While fires in southern California continue to threaten thousands of homes, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles reflected that God can be found even amidst the violent flames, if we just listen for his message.

“Always it is the same question: Where is God to be found when natural disasters strike and bad things happen to good people?” he said in a Dec. 12 column, published at Angelus News, the archdiocese’s multimedia publication.

“God is speaking in every moment, in every circumstance. But sometimes he speaks in a whisper. He asks us to listen, to have ears to hear.”

The Thomas Fire began on Dec. 4 in Steckel Park, near St Thomas Aquinas College in southern California. Within nine hours, strong winds pushed the fire to engulf 31,000 acres, moving at a rate of an acre per second, CNN reported.  

The fire has destroyed more than 237,000 acres and more than 1,000 structures. More than 95,000 residents have been evacuated. The fire was only 25 percent contained as of Tuesday night and still poses a risk to thousands of structures in the Ventura and Santa Barbara County regions.

“The stories of loss are heartbreaking – families and small business owners who have lost everything,” said the archbishop.  

These disasters often force people to turn to faith and science for answers, he said, noting how the fire has also prompted his own reflection of scripture.

Gomez recalled the story of the prophet Elijah’s encounter with God on the holy mountain. The prophet found that “the Lord was not in the fire,” but was in a “tiny whispering sound” after the flames went out. To encounter the Lord, he had to listen carefully.

In a similar way, the archbishop said, natural disasters can contain a message about the preciousness of life, which if heard, allows for greater solidarity in the suffering community.
 
While there can sometimes be a human tendency to separate ourselves from those in pain, he said, disasters break down the barriers of pride and enable opportunities for “extraordinary heroism and ordinary human kindness.”

“The Lord is in the fire!” Gomez proclaimed, noting that he has seen the presence of God in the volunteers of organizations like Catholic Charities and the St. Vincent De Paul Society.

“He is there in all these stories of sharing and self-sacrifice, in all those who are opening their homes to strangers, in all those who are risking their lives to save others.”

God has asked his people to comfort the vulnerable, he said, and encouraged Christians to be the ones who stand by the afflicted, weep with the sorrowful, and help rebuild the broken.

Turning to the Blessed Mother, he asked her to intercede for California that the community may recognize the whisper of the Lord.

Read the full text of Archbishop Gomez's column here.