Isabel, the weather

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

September 17, 2003


            We have spent the last couple of days preparing for Hurricane Isabel.

            As I write the storm is 24 hours away. Fifty million people are right in its path. I hope that soon Isabel is only an exciting memory.

            We have done the prudent things. We parked the parish vehicles away from trees. We cleared our drains and gutters. We stowed anything that can get air born in high wind or float away in high water. We ran to the store for batteries. We filled our cars with gas and our tubs with water.

Beyond that, there is not much we can do, except pray.  While prayer is always a good idea, what should we pray for?

            People say things like, “Father, pray that the storm misses us.”  As if God steers hurricanes around because I ask Him to.

Do weather prayers make sense? 

When we are young we pray about the weather.  Kids around us pray for snow when they have tests. That is a prayer that might get answered here in the Middle Atlantic States, but not likely in Puerto Rico.

It is OK for children to pray that God give the weather you want, but when we grow up; we should get an adult’s idea about “weather prayers.” 

            Weather is part nature. It is governed by the laws of nature. We can affect it by our actions (e.g. causing the greenhouse effect) but we cannot change it by wishing for it.

            Of course miracles, can and do happen. The disciples saw Jesus calm the Sea of Galilee. They said, “Who is this that the wind and the waves obey Him?”  But the point of the story is that the wind and waves obeyed Him, not us. The laws of nature obey the will of God, the author of nature.

            But we in the Catholic Church accept the idea that “God’s will” is reflected in the laws of nature. That is partly (though not totally) what we mean by “natural law.”

We accept the laws of nature, which we discern in the study of physics, chemistry, biology, geology and the other natural sciences. Our job is to try to understand these laws and use them to our benefit in medicine or meteorology or the other scientific arts.

We do not expect that God should change the laws to suit us.  After all, God does not take orders from us. If He did, then we would be God and not He. Our job as believers is to try to discern the will of God and to live accordingly. The servant of God accepts the facts. He does not to try to become God.

            God could not possibly respond to all our conflicting weather desires. Last year, when we were building our church, I wanted dry weather so our contractor could work. We had the driest summer on record. It was great year for construction but a disaster for farmers. They wanted rain.

I don’t have any illusion that God favored contractors over farmers. He doesn’t take sides in the weather any more than He takes sides in football games.

            Prayer is about changing us, not God. By definition, God is the “unchanging” one. That is a good thing too, since we all rely on the stability of the laws of nature.

So what can we pray for in regard to the weather?

We can pray for people. We pray for courage to accept the storms of life and wisdom to learn from them. We pray for generosity to help those harmed, healing for the injured, comfort for those who mourn and peace for the dead. 

These are all prayers to changes us, not nature.

Hurricanes will always come our way. Like St. Francis of Assisi, we praise God for them and all  that nature brings.

We don’t expect God will change the path of hurricanes for us. We simply batten down the hatches and get out of the way.