The series of recent natural disasters has brought devastation to Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Many lost their homes and loved ones to flooding, hurricanes and earthquakes. For those who survived, it will take years to rebuild their lives and cope with the loss. However, Mary’s suffering demonstrates that the same love and faith in God that she experienced will also help people of faith persevere through any tragedy that the world may present.
“As Catholics, and based on our faith, we are called to hope even in those times when it’s challenging,” says Lesa Truxaw, director for the Office of Worship at the Diocese. “We also have our ancestors in faith to look to that help us understand challenges and adversity and what it’s like to be people of faith and hope in the context of that. Look at the Psalms, look at scripture stories. Those types of resources can give us that sense of hope.”
The same hope also calls Catholics to give praise and thanksgiving to God even during challenging times. Recognizing our blessings during a tragedy is difficult but is necessary to navigate the darkness.
“Every time we come together for Mass, we give thanks because the Mass is the great prayer of thanksgiving. Even when we come together for a funeral Mass we thank God for the blessings that he’s given us and we ask God’s help to get us through the tragedy of a disaster or the circumstances that we’re in,” says Deacon Michael Shaffer, who serves at St. Angela Merici Parish in Brea. He and his wife Rachel run a bereavement support group at the parish twice a month and work with individuals who are grieving the loss of their family. He is also an advanced planning counselor for Catholic Cemeteries in the Diocese.
In dark times, despair is an overwhelming feeling and finding the words to form a prayer of gratitude can be difficult. Deacon Shaffer recommends the “Glory Be” as a simple yet meaningful prayer of thanksgiving.
“Whether we’re having a great day or a lousy day or if someone has just died, we need to remember to give thanks because if we don’t remember that God is involved in our lives then we can lose hope,” he says.
Truxaw agrees that traditional prayers are the best options to refer to when people are at a loss for words.
“We rely on traditional prayers at times when we don’t have the words to pray, like praying the rosary, something that is embedded in us. They are so much a part of us,” she says. “They can be something that we can go to at those times when we don’t seem to have words or aren’t creative and are having a hard time. Focusing on Mary the Blessed Mother and what she went through in her times of sorrows and how she was sustained can be helpful in praying the rosary. Also, the ‘Our Father’ when Christ, with the trials and tribulations that he had to go through, showed us how to pray the ‘Our Father’ is a great resource for us as well.”
Deacon Shaffer also recommends the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, which calls Catholics to action – “for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned and it is dying that we are born to eternal life.” Corporal and spiritual works of mercy are part of Catholic teaching and in times of tragedy, these actions show God’s mercy and compassion to those in greatest need. One such local example is of students at St. Anne Parish School in Santa Ana who organized a Relaxed Dress Day where students donated $2 each towards repairs to St. Catherine of Siena School in Port Arthur, Texas. The students raised $500 for the Texas school that suffered damages from the catastrophic flooding on August 27. The students are also planning another fundraiser to help victims of a series of violent earthquakes that affected Mexico City in September.
“Another way that I would suggest that people start their thanksgiving prayer is by opening as we always do with the Sign of the Cross and then ask everybody at the table to thank God for one thing in their life,” recommends Truxaw. “That is a wonderful way to start our traditional blessing prayer for these and all of the gifts that we’re thankful for. That would be a great way of making the prayer special and personalized for that family.”