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Saturday, April 30, 2011

“God, there’s debris . . .”

Since I was a kid, I wanted to be a tornado chaser. Later, as a teen, well after I left the Church—after Confirmation when I thought I was too smart to be Catholic—I was certain I was going to be a meteorologist. There was always something about the drama of the weather—the soaring height of the meteorological heavens, the power, the beauty—that made me want to study it, observe it, be part of it.

Last week, after some of the worst tornado outbreaks in our nation’s history, I was stunned at the damage and the profound, unyielding human suffering that these storms brought to so, so many. Then I watched the videos posted by storm chasers. This one especially, about a minute into it:

I am no longer sure that I wish to be a voyeur of other people’s deaths, or the loss of their homes, businesses and communities.

Having grown in my faith these many years, I can not watch the power of nature as an uninvolved viewer. Sure, Catholic theologians, such as St. Bonaventure, have shown us that God’s truths reverberate throughout all creation. And so I understand why (whether they know it or not) tornado chasers seek and, in a way, find God in the amazing power of the heavens.

But is this fascination with the destructive forces of nature really a worthy way to satiate our innate longing for the transcendent and the all-powerful? And is all that videotaped debris flying about not the lives, homes, and loves of our unknown neighbors?

None of this is aimed at any particular individual. The work that many chasers do is valuable; it helps researchers better understand these beasts, information that could someday save lives. But I do pray that all this amazement becomes more than entertainment. I pray it brings us to a response of love when we cross paths with the suffering of our neighbors. To begin with, you can donate here to Catholic Charities USA's disaster fund.

And we can also pray to the God of creation and mercy, for all those who lost their lives, their loved ones, or their homes . . . for those who will never look at the sky the same way again.

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