Three days before Jesus Christ was brutally executed, He sat on top of Mount Olivet and patiently explained the process of universal and Church history through the ages (Matt. 24), from the viewpoint of Divine Providence. Among the more striking images of His multi-faceted vision, He saw the various natural disasters that would befall mankind and, moreover, foretold the terrible destruction of His beloved city of Jerusalem.
These events and visions contrast sharply with the triumphal, euphoric scenes, which we associate with Palm Sunday. On that morning, He left the home of His friend Lazarus and his two sisters in Bethany and climbed Mount Olivet. As He went down the western slope, the dazzling spectacle of Jerusalem with its white and gold-capped palaces and the fabulous Temple came into view. But instead of joy, a profound sadness came over Him, which caused Him to weep, for He saw forty years into the future that a massive Roman army would surround the city and smash it to pieces.
The eminent Jesuit exegete Cornelius À Lapide commented (Luke 19:41-44), that the chastisement for Jerusalem was for its unbelief, obstinacy and ingratitude. Father Cornelius continues that it was as if Christ had said, “For three years have I taught and preached in thy towns and villages; I have healed thy lepers, thy sick, thy possessed; I have restored thy dead to life. Why do you not return the love of one who so loves thee, but scorns and destroys Him as an enemy.” So at the very beginning of Christianity, we have evidence of Christ’s intervention in history.
I was a Sunday-church going-Catholic brought up in a Protestant household during World War II. I don’t recall the matriarch of the family ever going to church except for Halloween and Christmas parties in the basement, yet because of her Protestant culture, the concept of the will of God pervaded my entire ambience there. Today that understanding has been destroyed by Hollywood and television and has been replaced by sexual license and tolerance of all wrongdoing, which brings on the terrible conflicts in society because the will of God has not changed. For as the psalmist has said, “Veritas Domini manet in eternam”; The truth of the Lord remains forever.
The Month of May
Since we have been discussing God’s self-proclaimed sorrow over our ingratitude and His subsequent warnings, prudence demands that we explore the possibility that some recent events fall into that category. Many of the disasters during the recent month of May were among the worst that the affected area had ever experienced, but in accumulation the incredible number reached unprecedented proportions.
In fact the year began with tragedies, some of which are now all but forgotten because of the steady stream of constant and ever-increasing troubles. On January 12th, Haiti marked the anniversary of an earthquake, that took hundreds of thousands of lives, by seeing almost no progress in alleviating the enormous suffering that resulted. Piles of rubble still clog the streets and a million people still lived in makeshift refugee camps, which contributed to the cholera outbreak two months earlier.
Australia was swamped by floodwaters that devastated an area the size of Germany and France combined. In Brazil days of heavy rains unleashed tons of earth and rock causing giant mudslides in a large area north of Rio de Janeiro that killed over 600. On March 11th, 2011, those with access to the Internet watched in horror as a thirty-foot Tsunami from an earthquake roared over numerous villages in northeast Japan. The powerful waves knocked a train off its tracks and days later was still missing. The economic impact will affect the country for months.
The May tragedies actually began four days earlier when killer tornadoes cut a swath of devastation through six states from Mississippi to Virginia with Tuscaloosa and Birmingham in central Alabama the hardest hit. In the former city, with winds of over 200 miles per hour, the tornado caused so much damage that meteorologists called it “the hand of God.” Newspapers and personal documents were found in Gadsden, Alabama a hundred miles away. As the death toll reached 320, experts called it the worst single-day outbreak of killer tornadoes in U.S. history.
Earlier in the month, the Mississippi River at the confluence of the Ohio rose to uncontrollable levels that threatened the safety of all life on both shores. Particularly vulnerable was Cairo, Illinois, a town of 3,000 sitting on a point between the two massive waterways. To alleviate the pressure of a possible inundation of a possible eighteen to twenty feet of water on the town, the Army Corps of Engineers blew a two-mile-wide hole in a protecting levee. Cairo was saved, but at a price of flooding 130,000 acres of prime farmland and homes of 200 people. One fourth-generation farmer lost millions of dollars of buildings and equipment. And so the record flood rolled on down the Mississippi through Tennessee, Arkansas, the state of Mississippi to the frequent victim of tragedies: Louisiana, all suffering similar problems. This story is far from over, for the Missouri River which flows into the Mississippi above St. Louis is now rising to near record levels—déjà vu.
One more note and then we will end. At 5:41 Sunday afternoon, May 22nd, another twister hit Joplin, Missouri killing well over a hundred people—at a certain point why bother to count. One young man with a future in show business was driving home from his high school graduation with his father. The deadly tornado bore down on the car and sucked him out of the sunroof. He was found days later in a nearby pond. The Catholic hospital was completely destroyed, the only other that was two blocks away resembled a war zone.
The nurse in charge of the critical care unit called the hospital for a report. “It’s bad,” a nurse told him. He hugged his wife and drove to work. What he saw when he arrived was horrible. Some waiting patients had missing limbs. One young man was holding his insides in his hands. A ten-year-old boy with a head wound struggled to breath… There is no need to continue—I think our point has been made.
In the next installment we will cover the doctrinal and historical aspects.