My Father grew up during the Great Depression and like many of his generation, had an expression that he often would use whenever there seemed to be problems looming on the horizon; he used to say ‘Things always have a habit of working out”. In other words, don’t be consumed by fear. Often when we are in the midst of a personal crisis, we would give almost anything to be outside of it. Whether the problem is health, work-related, financial, or in personal relationships, we are sometimes tempted to turn to God and say, “can’t you just make this go away Lord?” But often, once we have weathered a storm, especially if we rely on God, we find that the crisis is not as bad as we envisioned it at first, and quite often, we find that we have been given a means of helping others, to minister to them in their crisis.
Our current concerns about the pandemic gripping the world, widespread civil unrest and violence, and famine in Africa; it all seems so overwhelming. Add to that the many ways the Church herself has been facing many crises; battered by storms from a selfish and materialistic outside world – battered from within by dissension and scandalous and sinful behaviour by some of her own members; but it is not the first time in the history of the Church that this has been the case. . Today’s Gospel passage gives us a glimpse into one of those earliest moments; and gives a blueprint for dealing with these crises.
We read today about the disciples waiting in a boat in the Sea of Galilee while Jesus is off praying alone. A sudden storm springs up and Jesus walks across the water to come to the disciples who are in peril.
The ferocity of this storm is evident in this reading, as we know some of the disciples, particularly Peter were well-experienced sailors and fishermen; and they were afraid; now, in the middle of a raging storm, they see someone walking across the water towards them and they start to panic, and begin to shout in fear ‘it’s a ghost’!
But Jesus continues to come to them, speaking words of comfort in the midst of the wind; he tells them ‘be not afraid’…’it is I”.
There is a difference between worldly wisdom and wisdom of the Holy Spirit; and as in so many other passages we see a mixture of both of these with St. Peter. First, he exercises prudence, a virtue and shows spiritual wisdom, rather than simply jumping into the sea; He calls out to Jesus, testing the spirit as it were, and says, Lord if it really is you, command me to come to you – Peter knows he cannot simply get out on his own and walk across the water to Jesus, but he has discerned well enough that if it is really Jesus calling Him, then the power of Jesus will be enough to uphold him on the waves;
Having shown spiritual wisdom, Peter , the experienced fisherman, then throws worldly wisdom completely aside and gets out of a secure boat into a raging storm; AND HE Actually begins to walk on water;
This is where Peter gets himself into trouble though; he feels the wind and the waves and realizes what’s happening; he starts to lose focus on who it was who called him out of the boat and onto the water, and starts focusing on the waves and wind and his own efforts; and as soon as he does that, he begins to sink.
Once again, Peter shows spiritual wisdom; rather than turning for the boat or shouting to the other disciples to throw him a rope, he calls out to Jesus “Lord Save me!” and the gospel says ‘Immediately” – Immediately Jesus reached out and caught him and saved him; Jesus brings him back to the boat, they get in, and the storm ceases. And at that point, all the other occupants of the boat, it says ‘worshipped him’.
The occupants of that boat on the Sea of Galilee at that point in history are the Church. And this little Church is in crisis – is being battered from the outside by the storm surrounding the little boat; it’s being battered inside too, as we see the how little trust many of them are showing in Jesus – They have all met Jesus, walked with Jesus, lived with Jesus; they have witnessed many of his miracles, have heard his teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven; and yet, when the entire Church is beaten about by a storm, the only one who is willing to step out of the boat in trust, because Jesus is calling him, is Peter; and so Jesus saves Him;
But it may seem curious, why did Jesus bring Peter back to the boat? Why not bring him to shore where it was safe, since Peter was the only one who had the courage to ‘get out of the boat’ in the middle of the storm in the first place?
Because now, Peter is back amongst the other members of the Church, and has a unique and intimate story of the saving power of Christ to share with them; Christ will continue to teach them, through Peter’s experience, through Peter’s WITNESS; it’s not hard to imagine that as time goes on, after this adventure, the other disciples would approach Peter with their own questions; Peter has been strengthened by Jesus Himself, and will share this experience and this lesson in faith with them, and from it, they will have the opportunity to grow and develop in their own faith and prayer life.
