Monday, August 01, 2011
“Peter said, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ Jesus said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 28-30)
August 7, 2011
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 14:22-33 Reading Here
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
The mid-June news article became more than a passing curiosity the longer I pondered it. In fact, while the article was intended to be the simple reporting of a crime, it turned out to be so much more. It became a lesson in theology, an assertion of the Divine Presence with us in our daily lives. On the surface, the article seemed straightforward. It reads in summary:
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“Parishioners at St. Anthony Church in Long Beach [California] prayed fervently after their 780 year-old relic was stolen. When it was returned, they thanked God and the police for bringing their little piece of St. Anthony back home. Parishioners applauded when a police officer placed the delicate gold and silver reliquary containing a tiny shard of bone on a table at the news conference in front of the church. The relic was stolen from inside a cabinet beside the altar before a morning Mass on the feast day of the church's namesake. The object is rarely put on display, but [the pastor] said he decided to bring it out this year because many of his parishioners have lost their homes, their jobs and their hope in the rough economy.” (Associated Press, June 17, 2011)
The press release of the theft got me thinking. Relics are bits of the physical bodies of the saints that are usually placed in elaborate cases (reliquaries) in churches for the public veneration of the faithful. And don’t we similarly reserve the body of Jesus, locking it away in beautiful tabernacles in our churches? Thus the question hit me: Is this what Jesus and the saints want? Do they want to be imprisoned in churches? Do they want to stare out at us from inside gold-plated reliquaries and tabernacles? Even to ask the question seems irreverent, for the answer is at once obvious.
Our Catholic faith teaches clearly that Jesus and the saints of heaven desire to be with us, in our hearts, on our minds, near to us as our next breath. And while Jesus is indeed physically present in the Eucharist and in the reserved sacrament in the tabernacle, he’s no less with us the other 6 days and 23 hours we are not in church but about the activities of our lives. And so with the saints.
The gospel passage we hear this day invites us into a dramatic scene, one that probably mirrors a similar experience in our own lives. The weather is stormy. The disciples are at sea in a foundering fishing boat. Terrified, they call out to heaven for help. And in response to their plea, Jesus comes toward them, walking upon the raging sea, offering words that challenge their faith. Still not even sure that Jesus is truly God’s son, “Peter said, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ Jesus said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 28-30) And Jesus did.
In truth, it’s our story as well as Peter’s, Jesus bidding us keep our eyes on him when the raging demands of life threaten to overcome us. Yes, Jesus – and the saints of heaven as well – are with us, not only to keep us afloat, but enabling us to walk on water.
It was soon after reading about the theft of the relic of St. Anthony that we celebrated the June 22nd feast of St. Thomas More. Having served dutifully as Lord Chancellor in the court of King Henry VIII of England, Thomas was beheaded in 1535 when, in defense of the Catholic faith, he refused to condone the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Shortly before his death, Thomas wrote from prison to his daughter, Margaret. Let the martyr’s confession of faith, with reference to the very gospel passage we hear today, show us how one might not only keep afloat, but even walk on water in the face of the direst circumstances. St. Thomas More wrote:
“Although I know well, Margaret, that because of my past wickedness I deserve to be abandoned by God, I cannot but trust in his merciful goodness. His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience.
“I will not mistrust him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.
“And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.”
The storms rage on. Just like they did that wild night when, at the bidding of Jesus, Peter stepped out of the boat and nearly drowned. Just like they did when Thomas More, choosing God over king, stood before his executioner. Just like they did that day we thought there was no escape, when death seemed sure. Yes, the storms rage on. But more powerful is the command of Jesus: “Come to me! Walk upon the water!”