Letters from Seminary: Hebert

We need ‘Catholic Navy’ to seek out, serve suffering

Published: October 21, 2017

By Deacon Jeff Hebert
Diocesan Seminarian

Since my last letter, I have been on the move. When my summer assignment at St. Joseph’s in Conway ended in August, I began to look toward my final year of seminary formation. I was eager to complete the year well so that I could return to Arkansas and get to work in the Lord’s favorite part of his vineyard.

I knew that a brief rest with my family down in Houston would help me get ready for my trip back to seminary in Rome. I was even planning on baptizing a close friend’s new son while I was back in town. Unfortunately for me and for many others, Hurricane Harvey made those things impossible.

Thanks be to God that my family was spared any damage to our health and homes, but we were surrounded by thousands of other families who suffered a great deal. The flood waters made it impossible to travel by car, and that baptism was canceled.

As I am sure you saw on the news, many people were on foot or fleeing on boats to escape the rising waters. When I couldn’t sit idle any longer in my dry home, I began walking through the flooded areas of our neighborhood looking for opportunities to help.

Again, thank God that many of the people affected in my neighborhood were prepared to remain safe and healthy even with the flood waters covering mailboxes and entering homes. The most I could do was help people gather up food and important documents as they left their homes to stay with friends or relatives.

It was a strange mix of helplessness and urgent activity.

At one point I looked around me to see dozens of people in the streets. Some were merely observing the waters. Others were busy packing up. Some were standing in their doorways in anxious wonder at the rising waters.

Many, however, were strangers who had just come to lend a hand. In other parts of town, ordinary men and women were simply responding to the needs of their neighbors. The “Cajun Navy” from Lafayette, La., and many others from beyond Houston simply drove into town. At the first sight of flood waters, they got in their boats and went searching for people, strangers, to help.

My brother and his son went to a temporary shelter to volunteer, and they were turned away because there were too many people willing to help. When the waters finally receded, the streets were absolutely packed with trucks and volunteers helping people clean out their damaged homes. It was a beautiful work of assistance and generosity springing forth from our complicated and wounded society.

There is certainly a great deal of natural good remaining in our hearts.

On my flight back to Rome, all of this got me thinking about the mission of the Church. Here is our society acting individually and together, despite its divisions, wounds and conflicts, for the good of the poor and afflicted among us.

That social instinct is good, very good even, but what could it look like when it is transformed and elevated by the merciful love of Jesus? What if there was a “Catholic Navy” constantly seeking people out in the flood waters of everyday life?

The truth is that whether it is a hurricane, a lost loved one, a tough day at work or a struggling relationship, many people feel that strange mix of helplessness and urgent activity. Imagine the thanks we could give to God if we sought them out to suffer with them as we ferried them through the waters.

I guess that is a good place to begin my final year of seminary studies, and I hope God can help us all make it a reality.

Deacon Jeff Hebert is a seminarian for the Diocese of Little Rock, studying at the North American College in Rome. He is scheduled to be ordained a priest in May 2018.