This has been a tough week for millions of people. Sandy ran through here like a truck, but she took on the Jersey Shore like a bulldozer. Doan and I went to Monmouth Beach this past Wednesday to check on my parent’s house and bring some provisions to the firehouse, but even living through the Nor’easter of ’92, even after seeing pictures and even video of the destruction, I wasn’t prepared for what we saw. We stood in familiar places, in places where I had lived and worked and played for three decades, and I couldn’t find my bearings. I remember after 9/11, everyone talked about getting lost for the first time in the city because they couldn’t just look up and orient themselves after the World Trade Center. This was similar; sometimes I had to look all the way around to find something concrete to orient myself. The saddest part about it was that where we were wasn’t nearly as bad as the places you couldn’t even get to.
Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus told us today. There is a lot of mourning going on right now, mourning over the loss of property, of memories, mourning the loss of a way of life, and, of course, mourning the loss of life. As I was writing this, the death toll was at 109 and expected to rise quickly as rescue efforts turned into recovery efforts. 38 people were killed in New York alone. The economic toll is now estimated to be $50 billion, with a B. The Diocese put out a list of every parish in the diocese, and next to their names it listed the status of the parish. Some, like Bordentown, put their damage down as ‘not appreciable’ (or I wish they did; I’m the only one who used the word appreciable); others, like St. Elizabeth’s by the Sea in Ortley Beach, were listed as ‘gone’. Bordentown was relatively lucky: lots of trees down, power is still out for some in the city and in the area, which has made life miserable for a lot of people.
Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus told us. Why? Because they will be comforted. Before, during, and after the storm, there were signs of comfort. The sheer number of you all who called or texted or emailed us to make sure we were OK or to see if the parish was OK or to ask if anyone else had needs was a comfort in itself. The Parish provided lunch for the firefighters over at Consolidated on Monday, food and supplies to the firefighters, police, and EMTs in Monmouth Beach on Wednesday, and monetary support to the firefighters and EMTs at Hope Hose Humane on Thursday, who were serving hot meals and a bit of warmth and fellowship to city residents without power or heat. I’ve gotten countless calls and emails from friends and acquaintances, high-school buddies and fellow priests, looking for ways to support the victims on the Shore. Fellow parishioners have been a big part in setting up and providing food and services to the shelters that have been opened around us for our neighbors and for people coming in from the Shore.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Comfort may have to wait for some, as the process of mourning the loss of life and property will and must go on for some time. I thought about that loss, that mourning, as I stood at the altar this Friday, at the Mass for All Souls, and prayed that the Lord give courage and faith to those who are bereaved, that they may have strength to meet the days ahead in the comfort of a reasonable and holy hope, in the joyful expectation of eternal life with those they love. And that may be where some of our neighbors finally find the comfort that Jesus is talking about today, in the expectation and consummation of eternal life.
There are ways to become part of the comfort, to be among the blessed merciful that Jesus also talked about today, to be a saint today. It’s as simple as turning to your neighbor to see how they are doing or dropping by the shelter to see how you can provide assistance to those in need. Grace-St. Paul’s is taking needed goods down to Toms River, and we will be taking the same to Monmouth Beach. Episcopal Relief and Development is giving targeted donations to victims at the Shore, and I’m partial to the Salvation Army, which saved my behind in the Nor’easter or ’92. But first, and always first, pray. Pray that in times of disaster and calamity we will be a help and not a hindrance; pray that some sense of quietness may be restored on the Shore; pray for those who have worked and will work tirelessly to support the victims of the hurricane, many of whom are victims themselves; and finally, pray for those who mourn, that they may find comfort and hope in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came so that those who mourn may not only be comforted, but blessed.