CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It was time for the first reading at Sunday’s 8 a.m. outdoor Mass that St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Charlotte has been holding during the pandemic.
It was a timely lesson from several verses in 1 Kings, which describe the experience of the prophet Elijah. The passage, in part, reads:
After the wind there was an earthquake — but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire — but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
Father Richard Sutter, pastor at St. Gabriel near SouthPark, said as the reader got to the earthquake verses, several attendees felt the ground shake.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the 5.1 magnitude earthquake struck at 8:07 a.m. with an epicenter near Sparta in Alleghany County, about 100 miles north of Charlotte. People across the Charlotte region and rest of the state reported feeling the rumble, rousing them from bed or their morning routines.
While he didn’t feel it himself, Sutter said parishioners came up to him as soon as the service ended. Some may call it a coincidence — or “God-incidence” as Sutter put it — but the priest said the jarring moment can be a lesson for this time.
“When there’s fear from an earthquake, when there’s fear from a storm, when there’s fear from a pandemic and uncertainty... you have to let the Lord speak to us the truth,” he said.
In fact, Catholics around the globe read the same passage from 1 Kings that weekend, planned well in advance of Sunday’s quake.
‘A GOOD MESSAGE’
Closer to the epicenter, Father Cory Catron was preparing for another Sunday of services since becoming pastor for churches in Sparta and nearby Jefferson in late July. He was in Jefferson, about 25 miles from Sparta, when the church doors and windows shook.
It made for “good homily material,” he said with a laugh, the levity possible because the church was unscathed and parishioners reported only minor property damage.
As the 11:15 a.m. Mass in Sparta came to a close and Catron offered a final blessing, they experienced one of several aftershocks, he said. The USGS registered a 1.8 magnitude earthquake at 11:45 a.m., centered about 5 miles from Sparta.
“The ceiling creaked for like three seconds, and everybody kind of looked up and immediately we knew what it was,” he said.
Catron said the timely passage from scripture teaches that in this time of pandemics, financial worry and natural disasters, to slow down.
“God is found in the stillness and God is found in the silence,” he said. “We have to cultivate that silence, which is a very difficult thing to do.
“It’s a good message that it doesn’t matter how how strange and messed up and scary everything can be, that God is still present to us.”