Voice from the Earthquake

(Homily for Second Sunday of Lent, Year C)

Lent is the time of God's mercy. It's not so much that we seek him, but he seeks us. Our efforts are puny - and, let's be honest, we run from God. But he does not give up on us. To illustrate I'd like to tell a story - a true one. After the Ash Wednesday earthquake, I'm sure you can readily identify with it.

It happened during the earthquake that struck Northwest Armenia on December 7, 1998. With a 6.9 magnitude* the quake flattened buildings and killed some 25,000 people.

In the muddled chaos a distressed father bolted through the winding streets leading to the school where his son had gone earlier that morning. The man could not stop thinking about the promise he had given his son many times.

"No matter what happens, Armand, I'll always be there."

He reached the site where his son's school had been but saw only a hill of rubble. He just stood there at first fighting back tears...and then took off stumbling over debris running toward the east corner where he knew his son's classroom had been.

With nothing but bare hands he started digging, desperately pulling bricks and pieces of wall plaster. One of the bystanders said, "Forget it, mister, they're all dead."

He looked up and replied, "You can criticize me or you can help lift these bricks" but only a few pitched in, and most of them gave up once their muscles began to ache. But the man couldn't stop thinking about his son, so he kept digging and digging...for hours and hours.

12 hours went by..... 18 hours..... 24 hours..... 36 hours......... and finally into the 38th hour he heard a muffled groan from under a piece of wallboard. The man grabbed the board, pulled it back and cried, "Armand!" and from the darkness came a slight, shaking voice, "Papa?" Other weak voices began calling out as the young survivors stirred beneath the still uncleared rubble. Gasps and shouts of bewildered relief came from the few onlookers and parents who remained.

They found 14 of the 33 students still alive. When Armand finally emerged he tried to help dig until all his surviving classmates were out. Everybody standing there heard him as he turned to his friends and said, "See, I told you my father wouldn't forget us."

Dr. Scott Hahn recounts this story in his wonderful book A Father Who Keeps His Promises. He concludes with this sentence: "That's the kind of faith we need, because that's the kind of Father we have."

The Ash Wednesday earthquake made us aware what we call terra firma is not so firm. Our material wealth - houses, cars, etc. - depend on what holds them in place. A lady in our congregation works on the fiftieth floor of the Columbia Tower. She described how that huge building rocked back and forth well after the earthquake ceased. While so grateful for seismic retrofitting, we recognize what a flimsy foundation we stand on. That realization can make us seek something which will last. You saw that on Ash Wednesday evening. Many more people came to our Masses than last year! To have our lives shaken up is not such a bad thing.

Jesus gives a glimpse this Sunday of a truly firm foundation. He revealed his glory to Peter, James and John - but also the cross. It confounds every human expectation because it is God's wisdom. St. Paul warns that "many conduct themselves as enemies of the cross." (Phil 3:18) That is, they place their hopes in things of this world. He mentions specifically the pleasures of eating, but we could add others like an investment porfolio or a buff body. It's so easy for us to get sidetracked, anything but the cross.

But we are "citizens of heaven." (3:20) As pastor of a parish with many immigrants, I often hear people say how they miss their country - the food, the rivers, the sunsets, family members and friends. Do we long for our homeland? All of us feel a nostalgia, a sadness to deep to express. You can run from it or try to understand why it is there. It's an ache for where we belong. Advertisers try to convince us we could find it by just "getting away from it all." That's partly true - except the place is not on this fragile globe. Lent teaches there is but one way home - thru Jesus and his cross.


*Seattle's earthquake was 6.8 which "acted like a 5.8."

Spanish Version

From Archives (Year C homilies for 2nd Sunday of Lent):

First Things: Children (2016)
Home of the Homesick (2013)
Freedom from False Gods (2010)
Chosen (2007)
They Spoke of His Exodus (2004)
Voice from the Earthquake (2001)
Enemies of the Cross (1998)

Homilies for Second Sunday of Lent ("Transfiguration Sunday")

2016: First Things: Children
2015: New Mind and Heart Week 2
2014: Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 2
2013: Home of the Homesick
2012: The Convenant with Noah Today
2011: Sons of Abraham
2010: Freedom from False Gods
2009: A Glimpse of the Mystery
2008: Visit of Fr. Peter West
2007: Chosen
2006: Trust
2005: A Confrontation with Evil
2004: They Spoke of His Exodus
2003: Exposing a Modern Myth
2002: The Boston Scandal: A Lenten Reflection
2001: Voice from the Earthquake
2000: A Million Dollars for Your TV
1999: God or Gods of Culture?
1998: Enemies of the Cross

Homily for Transfiguration 2006: The Son of Man
..........2000: What Lies Beneath

Other Sunday Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

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Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru

Bulletin (Earthquake, Courage Anniversary, Letter on NFP & Breastfeeding)


40 Days for Life (Everett, WA)

Q&A about Planned Parenthood