Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
This past week, I received a video on my cell phone: It was of my great niece Norah who 13 months old… finally walking by herself! We were all proud, especially Norah! I responded with “congrats… now the fun really begins…” Norah now has discovered a new independence, a new way of ‘living’ without the help of mom or dad or anyone else. She may have the feeling that she is in control now but soon will learn that is not actually true.
In light of the readings this week, I found myself asking: Are we ever really in control of our lives? We do not enter this world or depart from it on our own terms. Whatever the circumstances of our births or deaths, we come from mystery of God and return to it. And yet, given our desire to be in control, we have always feared the storms of life.
Elijah, in the First Reading, is hiding in a cave because the leadership of that time is after his life… so he’s discouraged and afraid. However, down deep, he knows that God will help him. But God was not where Elijah had expected him to be. Throughout creation history, God was made present in earthquakes, fires, and strong winds. And yet where did Elijah find God? In the silence. Many times we want to retreat to the quiet caves of our homes, of safety when we are fearful… we’ve been doing this for months because of the pandemic. We call upon God to help us in great ways, not considering that the same help lies in the very quiet that surrounds us.
In the Gospel, we see that Jesus is in control. We heard how he “made the disciples get into a boat while he dismissed the crowds…” And then “he goes up the mountain by himself to pray.” While his followers are in the boat, in a storm, they see Jesus walking toward them on the water. How frightening would that be! And yet, Jesus says, “be not afraid…” Are these words not spoken to us too when we are bombarded with a sudden storm of life? “be not afraid…” Or the direct translation is “Calm down….”
Jesus is in command, he has command over the wind and the waves. And Peter wants in on this! Peter wants to do what only God and Jesus can do. So Jesus invites Peter out of the boat, and to walk to him on the water… and he does. But he gets distracted! “Peter notices the wind!” Peter takes his eyes, his concentration, his trust and his love off Jesus and so he begins to sink. The same can happen to us. Going back to that video of Norah walking from the loving hands of her mother into the inviting hands of her father, Norah did not take her eyes off her dad…whom she was staggering to and you can see this in the video… she’s focused, she’s trusting and she knows that her dad, my nephew would be there to embrace her. Doesn’t God do the same for us?
So what is being revealed to today? We may not be in control but God is and we are loved. It takes a lifetime of prayer, struggle and grace to accept this truth and to live confidently within it. Storms of life will always try and test our faith; they must not triumph over it. We are given simple stories in Scripture, with profound insight to help us. Sometimes, like Elijah, we can shelter from the storm and await the goodness of God that surely follows. At other times, we are like Peter, we find ourselves in a storm of turmoil and confusion that tosses us about, overthrowing everything we thought that we knew.
Like Peter, we might think that more control of our lives is all that we need. Christ does not throw us to the waves. He only invites us come to him. Like Peter, we sometimes we get distracted and take our eyes away from Jesus. And yet, our God is always there… loving us! That love is visible in the great symbol of our faith… the Cross. At baptism, we trace the sign of the cross on the foreheads of infants and imprint it with oil on the foreheads of those who are dying. It should remind us that we are not in control, but God is. We sign ourselves with the cross of Christ, the great revelation of God’s love.
Like little Norah, we sometimes stagger too, with the weight of life, but we need to continue to always trust in and stay focused on God’s love. Trusting always that it is Jesus who alone can still the wind and the waves of our lives and embrace us with his unconditional love.