Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 9, 2020
Saint Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

1 Kings 19:9A, 11-13A
Psalm 85:9,10,11-12,13-14
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:22-33

Part of our prayer as Christians should be reflection and examination of our spiritual lives: how do we relate to God and how does that affect our relationship with our neighbor? To answer these questions, we must be reminded of how to pay attention to where God calls us to meet Him so that we might not lose focus on Him. The readings today speak of three possible meeting places: the mountain, the storm, and the gentle breeze.

God is present in all places, but each of us has places where God is especially present to us. God tells Elijah to go and stand on the mountain for He is about to pass by. Elijah does not find God in the strong wind, the earthquake, or the awesome fire, places where he as a Hebrew would have expected to find God. Elijah does not find God but rather God reveals Himself to Elijah in a place that Elijah could not predict, a tiny whispering sound. This leads us to reflect how often we have encountered God in unsuspected places. His passing can be as subtle as a gentle breeze, or as fearful as the sudden and powerful storm reported in the Gospel.

Matthew’s Gospel today contrasts Jesus praying alone on the mountain, and the disciples crossing the lake in a storm. The ancient Hebrews associated God with Mount Horeb or Mount Sinai, and the storm with the confusion and chaos in the world that they could not control but that God calms and orders. In the middle of the darkness, Jesus comes walking on the water toward His disciples, struggling in the boat. The disciples become terrified, thinking Jesus is a ghost.

Jesus tries to calm and encourage them, but Peter, still unsure that it is Jesus, asks Jesus to call him that Peter might approach Him on the water. After a few steps, Peter falters and begins to sink, which Jesus attributes to his little faith. Faith will probably not help us walk on water, nor does it remove the difficulties and darkness of life, but it does enable us to maintain our focus on Jesus that we might accept them and move through them. Faith helps us recognize that for Jesus, even our darkness is not dark. The little faith that both Peter and we have doesn’t prevent us from being disciples of Jesus, rather it reminds us that our fears and doubts are the places where the Holy Spirit can bring us God’s grace by guiding our focus on Jesus. 

The water and the dark of the storm in the Gospel call to mind the creation story in Genesis in which God calms the chaos and creates order in His creation of the world out of nothingness. The water and the dark of the Gospel also call to mind the waters of Baptism which give us a new creation out of the darkness and disorder of sin. The example of Peter reminds us that Baptism begins our life of grace, but it requires our perseverance and continual focus upon Jesus to come to Him through the storm of the human condition and the world disordered by original sin. It also reminds us that the first step of faith is frequently the easiest to take with the rush of enthusiasm but those steps of faith that follow are more difficult because they are less emotional and require perseverance and ongoing trust in Jesus. Our journey on these waters to Jesus is our part given to us by Christ in contributing to the new creation of the world carried out by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Peter begins the journey but soon becomes distracted by the storm and begins to sink because he removes his focus from Christ and instead places it on himself and on his own enthusiasm. When we do that, we must continue to follow Peter’s example and call out in prayer to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”  It is always the Lord who grabs us, calls us back into focus, and places Himself in our focus that we might continue our journey begun in the waters of Baptism to return to Him with our profession of faith, “Truly, Lord, you are the Son of God.”

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