Abp. Aymond: Post-Katrina, we are the hands of Christ

Archbishop Gregory Aymond commemorated the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina today in his homily at the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Louis Cathedral. Here is a transcript of the archbishop's message of hope:

Sometimes we really do not need photographs to retell a story because the pictures of that particular story are deeply ingrained in our minds and in our hearts – and nothing at all in this world would ever erase them. That is certainly true for those who experienced Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago, that unwelcomed guest that came to New Orleans and the surrounding area and stayed too long.

That hurricane took the lives of 1,800 people; floodwaters rising; the fear for life itself; people trapped in attics; incredible damage to property; lost homes; people who lost all of their earthly possessions. And certainly behind Hurricane Katrina were broken hearts and shattered dreams.

We don't need pictures to retell that story. Those pictures are deeply ingrained in our hearts and in our minds.

In the midst of that wind and storm and rain, something else happened that was somewhat ordinary, yet today, 10 years later, that ordinary event tells an important story. Right behind the cathedral in St. Anthony's Garden is a huge statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. During the storm, tree limbs fell on the statue and took three fingers off of Jesus' left hand. When some of the military were doing the cleanup, they found one of the fingers. But the fingers were still damaged.

On Oct. 2, 2005, Archbishop Hughes, the archbishop at that time, celebrated a historic homecoming Mass in the cathedral, and he specifically referred to the missing fingers on the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He said, “Those lost fingers could remind us to turn to the Lord in a time of need. And those lost fingers can remind us that we must supply our fingers for his fingers in order to rebuild.”

And so for 10 years, it has been the hands and faith of so many people who worked to rebuild lives and homes, care for family and neighbors, and, yes, even strangers. Those fingers were not replaced.

Perhaps the message of St. Theresa of Avila is so appropriate. She said, “Jesus has no hands but yours. You are his hands, and it is through you that he will touch others.”

Ten years later, we commemorate Hurricane Katrina, and today we will bless the statue where those fingers have been replaced.

We are replacing those fingers and blessing the statue because it is a sign of our hands and the hands of so many people – literally thousands of people – who have come to rebuild the city and to touch the hearts and the lives of those who have broken hearts and broken dreams.

It is our way of saying thanks to God for his fidelity and for the fidelity of so many. As we replace the fingers on the hand of Jesus, we are grateful for those hands of the first responders who literally saved people.

We are mindful of the great work of Catholic Charities and thousands of others and groups who still come here today after 10 years. Today we say thanks to God for his fidelity, and he has used the hands of so many to rebuild lives, to rebuild the city, to give us hope and comfort.

But may I suggest that the restored hand of Jesus on the Sacred Heart statue also has another meaning – and a very specific meaning for those who are still struggling, for those who are still displaced in other cities and wish to come home, for those who are not finished their rebuilding, the people who still bear the challenges and burdens of today and continue that work.

Why would we restore the hand of Jesus? what would it say to them? It would say that the Lord Jesus has not forgotten you, the Lord Jesus has not abandoned you, and he will continue to use the hands and the hearts of others to continue your journey of rebuilding, your journey of faith. So that hand of Jesus would say to you, who are not completed in the rebuilding: “Do not lose hope.”

Today we come in prayer with very mixed feelings as we commemorate these 10 years. First of all, we come in grief for those who died, for those whose lives were taken in the storm, for family and friends. We also commemorate the first responders who gave their lives to try to save others. Today we commend them to the Lord's kingdom and ask God to give them the fullness of eternal life.

But we also come in gratitude for what has been accomplished, for the building up of the city and the lives of people. We give thanks to God. And we also come in faith that the rebuilding of lives and homes will continue.

Yes, Hurricane Katrina took a great deal. It took life and property. Hurricane Katrina did not take the faith of the people of this great city and the surrounding area.

Some still ask the question, where was Jesus during this hurricane, during this great tragedy? He was in the rescue boats, trying to save others, comforting the person who was dying in their attic and was trapped and could not get out. He was caring for the person who was separated from their family. No, Jesus was not absent. He was there in sorrow and with a broken heart, as well, carrying those who needed to be carried.

We just heard in the Gospel that Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. You must eat my flesh and drink my blood.” And many of his disciples said, “This makes no sense. This is too hard to accept.” And they left him. They said, “We're giving up on this guy.”

And so Jesus asks the apostles, “Do you want to leave me, too?” And Peter came up and said, “No, Lord, you have the words of eternal life.” He did not say that he understood what Jesus was saying about the bread of life. He said, “We won’t leave you because we believe that you have the words of eternal life.”

This Gospel speaks to our experience today and to this commemoration of 10 years ago. There are times in our lives when we ask questions of faith, when we ask God to explain to us what we cannot understand, what seems impossible to understand. Why natural disasters? Why were the lives of so many taken? We need the eyes of faith to be able to see the hand of Jesus reaching out in help. We need the eyes of faith to be able to see Jesus crying as so many others were and are.

And we say to the Lord Jesus as he reaches out, “Lord, help my unbelief.” But we also say, “We won’t leave you, and he won’t leave us.”
That message is true not only for those who were hurt by Hurricane Katrina but also by those who have been beset by so many other difficulties in the world, so many difficulties in our own personal lives and families and community.

There are many things we don’t understand. These things are not possible to grasp with the human mind. As Jesus would say, “You don’t understand. Do you want to leave me?” And we say, “No. We don’t understand, but we trust you in faith and we will still follow you because we walk by faith and not by sight.”

So today, as we commemorate the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina, our eyes of faith can see the hand of Jesus reaching out, caring for us, feeding us, even in the darkest moments of our lives. Today we come to express faith and also gratitude for what has taken place

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