I entered the classroom. He said to me, “Father Marc, do you think other people are praying for us like we prayed for the children who are about to get hit by the hurricane this morning at Mass?” My immediate response was, “Well, yes, of course! I’m sure they are.”
As I returned to the church, I stopped for a moment, gripped by the question the young student had asked. Kids have a great way of getting to the point. Catholics spend a lot of time praying FOR things. We pray for the ill, for our families, for support during natural disasters and tragedies. I had sent countless texts and messages to friends on the Gulf Coast, reassuring them of my prayers for them. How often, though, do I stop and think about people praying FOR me? What do those prayers do? What does the knowledge of other’s petitions on my behalf do for me and my relationship with God? It is comforting to know that somewhere out there someone else is praying for me. But is my comfort the point?
Perhaps the point lies in the connections and bonds built among the faithful as we weave this web of prayers. When we’re suffering, we are united with others through their prayers for us. We come together as the faithful, strengthening the Body of Christ, when we offer prayers for others and are the subject of the prayers of others. While our prayers may not directly result in the cessation of flood waters or the rescue of a loved one, they do result directly in the fortification of the bonds we all share as Christian disciples. The Holy Spirit is alive and well, present and accounted for, when we offer and receive prayers. So, as the hashtag on Twitter said, #PrayForHouston, as Florida faces Irma, #PrayForFlorida, and know that somewhere, someone is #PrayingForYou.
To read Juan Ruiz, SJ’s firsthand account of Hurricane Harvey, click here.
Cover image courtesy NOAA Satellites, found here.