TEXT: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 13, 2023

August 13, 2023 Father De Celles Homily

The 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 13, 2023

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

I hope most of you know the story depicted in that painting over there,

         sometimes called “The Surfer Saint.”

But if you don’t, briefly, it depicts the time when our patron, St. Raymond,

         went with the King of Spain to the newly reconquered island of Majorca

         to preach to the Muslim inhabitants.

When they got there, Raymond discovered the married king

         had brought along his mistress.

Of course Raymond rebuked the king for his public adultery,

         and when he refused to repent,

         Raymond stormed out, resolved to leave the island.

The king, in turn, refused to let any ship take St. Raymond back to Spain.

So, having faith in the King of Heaven, Raymond simply went down to the sea,

         made the sign of the cross, stepped out onto the water,

         and sailed across the sea 150 miles back to Spain

         with nothing but his cape as a sail and his faith in Jesus.

Of course, Jesus wants us all to have the kind of absolute faith

         that our patron did—but thankfully, He doesn’t absolutely require it.

He just requires us to have just enough faith

         to believe that He is the all-powerful God

         and that He can do anything He wills.

As we find in today’s gospel, He only asks us to have enough faith

         so that in the middle of the storms of life we can call to Him in faith,

                  “Lord, save me,”

         and, by the touch of His hand, He will save us.

Today’s gospel paints a graphic picture of a night on Lake Gennesaret.

The storm rages, the wind beats on the little fishing boat,

         and the waves toss it around this way and that.

And as the night goes on,

         instead of conditions getting better, they only get worse

         …until it’s the darkest part of the night, or “the fourth watch.”

I wonder what was going through the minds of the apostles in that little boat.

Each was probably reacting a little differently.

Some, like the tax collector Matthew, might have even been becoming desperate;

         it certainly seems that way from the account he gives us in his gospel today.

Others, like the experienced sailors,

         the professional fishermen Peter, Andrew, James, and John

         were probably doing a good job of keeping their composure,

         at least externally.

But I think it’s safe to conclude that they were all praying to God

         that He would save their lives.

And how does God respond to this prayer?

He comes to help them personally: Jesus, God the Son, hears their prayer

         and comes to them.

And nothing can stop Him from coming to them

         –not even a lake full of water, and not even the laws of nature—

         He just walks right over them both.

But how do the apostles respond to God responding to their prayer

         and coming to them personally?

They become frightened.

Notice the Gospel doesn’t specifically say they are frightened by the storm

         –although that’s a reasonable conclusion.

But St. Matthew does make the explicit observation

         that what really terrified them

         was seeing Jesus walking on the water toward them:

         “When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified.”

Matthew even tells us that these grown men “cried out in fear.”

They fear the storm and pray to God for salvation.

But when God comes to save them, they reject and fear Him even more!

This same pattern is repeated with Peter.

Peter, the seasoned sailor that he is,

         and the apostle with a bold and deep faith and love for Our Lord,

         manages to pull himself together and call to Jesus for help—he prays:

                  “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

And Jesus answers his prayer

         and gives Peter the power to walk across the water.

But as Peter starts towards Him, again he’s suddenly grasped by fear

         and falls into the water.

What’s wrong here?

Why, when God answers their prayers, do these people recoil in fear?

Jesus hits the issue head on when He admonishes them,

         “Oh you of little faith!”

Faith is the problem here.

More specifically, lack of faith in Jesus Christ

         as the one and only God who comes to save them.

It was difficult for them to believe in Jesus as Savior and God

         –God’s personal answer to 2,000 years of prayers of the people of Israel.

So when he comes walking across the water, they recoiled in fear;

         this must be a ghost because their teacher, Jesus,

         is only a man, they think, and men don’t walk on water.

And Peter, even though his faith always seems a step ahead of the others

         as his faith leads him to step out on the waters toward Jesus,

         as soon as he realizes that he’s depending completely on Jesus’ power

                  to make him able to walk on the water,

         he falters in fear.

His faith is not strong enough to accept

         that his teacher was more than a normal man.


But this lack of faith in Jesus Christ isn’t unique to the apostles.

You and I experience it everyday.

We’re constantly praying to God to give us this or that,

         or to help us with this trouble, or to tell us what to do about that problem.

And when we ask God for help, He answers us in Jesus Christ.

But so often when Jesus comes to us

         –in Scripture, His Church, His sacraments, in prayer,

                  or even through the actions of other people—

         we react in fear and reject Him.

Like the apostles in the boat,

         we are afraid to have real faith in Jesus Christ

         as the all-powerful God the Son.


Sometimes it’s hard to have faith in Jesus.

Sometimes, we feel all alone

         –like the apostles did on that lake before Jesus got there.

Sometimes we feel like our problems are just too big to handle.

And sometimes we hear the voice of Jesus answering us in our prayer,

         but it’s just so hard to believe that He’s really powerful enough

         to do all the things He promised.

And so, like Peter and the apostles, when God answers our prayers

         by coming to us personally as Jesus,

         we back away in fear because it’s just too incredible to be true.


But the great thing is that Jesus doesn’t demand

         that you have the faith to move mountains or to walk on water.

All He needs is that little spark of faith.

Even the faith that comes when you’re at your wits end with a problem

         and you just turn to Him and say, “Lord Jesus, save me.”

And the thing is, whether or not we have faith, Jesus does come to us

         Nothing–not even a sea of trouble–can keep Him away.

And if we have even the slightest faith, we can start to walk to Him.

And even if we become overwhelmed by doubts like St. Peter

         and begin to drown in our personal sea of troubles,

         if we can just imitate Peter and muster the faith to just say, “Lord, save me,”

         the Lord Jesus will hold out His hand to pull us out of the darkness.


Today, I bet every one of you has a problem that just won’t seem to go away.

Maybe it’s a problem at work or at home.

Maybe it’s a problem with believing or following some teaching of the Church.

Maybe you’re just overwhelmed by the crazy hard world we live in

         —a world with so little faith in Jesus.

Or maybe you’re deeply troubled by confusion in the Church, as so many of

         today’s successors to the apostles, bishops, seem to have so little faith.

But, since you’re here at Mass,

         you’re probably praying that God will somehow solve the problem.

And, since you’re here at Mass praying,

         have faith that Christ will come to you today….in the Eucharist.

Yes, I know it’s hard to believe that God could personally come to you

         in what looks like an ordinary piece of bread.

But how hard was it for Peter and the rest of the twelve to believe

         that God could come to them walking across the water,

         for goodness sake, as what looked like an ordinary man?

But He did come to them walking on the water,

         and He does come to you in the Eucharist.

When He comes to you today, don’t run away

         Instead, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel,

                  “Do not be afraid.”

Look deep in your hearts and give Him whatever faith you can find there.

Remember, you don’t have to calm the rough waters of the lake by your faith,

         or sail across the sea with your coat as your sail,

         so it’s not like your faith has to be huge for Christ to answer it.

You just have to have the smallest amount of faith

         that Christ can move mountains and calm the storms.

Come to Him with this faith and say the simple words of Peter.

And believe that nothing will stop Jesus from coming to you to reach out His hand to pull you up from the darkness

         and bring you the peace that comes only from faith in Him.

Say the simple prayer of faith, the prayer of St. Peter: “Lord, save me.”

And He will.