From the Pastor: Irma: Eventful but not Terrible
Hurricane Irma, the Category 5 monstrosity which was poised to wipe all of Florida off the map after causing untold destruction throughout the many small islands to the southeast of us, has come and gone. Thank you all for the many prayers you offered up during the week before the storm, for without them, I am sure that this would have been much, much worse. As I write, electricity is being restored throughout the area and I am getting reports from parishioners about how little damage was done where they live. We only lost electricity at the parish for just under 24 hours. My mom’s house was without it for another day. As I write, many of you don’t have power yet. Hopefully, by the time you read this everything is back to normal. Actually, I hope and pray that everything is better than normal. We all had a chance, due to panic, to determine what we cherish the most, to contact those to whom we are closest or most concerned about, we had time to look at our own mortality and, hopefully, repent of all our sins, beseech forgiveness from both God and man, and make a firm amendment to improve our relationship with God Almighty and His children. “We all” is not “you” personally, though. Did you do it? Did you pray? Did you ask for pardon and peace? Did you give any to those who asked it of you? To quote either Winston Churchill or Rahm Emanuel, “Don’t let a good crisis go to waste!” Fr. Dorvil quipped recently, “If the people put the same preparation into their eternal life as they did into preparation for Irma, we would all be Saints!”
Sitting through the hurricane at Epiphany was different than what I have experienced in any other hurricane, in that this one came with a crowded rectory. We hosted more than a dozen people here. MacDill Air Force Base evacuated all of the Americans but forgot about the foreign soldiers stationed there. One of them, a French Colonel, regularly attends the TLM at Epiphany. He approached me with a humble request that his group be put up in the classrooms. Instead, I invited them into the rectory, which would be more comfortable and certainly safer than the classrooms with the large back windows. More than a dozen showed up, along with a French reporter who was on assignment to see how this was affecting the troops. None of them had experienced a hurricane before and all they knew was what the TV was telling them. “Danger! Death! Doom!” The reporter was quite scared and didn’t quite believe my words about not having anything to worry about because we had been praying for it to change course or dissipate. “Then why did it change course from hitting Miami to coming this way?” Because someone asked me to pray that her not-ready-spiritually-for-death son in Miami would be spared until he was ready for what we call a “happy death”, that is, one in the state of grace. “Would God really change a hurricane just for one person?” Yes. Plain and simple. Yes. I am not taking credit for the storm’s path or its relatively weak power, for I am just one priest who got one parish to pray, yet I am certain that our prayers were heard and answered. Do we get full credit? Half credit? 1/1000 of 1% credit? It doesn’t matter. Figuring such things out is beyond my ability. But the storm was averted, the son’s life was spared, and the power when it hit here was nothing like what it was supposed to be.
Fr. Peter had made an open invitation to any members of St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission who needed shelter to come to the parish center. Then, like a magician, he disappeared. A group of his parishioners took him up on his offer and brought their families to camp out in the hall. I went back and forth between the buildings checking up on them occasionally. They were as happy and calm as those in the rectory. The former pastor’s sister was going to sleep in the rectory, but after just a short time here decided that staying in the hall would be more fun, as she doesn’t speak either English or French. Another Vietnamese family showed up very late and didn’t bring sleeping bags, so two of the men came through the driving wind and rain to get some spare bedding from our closets. Share and share alike. There was plenty of food and drink and floor space in both places, plus good people to share it with.
Monday morning everyone was still sleeping so I didn’t celebrate the 6:30 Mass but about a dozen of our refugees were awake and ready for Mass at eight. There was no electricity, but with the help of candles and a “liturgical head lamp” a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated with much rejoicing. Adoration and confession followed as normal and then everyone cleaned up and left, going to either their home or the Base. All in all, it was not a bad way to spend the weekend! I continue to add the Prayers of Thanksgiving at the Masses and I ask that you do something similar, too. We should always thank God as much as we petition Him!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka