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Bishop's Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

August 13, 2023

On Sunday, August 13, I celebrated Mass at Sacred Hearts Church, Kapalua, one of the churches of Maria Lanakila Parish in Lahaina, Maui. I was accompanied by the pastor, Father Kuriakose Nadooparambil, MF; the Maui-Lanai vicar forane, Msgr. Terrence Watanabe; the former pastor, Father Gary Colton; and the former parochial vicar, Father Robert Ni Ni, MF. It was a very sad occasion, during which we drove past the rubble of Lahaina town to reach Kapalua. We listened to the stories of those who are grieving family members and neighbors, who lost their homes and their livelihoods, and who are still reaching out to those in need in whatever way they can. Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters who were so devastated by the recent fires in Lahaina. Here is the homily I preached at Mass.

[Sacred Hearts Church, Kapalua (Sunday following the catastrophic fire in Lahaina)]

Strong and heavy wind; earthshaking events; fire – these are all realities with which you are very familiar because of the devastating fire earlier this week. The voice of God was not in any of these things, because they were so destructive, destroying lives, homes, and livelihoods for thousands of people. And like the prophet Elijah, we are gathered here today, after having experienced these dramatic events, to hear a tiny whispering sound, the voice of God, who assures us of his love and care for us, despite whatever horrors or tragedies may befall us. We are here to worship the God who never abandons us, but who embraces us with his whispers of comfort, love and care. And despite the difficulties you have had in sending and receiving communications to others outside this devastated community, know that God’s hand is moving in thousands of people throughout Hawaii, the United States, and the world in reaching out to you in this greatest hour of need. Countless prayers have been offered for you, and donations and services for recovery and rebuilding are pouring in. We gather to give thanks that this whisper of God’s love is stronger than the noise and drama of any disaster.

As we hear about Jesus walking on water in the midst of a terrible storm, we might ask ourselves: Which is easier: to walk on water; or to suffer through the terrible grief that comes with the loss of so many loved ones and neighbors? Which is easier: to walk on water, or to rebuild a ruined city? Which is easier: to walk on water, or to restore the livelihoods that have been lost to this terrible devastation? Yet Jesus assures us that not only he, who is God, can walk on water, but that even a human being like Peter can walk on water. Yes, Peter lost his faith for a moment, but he had the good sense to call to the Lord, who saved him. We, too, can walk on water and accomplish all those other things that seem to be so impossible – if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He can calm the storms, give us the ability to accomplish miraculous deeds, and keep us afloat when we think we are drowning in the overwhelming misery that surrounds us.

This is not to say that we will not have our moments of anger, hurt, and great frustration. As Paul speaks about the people of Israel and their adoption as beloved children of God, we must remember that the word “Israel” means “one who wrestles with God.” We may very well have questions about how a good and loving God could allow such tragedy to affect so many lives. We may have doubts about his goodness. His tiny, whispering voice may very well be drowned out by grief, anxiety, and frustration. Yet, it is important at these times to wrestle with God. We should not give God the silent treatment. When we are angry or frustrated or hurt, we should feel free to express these feelings to God. He can take it! He will still love us. And he will stretch out his hand to catch us from drowning in our sorrow.

And we who have the blessing of believing in God and in the power of the Lord Jesus also have a responsibility to stand in the midst of winds, earthquakes, and fires of grief and frustration to amplify for all our brothers and sisters this tiny voice of God that indicates his never-failing presence and care for us. It is in focusing on Jesus and his voice that we can walk on water and accomplish the healing and recovery that to many seem impossible. In the midst of our own grief and sorrow, we lift our voices in praise so that this whispering voice of God will be our guide and our hope.