Friday, November 18, 2011

Climate in Washington

I just returned from preaching a parish mission in Seattle.

I asked myself on the plane ride back, "What did you learn from this experience?"

The most surprising bit of information was about Seattle's weather. I had the idea that Washington state had cold and very snowy winters. The residents of Edmonds, Washington, just north of Seattle, corrected my misconception.

They told me that they have relatively mild winters (compared to Ohio), and that they seldom get more than two inches of snow at a time. (They were quick to add that weather was different on the east side of the state. There it snowed more and got lots colder.)

I did a little research and found this puzzzling description: "Because the Cascade Mountains run parallel to the coast the entire length of the state, Washington is divided into two distinct climates. The western third has a temperate rain forest climate, while the eastern two-thirds of the state is warmer and drier."

Just a short walk into one of the parks in north west Washington confirmed that it was rain forest. The moss grows on all sides of the trees!

I hadn't expected Washingtonians (at least the people along Puget Sound) to be so concerned about snow, but as several said, "We gotta lot of hills around here, and it doesn't take much snow to make our streets treacherous and our roads impassable."

I'll remember that when the white stuff piles up on the Queen City. There will be a momentary experience of pride when I reflect that we Buckeyes can negotiate the icy conditions with more daring and success than our compatriots in the Evergreen State.

Though conversations about the weather were frequent and sometimes animated, and though I had to change my faulty perceptions about the climate, I did learn again (as so many times before and everywhere else), we Catholics are all trying to cope with similar situations, problems, and hopes no matter where we live.

It is common for us to ask, "Why? Why does God allow some people to suffer so much more than others?"

"Why does the Church (read 'Church leadership') so often fail us and focus on the institution rather than on the Kingdom?"

"Why are so many nominal Catholics choosing not to participate in Sunday Mass?"

"What can I do to grow in my spiritual life?"

Preaching a parish mission is an opportunity to probe some of the questions, acknowledge the human dimension, and offer encouragement and direction for our ongoing conversion.

The weather may differ in one part of the country from another. The people may be better educated in one setting than in another. The economy may be more secure in one region over another.

But in the basics, the people, whether they are Catholics in California, Florida, New York, Louisiana, or Toledo, Ohio, are very much alike.

Every parish I have visited has a dedicated core of members, taking on, whether as employees or volunteers, the mission of the Church in their locale. They welcome and share their faith with potential converts in the RCIA program. They teach religion to children and adults. They care for the daily needs of liturgy, building maintenance, fundraising, outreach to the poor.

They and many of their fellow parishioners are open to growing in their understanding of God and in their relationship with Jesus Christ.

If Washington's climate was one of the new things I learned during this recent parish mission experience, one of the old and consistent was that the People of God, no matter where they are, share a common heritage and hope.

More than a little rain falls in western Washington and the state deserves its "Evergreen" sobriquet.

But beyond the weather, the religious and spiritual climate seems to be as full of the mystery and searching and loving that must characterize the Kingdom of God.

They do not always have the answers, but I think it is safe to say that many are at least asking the right questions.

Their confidence in God allows them to say (at least on occasion), "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

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