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I read an editorial in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week which talked about how anxious we are as a nation in this present time – the title of it was “America is a Coalition of the Worried.” The author Peggy Noonan said there is widespread anxiety, not about little things – there are always little things that we fret about – but rather about big, important things like the pandemic, the economy, race relations, the rising murder rate in our cities, and so on. It seems that this year more than any other year has brought more upheaval than I can remember in my own lifetime anyway.
It sometimes feels like there are these great forces beyond our control and out of our reach that we are subject to – almost like we’re little pawns in a cosmic game of chess. But I have said before, and I’ll say it again now, that the upheaval and uncertainty that we are experiencing now is not unheard of or even unusual in human history. I can only imagine what it was like to live through World War One or World War Two, or any war for that matter. It seems that the so-called Spanish Flu of a hundred years ago was worse than what we are experiencing, and the plagues that ripped through Europe from time to time throughout the Middle Ages were much, much worse than this. This is all a sad part of the story of humanity; it’s why the Hail, Holy Queen prayer refers to this world as a “valley of tears.”
Of course, the hard and difficult times are not the whole story of the human race, but they are a part of it. A part we’d rather not have to deal with, but there it is. The only remedy – the only way to stay sane, I am convinced – is to renew our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and to ask the Lord to increase our faith. We have to remind ourselves that the world already has a Savior who has redeemed the world – although that redemption has not yet been brought to fulfillment. But, we are on the road to its fulfillment, when all suffering and death will come to an end.
The Lord Jesus has already come into the world. And he has manifested his power over creation. We heard in our Gospel reading about how Jesus came to his disciples who were crossing the Sea of Galilee at night in a boat: they saw Jesus coming toward them, walking on the sea. This is so far outside the bounds of what human beings can do that they were convinced it was a ghost. But Jesus revealed to them that it was he, saying to them, “‘Take courage; it is I.’”
To see if it was really Jesus, Peter said to him, “‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’” In this bold request, Peter shows his faith in Jesus, that Jesus could give him the power to walk on water like him. But his faith is fragile. When Peter takes his eyes off Jesus and starts to pay attention to how strong the wind is, he becomes frightened, his fear overcomes his faith, and he starts to sink. “‘Lord, save me!’”, he cries, and Jesus stretches out his hand and grabs him, preventing him from sinking into the water.
It is a mystery but also a blessing that God chose Peter to be the head of the apostles and our first pope: on the one hand, Peter demonstrates his human weakness over and over again throughout the Gospels. We might well ask: why would God choose someone so flawed to lead the Church? And yet in doing so, God also gives each of us reason to hope, because no doubt we are all too aware of our own human weakness. If God can use someone as flawed and weak as Peter in carrying out his saving mission to the world, then certainly he can use us too in some small way – or even in a great way – as He sees fit. We might not understand why God asks this or that of us; we might not see how we can get from point A to point B. But that’s not what matters – what matters is that we have the faith that God can do it.
Wherever we are, God is with us. Whether we’re cringing in the boat, terrified, God is there, coming toward us through the chaos all around us. Or perhaps we feel an initial surge of courage and faith in God and decide we can step out of the boat and do what is seemingly impossible – God is calling to us to have faith in Him. Perhaps we are overwhelmed by our fear, cannot see how we can continue, and begin to sink – we have only to cry out to the Lord to save us, and he will stretch out his arm and catch us.
God has power over all things. The storms and the tempests that blow around us are nothing in comparison to God’s power. In our first reading, we heard how Elijah went up Mount Horeb, the mountain of God, and awaited the Lord’s coming. There was first a heavy wind, then an earthquake, and then a great fire – but God was not in any of these. Rather, the Lord came after these powerful manifestations of nature, in stillness and silence. That is where we encounter the Lord – in the stillness and silence of prayer.
Israel was always tempted towards paganism, towards worshipping nature. But the reading reveals that nature is not God – that he was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Rather, these preceded Him, almost to prepare Elijah for the coming of the Lord. Nature is a part of God’s creation, and He has power over it. Nature reveals the Lord, but it is not the Lord.
The Lord is not found in the tempests, the storms, the chaos in the world around us. He is not in them, but He is always near us in the midst of them. Let us take courage in Him, in His power and His grace, and let us ask the Lord to increase our faith.