Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Lord, save us! We are perishing!"

“A furious storm came up on the lake … “In the original Greek, the word used is seismos, which in our language usually refers to earthquakes. But, if you’ve ever been caught in a late afternoon storm while boating with the thunder rolling, the lightning flashing, and the waves rising like walls around the boat. . .
It reminds me of an afternoon I spent with old John Harrington and his crew out from Tralee, trawling in the North Atlantic. And I recall the prayer of my maternal ancestors from Brittany and Bay of Biscay, plying the same waters: “Bonne Sainte Anne, protégez-nous. La barque est si petite, et la mer est si vaste” [Good Saint Anne protect us : the boat is so small and the sea is so vast. ]

In Mark’s version of this incident, Jesus reproaches the disciples for their lack of faith after the storm subsides (4:35-41). Matthew, on the other hand, in the version we read today, writes that Jesus chided them before the miracle. It is viewpoint consistent with other episodes in Matthew’s gospel. For instance, in the scene with the two blind men (9:27-29), Jesus asks “Do you believe I can do this?” and they answer, “Yes, Lord”. Then, he touches their eyes and says, “According to your faith, it will be done to you”. In fact, Chapter 9 of Matthew’s gospel is replete with incidents in which Jesus heals people because he knows their faith. Have faith that something will happen, and it will happen, not the other way round. There is another side of the story, of course. Believe and pray for a favor you want to obtain, but God knows it’s not what’s best for you, and you can pray forever without your petition being fulfilled. Then there’s Monica, who prayed for three decades before her son Augustine was converted. Some things depend not only on God’s will, but on other people’s will as well.

There are many storms in life, some more violent and threatening than others, but nasty weather all the same. We are tossed about in our relationships in school, at the workplace, in the family. We are concerned about our own health and that of our loved ones. Then there are natural disasters, economic recession, war and terrorism. All of these add to the storms of life. Not to mention the internal struggles that we share with no one, but that test our faith.

When facing these challenges, how strong is your faith? The Apostles’ momentary lapse of faith was reassured and strengthened by Jesus’ personal presence and actions; yet they were amazed that he had power over the elements of nature. You might say, in response, “But Jesus was right there in the boat with them!” as if that would make their situation easier than yours. In fact, the opposite is true. Unlike Peter, Andrew, James and John, who were with Jesus in the boat, we know Jesus to be risen from the dead, that he sits at the right hand of the Father from whom all good things come, and that the Holy Spirit is ready and willing to share with us the graces we need to overcome our fears and fill our hearts with courage, patience, and peace.

How do you respond when suddenly a violent storm comes up in your sea of life and it feels like your boat is being swamped? Is it the disciples’ reaction of fear and doubt? Or is David’s response in today’s Psalm: In the Lord I have trusted; I have not faltered. Test me, Lord, and try me; search my heart and my mind.”

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