Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Trust Demands Courage
Today’s Gospel presents a miracle that we moderns see as scientifically amazing. Jesus, a man, walks on water. Humans can’t do this. When we hear the response of the disciples, “You are certainly the Son of God,” we assume that the disciples were amazed at this physical proof that Jesus was more than just a man.
However, to the ancients of New Testament times, the miracle was greater than the overcoming of scientific laws. To them the seas and lakes stood for chaos. They were afraid of water. They believed that the seas and lakes contained turmoil that only God could control. They remembered that in the creation account in Genesis, God demonstrated his power by separating the seas and allowing the firmament to form. Only God could control the mighty power of the oceans. The Romans and Greeks, the most powerful nations the world had ever seen, joined the fear of the rest of the world and would never sail too far out of sight of land. They would rather hug the coast than sail across the Mediterranean. That is one of the reasons why it took two years for the Romans to take our patron, Ignatius, from Antioch to Rome. The sea was terrifying. It contained monsters like sharks and whales. It could be calm one moment and fierce the next. No one would challenge the water.
Jesus walked on the water. He was divine. He did that which only God could do. He tamed the waters.
He beckoned Peter to join him. And Peter walked on water. He was given the power of God to be greater than the sea. Peter walked on water. But he was not doing this under his own power. He was relying on the power of Jesus who was calling him to join him onto the sea. All was going well for Peter, but then he lost his focus on Christ. He began to be more concerned with his ability to conquer the turmoil than with his response to the Lord who called him to come to him.
Peter sank. Jesus saved him, and commented on the weakness of Peter’s faith. Peter began his aquatic adventure trusting in God. Then he began to trust in himself more than God. Before he knew it, he was drowning. He needed Jesus to reach out his hand and save him.
Sometimes our lives are so full of chaos and turmoil that we feel as though we are trying to walk on a terrible, turbulent ocean. School, work, finances, relationships, sickness, all add to our stress. We wonder how we are going to make it through it all. There are times we would just like to hide from everything. But we can’t. We have to leave the boat and respond to Jesus’ call to join him on the water. He conquers chaos and turmoil. We have to trust him.
A heroic example of this trust is seen in the life of the saint we celebrated last Wednesday, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, or as she is usually known, Edith Stein. Edith was a German Jew born in 1891. She was extremely intelligent and went on a quest for the Truth. She became a doctor of philosophy and taught at the University of Frieburg, a position rarely held by a woman in her day, and certainly never held by a woman who was also a Jew. Edith’s quest for truth led her to the writings of St. Teresa of Avila. She realized that she had to leave her ancestral traditions, leave the safety of the boat, and walk out to Jesus. She was baptized and taught at a school in Munster, Germany. Then the Nazis began rearing their head and enforcing anti Semitic laws. When she was forced to quit her teaching position, she felt the time was right for her to enter into a deeper union with the Lord. She became a Discalced Carmelite Nun in Cologne, Germany. By 1938, she realized that her presence in the convent in Cologne was putting the other nuns in jeopardy of being attacked by the Nazis for harboring Jews, so she and her sister, who had also become Catholic and joined the monastery, transferred to a convent in Echt, Netherlands. Four years later, in 1942, the Nazis raided the convent and sent the two nuns to what they said was a work camp in Poland for Jews. They sent them to Auschwitz. Edith died there 75 years ago Wednesday, August 9, 1942. Her life was one of total turst in the Lord. She walked to Him on the chaos of the sea, and was received by Him in the gas chamber of Auschwitz.
There are many examples of saints who gave their lives in heroic trust. There are also many examples of people who may not have attained heroic martyrdom, but who nevertheless live their faith in heroic trust.
Many of you have done this. You have taken a sick relative or friend into your home. You knew that this would bring turmoil, even chaos to your already turbulent life, but you heard the Lord calling you out of the boat, and you have walked to him, walking over the chaos.
Another example: A young man and woman take a step out of the security of their parents’ home into the new life that they must form with each other. If they are wise, they realize that they cannot make a happy marriage alone. They trust in the Lord and have Him in the center of their wedding and the marriage. Instead of a destination wedding outside of the Church, or a sunset wedding on a nice beach but without the sacramental presence of the Lord in the sacrament of matrimony, they get married in the Church and ask Christ to be the center of their new life. They walk over the water to Him who is calling them to be one with Him in marriage.
Or a young married couple trusts God to direct them in a new adventure which will radically change their lives. They are going to have a baby. To others this might seem to be a normal, everyday occurrence, but for them it is an adventure. This new life will be totally dependent on them. Every new mother and father ask themselves, can I do this? And they can, with God’s help they can raise a new member of His Kingdom. But they have to trust God to direct him through the challenges of life the new life within them or in that cradle will occasion.
Jobs change, new homes are sought in unknown places, the stability of the agrarian culture is remote history. At least three-quarters of our parish has changed in the 25 years that I have been pastor. People settle into the Tarpon Springs area determined to spend the rest of their lives here, but in just a few years their jobs demand that they move to Atlanta, New York, or wherever. There is turmoil, but Jesus is there, walking on the water of chaos, calling them to come to him and to trust in Him.
And they do trust in the Lord.
And we also trust in Him and in His power. We pray and put everything into his hands. We have to let him hold us up. We have to realize that we cannot succeed in being good people, good children and teens, good parents, having a good marriage, good priests, etc, we cannot succeed alone, in ourselves. We need the Lord. With him we can walk on water.
Even if we should falter, even if we should make mistakes, the Lord is still there for us, reaching out his hand, keeping us from being engulfed by chaos, smiling at our feeble attempts to trust in ourselves instead of Him, gently chiding us about our lack of faith.
There is nothing that life can throw at us that we cannot overcome with the Lord. Even death. Recently, I spoke with an elderly lady whose body was quitting on her. She told me that she was not afraid of dying because she has placed everything in God’s hands. If and when she dies, she will die in his arms.
He reaches to us and pulls us out of the turmoil, out of the chaos, out of the sea.
Today we pray for the courage to trust in the Lord.