By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator 

A beautiful June day in Louisiana belied the trouble brewing to the south in the Gulf of Mexico as forecasters and government leaders kept an eye on Tropical Storm Cristobal. Inside St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge on June 5, people gathered to pray for those affected by the storm and other potential during the 2020 hurricane season.  

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Bishop Michael G. Duca presided at the Hurricane Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge on June 5, as forecasters kept a close eye on Tropical Storm Christobal in the Gulf of Mexico. Photos by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator

 

For 15 years, since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the seven dioceses in the state of Louisiana, under the Archdiocese of New Orleans, have celebrated a Hurricane Mass at the cathedral.  

“My brothers and sisters, this day we come together to pray in a particular way for protection in times of storm and for us particularly in Louisiana hurricanes, one that’s headed our way,” said Bishop Michal G. Duca.  

The Gospel reading for the Mass came from St. Mark and referenced the time Jesus and the Apostles were in the boat crossing the sea when a violent storm arose while Jesus was asleep. Jesus woke up and calmed the wind and the sea. “Then he asked them, ‘Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?’ They were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’ ” (Mk 4:35-41)  

During his homily Bishop Duca pointed to his upbringing in Dallas, noting that his “innate and intuitive knowledge about storms are about tornados.” He said he knew “when to be afraid and when not to be afraid.”  

“I know that when the sky turns green and the wind which was blowing 30 miles per hour stops and it becomes absolutely still, run for cover,” he said. “I don’t know where you run but you run because it is close.”  

The bishop then gave a second anecdote in which his father said he took high blood pressure medicine in order “to eat the way he wanted to eat,” which included salting his food. He used both stories as examples, “because it’s always a strange thing when we pray to God to protect us from storms.”  

“Hurricanes are unique things,” said Bishop Duca. “They’re coming right at you and you pray, ‘Lord, send this hurricane in another direction.’ And the people on the other sides are saying, ‘Lord, don’t change the direction at all leave it right where it is. We’re happy with that, thank you, Lord!’ ”  

He said while one group is giving thanks to God for the storm veering away from them, another group is asking why God has inflicted them with such pain. The bishop said it’s interesting how people pray for such things but it is important that “we do pray for God’s protection” because we believe we are self-sufficient.  

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Bishop Duca distributes holy Communion during the Hurricane Mass on Friday, June 5. It was the first time the annual Mass was held while a storm was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical Storm Cristobal was forecasted to make landfall in Louisiana over the weekend.   

 

“We need to remind ourselves that in the great powers of nature, which we’re seeing in the pandemic as well, which is a power of nature, microscopic nevertheless, that we don’t have all that knowledge, we don’t have all that power,” said Bishop Duca. “We think we’re in control of our lives, but we know that in a moment we can get sick; in a moment we can commit a sin that turns our life around in ways that are not really good and painful and difficult. The illness of a loved one can throw our life into a complete twist. And so we need a firm center, a place where we have a faith strong enough to know that God is working.”  

The bishop then recounted a story he read online by a woman whose neighbor lost a child. He described the sorrow and suffering that filled the home.  

“She said, ‘Lord, where are you?’ and then she was inspired that God was in this, too – ‘That’s why Jesus died on the cross and rose again, that not even the powers of this world, the nature that is all around that has a certain order and law within itself that God created, that he is even over that and while we cannot see it, his victory is present here in this child raised from the dead, in with God’ ” said Bishop Duca.  

The bishop said it’s important to see that “God is always with us,” even in the pandemic.  

“The more we can find our center in God’s strength, the more we will find peace, even in difficult times,” said Bishop Duca.  

He then said we can’t depend on God to take care of us which is why God gave us a mind, free will and the ability to make decisions to protect ourselves.  

“If you’re sitting in your house on a beach in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux and you say, ‘God’s going to protect me’ and there’s a nine-foot wall of water coming towards you, well, I’m sorry, God’s with you but he’s there to take you to heaven because he gave you a mind to think this thing through,” said the bishop. “He gave you legs to walk away. So God is working with us in so many ways. He’s working through us with those who come and save us when we’re in danger … He’s always answering our prayers. We have to see him with us and we pray that he walks with us and protects everyone from dangers of storms … but not forget we depend on his power.”  

He ended his homily by saying we need the attitude that we need God’s help to keep us strong and focused, and to depend upon him, “to trust that God is with us.”  

“Remember, when he got up immediately and he stilled the storm and he said, ‘Why are you so terrified? Where is your faith?’ ” said Bishop Duca. “They still didn’t get that Jesus was God, but they started getting it after this.  

“So let us pray for God to protect us and let us acknowledge, even now in our difficulties, when we are helped, let us give thanks to God, whether it comes from a person, a grace, a moment of inspiration, through a healing, let us pray to God and thank God to know he is with us, he is not asleep.”