"I have done no more than what was my duty"

Father John Baker, along with one other priest, deacon, and religious sisters, stayed in Key West to minister to souls during and after Irma barreled through

Friday night I received an email from a friend and pastor here in the Diocese of Providence. “Please keep [Father] John Baker in your prayers,” he wrote. “He won't evacuate because he wants to be available for his parishioners who can't evacuate.”

The news about Father Baker, the pastor of The Basilica of Saint Mary Star of the Sea in Key West, received national attention with this story in from Catholic News Service. According to the story,

Baker, who has weathered a number of storms, said he and another priest at the parish were staying “to be present” with those who stayed on the island.

… The basilica, built in 1904, has never been damaged by a hurricane.

I posted the news on Facebook, which prompted one friend to comment, “Not smart.”

Here was my response:

I was startled too when I first heard this Friday from a priest friend, who knows Father Baker well. But not so much now. Especially in light of today's Mass readings. I guess it's a different kind of smart than the worldly kind. Father Baker is from Rhode Island and is known by folks here. He's more well-known in Key West, where's he's been serving for some time. He's done this before—the parish has a long history of helping recovery efforts—spiritual and worldly. More than you and me, he knows the situation of his people and the place, knows who will leave and who won't, and who will come back as soon as the storm passes. He knows the value of being present to his people—of bringing Christ's grace, no matter what—and is not worried about his own life. It's that kind of smart. I wonder if I could ever be so brave and loving.

With climate change ramping up precipitation levels and storm strengths, the willingness of priests like Father Baker and his brother priest—and the deacon and religious sisters staying, too—exhibits a singular Christian response. A model for us all. Indeed, what they have done—what they have always done—is a small example of what disciples should do when storms come—physical storms, social storms, and personal and spiritual ones. We stay and live out the works of mercy. We bring Christ into the heart of destruction. We remain present.

Ultimately, we can’t run from this responsibility—especially in the times ahead as a warming world intensifies nature’s storms.

I asked my priest friend what he would say about the news of Father Baker’s decision. His reply:

“[H]aving known him now for forty years, I can tell you that he would simply quote Luke 17:10, 'I have done no more than what was my duty.'"

Our prayers go to all those in Florida as Irma roars across its western edge, and to all those harmed by her in the Caribbean. We add these prayers to those for all people affected by Harvey, and the floods of Bangladesh, and of Nigeria, and on the list goes—and those everywhere who stayed and helped.

May we disciples of Christ trust in God’s grace so that we, too, can be present to those harmed by the storms wrought both by nature and by men.


Update from the parish website:

HURRICANE IRMA

Fr. John and the Sisters have all weathered the storm without incident and are well.

They are truly appreciative of your constant prayer and are looking forward to celebrating Mass with everyone tomorrow morning (9/12/17), and every morning moving forward, in the Basilica at 7:30 AM.

Thanks be to God!


Photo: Flicker/Cayobo

About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.