But all of this would be impossible, without the movement of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, in Peter’s life, and Peter’s willingness to be open to the power and the gifts of faith and hope and trust supplied by God through the Spirit.
God calls each of us to be with Him, to be holy; that is the general vocation of each and every human being on the face of the earth. Some respond, some do not. But even within this call to holiness, God calls each of us to a more intimate and specific relationship – to a particular role in helping others to grow in grace and faith and in the love of God; to witness to His love for all people; to testify to the strength He gives to each of us to follow Him.
I would really like to take a moment to share with you the story of one of my favourite saints, particularly as I think it illustrates the point of ministry in crisis, and his feast day is August 10th, this coming Monday. He is the patron saint of deacons,the poor, the blind, librarians, archivists, stained glass workers, school children, comedians, cooks, and many more . His name is St. Lawrence.
Lawrence was one of seven deacons of the church in Rome in the middle of the 3rd century. He was responsible for the common treasury, and took care to distribute funds to the poor of the city as they had need, and supported others in their ministry. During this time, a persecution broke out against the Church, and the emperor ordered that all bishops, priests and deacons were to be put to death. On August 7th the bishop of Rome, Pope Sixtus the II was arrested while saying Mass along with some of his deacons and was led away to be executed. Lawrence, who was following this group, was in tears – he had served Sixtus at the Mass and was grieving because he wanted to follow Christ, with his own bishop, to the very end, denying nothing in his service to Our Lord. And it appeared that he would not be granted a martyr’s death, would be left behind.
At this point, the prefect of Rome was going to spare Lawrence, in exchange for Lawrence handing over the common funds of the church. Lawrence, showing his wit which would become one of his trademarks, basically told the prefect, ‘well I don’t have it all with me right now’. The prefect gave Lawrence three days to bring before him, and turn over to him, the wealth of the church.
Lawrence spent the next three days distributing everything from the treasury to the poor, the lame, the sick, the homeless – he even sold off sacred vessels to increase the amount he could give away. Then on the third day, again showing the sense of humour for which he would be noted, Lawrence assembled all of the poor and marginalized of the city of Rome in the prefect’s courtyard and announced to him ‘Behold the wealth of the Church!”
The prefect didn’t find Lawrence very amusing, and rather than a quick and merciful execution, he was sentenced to slow torture on a gridiron. It is said his trust and faith in God were so strong that he even had the strength to joke with his tormentors as the sentence was being carried out.
Because of his example of his passion for serving the poor for Christ during his lifetime, and the courageous example in his martyrdom for Christ, it was said the entire city of Rome at that point was converted to Christianity. Lawrence would have been spared by turning over the ‘material wealth’ to the Romans; he could have rested on all of the good he had done previously for others in this life before this crisis; but that’s not what God called Lawrence to do; God spared him the initial martyrdom with St. Sixtus – called him out of the boat of the church in crisis – to commission him to return to the crisis and minister further , not only to the poor or members of the young church – but to bear a significant and lasting witness of the selfless love of Christ to the very Empire itself; a witness centered on the desire to serve others for Christ no matter what the personal cost may be.
We may not be called to witness with our own blood for our faith; but there is no one here, man, woman or child, who has not been faced with making a decision, big or small, which calls on us to decide between the wisdom of this world, or the love of God; the very fact that each of us is here today is a witness to the importance that we each place on our love for God and each other; and in the middle of our own crises and storms, that’s when we need to look outside the boat and walk towards Jesus; He’s there calling us to step outside of our own crises to bring them to Him; we can trust that He will always be there, reaching out immediately to hold us up if we start to sink; strengthening us, and returning with us into our own little boats ; helping us witness and minister to others, in our journey back to the Father, listening to His words of comfort in the midst of those storms, to ‘be not afraid’.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!