Sunday, June 20, 2021


     The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake, thirteen miles long, eight miles wide and 141 feet deep so there’s plenty of water to drown in. Set among mountains and hills it is also 700 feet below sea level. Being set among hills and so far below sea level means that air currents can cause sudden violent squalls. Boats at that time were little bigger than a large currach. No one wants to face a storm in an open boat on open water. There were no lifejackets back then and water was already filling the bottom of the boat. Imagine then the terror of the disciples. Imagine their panic! It had been our Lord’s idea to cross the Sea and where was He? He was asleep, on a cushion in the stern, in the middle of a storm!

 The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, J.J. Tissot, Brooklyn Jewish Museum.

    There is no experience as striking as one’s own. Our Lord, Who always knew what He was going to do (Jn 6:6), is testing the disciples. He already knew their hearts. Now He was teaching them Who He really is and what He can do. But so terrified are the disciples that they begin to doubt Him. Does He not care? Our Lord certainly wasn’t impressed with their lack of faith. He tersely rebukes the wind and His command to the storm-tossed sea is “Peace! Be still!” Immediately all is dead calm. Notice that our Lord here speaks on his own authority. He does not call on His Father nor on the authority of anyone else. He knew “that by using terms of personal authority … we will be led to recognise His authority as master and creator.”(St Basil On the Holy Spirit 8.21).
    The disciples are stunned. They knew their danger but they also knew that lake. Storms don’t just disappear and dead calm descend. They also knew their Scriptures though. As Job tells us in the first reading God is Lord over the storm and the abysses of the sea. He is in charge even of the chaotic forces of nature. In the Psalms 89 says “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them” (v.9). We have just read from Ps 107 “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed” (v.29).“The sea is his, for he made it”  says Ps 95:5. There are many, many more references in the Bible to the power of God over His creation. The disciples could not have missed the implications. Yet they also needed to learn the lesson that it was not the Lord but their faith that was asleep and it needed to wake up. Our lives can become so comfortable that our faith can fall asleep.

Image found here.

    We are no strangers to storms up here. Wild weather is part and parcel of the charm and beauty of our country. Likewise there is no life that is free of difficulties and troubles. We can be tossed around from problem to problem, at home, at work, between spouses, between parents and children, between relatives, between neighbours, between friends. We are troubled by sick children or parents, debts, mortgages and bills and the threat of unemployment. We are raised up on the crest of a great holiday or happy event, a birth, a first communion, a wedding and then we crash down into the pain of a death, a bout of illness or some other unforeseen difficulty. Some problems can even threaten to swamp us, sinking a friendship, a marriage, even an entire family.
    The winds of our ever-changing society buffet us too. Our values and beliefs are under constant pressure. All that seemed so certain is now questioned. We are tempted to sin and we fall. It can seem that we will never become genuinely holy. The course that seemed so clear, steady and safe seems now more and more difficult to keep to. No matter how we tack across the prevailing wind we seem to be driven back and make no progress. We seem to be stuck. Worse it can seem that we are to be driven onto the rocks of a lee shore. It is no wonder that at times we can get sick of life, bone weary with effort, and tempted to despair. It can even seem that abandoning the boat and drowning might not be the worst way to go.

    We must remember though that Jesus is “the God-man, who according to his humanity is able to sleep and according to his divinity is able to still the storm”(St. Athanasius). The boat carried our Lord in His humanity but as God He supported and saved the boat. He didn’t need the boat just as He does not need the Church nor creation. He does not need us we need Him (St Ephrem the Syrian) and He is with us.
    We are tried by lockdowns, recessions and so many troubles in our families and communities. It can seem that we are like a sinking boat, about to go down, drowned by waves of problems. Has God abandoned us? No, Christ our Lord will never abandon us unless we abandon Him (2 Tim2:12). Yet just as He tested the faith of His disciples so He tests our faith so that we remember who He is and what He can do. He is always with us but do we live as though that were true? Are we witnesses to Him? Is our faith awake?
    How do we ‘awaken’ our faith in Christ who dwells within us through our Baptism? How do we wake up to the presence of Christ within us, within the Church and within our families, and call upon Him to exercise His power to save us?
    We awaken to Christ by checking our conscience daily and going to confession regularly (I recommend monthly!). We awaken to Christ by prayer, fasting and generosity to the poor. By prayer I do not mean merely rattling off prayers we’ve learnt. By prayer I mean lifting up heart and mind to God. Whatever helps you lift your heart and mind to God is prayer. Call upon him whenever you are brought low, down in the depths of your troubles or when you are thrown high by some some unexpected relief. Tell Him everything, “Load everything on to Him” says St Peter “since He is looking after you”(1 Pt 5:7). It is also true that the family that prays together stays together. Pray together as spouses; pray together as families. Pray especially the rosary. The greatest of all prayers is the Mass. Unite your prayers and sacrifices to Christ in the Mass and you will be heard.
    By fasting I mean going without, especially a ‘going without’ that means another does not have to go without at all. Fast not only from food but above all from doing harm to others. Generosity to the poor needs no explanation but generosity begins at home. Be generous with those in need among your relatives and friends but especially those who cannot pay you back. By prayer, fasting and generosity to the poor we awaken our faith in Christ’s presence and in His mercy. When we open our hearts to His  Presence and His help He will calm all our storms.

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