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San Brunos Inferno: Accountability and acceptance
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Friday morning, I went online early to check for emails.  With a court date at 9:30 a.m. in Irvine, nearly 25 miles away from my lodging, I wanted to prepare better to take on the large financial corporation whose practices had led to severe losses on my part.  But as the Yahoo homepage opened up, I was shocked to behold what had happened Thursday in San Bruno.

There, photograph after photograph drew me in to the horror of a massive explosion and fire which claimed some fifty homes and at least four lives.

My host family informed me that apparently PG&E had delayed their response to complaints that the smell of natural gas was increasing in the area.  In fact, the not-so-customer-friendly monopoly had already been cited for failure to respond in an adequate and timely fashion to reports of similar leaks, and in the case of San Bruno, this devastating inferno may well have been preventable.  As my host and I drove the 40-minute route to the legal proceedings in Irvine, I couldn’t help feel a certain resentment towards heavily-financed companies who consider themselves beyond accountability, who build their empires on the backs of their customers.

San Bruno has a special place in my heart.  I began frequenting the town in 1988, when I moved to Daly City and began working with members of the Church of St. Bruno on a variety of programs.  In fact, I used to stay in a home within blocks of the epicenter of the explosion, where now only a dismal crater remains.  Dozens of times I drove along Skyline Boulevard and would run there, or along a nearby trail.   From time to time I’d leave my car in that neighborhood while away on journeys via United Air Lines.

When I left the Missionaries of Charity in July of 1993 to explore moving to a Catholic diocese in California, my first Bay Area stop was San Bruno.

There, two young men have been allegedly receiving messages from the Blessed Mother since 1994, shortly after my return.  Their testimonies are accessible online.  Through them Mary has reportedly been offering encouragement, guidance, and admonitions.  I personally haven’t followed their messages in detail, but am sure that many of those who have will see in San Bruno’s tragedy a sign that the warnings ought to be taken seriously.

We don’t need miraculous messages from heaven to wake up to the fact that we live on a dangerous planet.  Whether the threat to our safety and well-being come from beneath the ground, as in earthquakes or volcanoes (or in aging pipes for natural gas) or from beneath the sea, as in the Gulf of Mexico’s BP ecological debacle, or from beneath the multiple layers of the human psyche, we need to maintain a constant vigil.  Disaster can strike at any moment.  Our job is to do all we can to prevent it from striking at home.

Yet strike it will.  I recall vividly that fateful day a gas leak spawned a big fireball that launched out of an oven directly into my face.  As the flames singed my hair and left second-degree burns on my head, hands and knees, in the midst of the less printable words I was yelling at the time, my ever-clear mind was thinking, “This could have been prevented.”  In fact, I was the only person who’d complained about the smell of natural gas leaking.

I can only begin to imagine what excruciating pain the living victims of San Bruno’s catastrophe are enduring now.  Some sustained extensive burns.  Others lost beloved friends or family members.  Some watched their homes go up in flames, then burn to the ground.  Others stood by helpless, as their tranquil neighborhood was being turned to a pile of ashes.

At some point, the demand for accountability must yield, if only for this Sunday, to the humble recognition that all of us are living in crystalline vessels of radical vulnerability.  Even our best efforts and most advanced experts cannot prevent or solve every crisis that arises in the seemingly endless struggle to survive in what is ultimately a hostile environment.

Creation is no longer as our Creator made it to be, and we will have to wait a long, long time to see it restored.  Even those who cry “Maranatha” - “Come, Lord Jesus”- know that God’s ultimate plan for this universe cannot be realized without a prolonged, painful process of purification.

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief,” warns St. Peter, “and on that day the heavens will vanish with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and all its deeds will be made manifest.” (2 Peter 3:10)

Rather than advise us how to escape what he considers inevitable, Peter draws this conclusion: “Since everything is to be destroyed in this way, what sort of men must you be!  How holy in your conduct and devotion, looking for the coming of the day of God and trying to hasten it!  Because of it, the heavens will be destroyed in flames and the elements will melt away in a blaze.  What we await are new heavens and a new earth where, according to his promise, the justice of God will reside.”  (2 Peter 3:11-13)

This means that, at least for this Sunday, rather than spending my time and energy calling down fire and brimstone on the companies that do people harm, I’m going to pray for the millions of victims whose worlds have come to an end and who must patiently await entry into the New Creation.