19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 9, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
By now, I’m sure you all know the story depicted in that painting over there.
How, when St. Raymond had chastised the King of Spain
for his adultery on the Island of Majorca,
the King wouldn’t let any of the ships take St. Raymond back to Spain.
But trusting in the King of heaven, Raymond simply went down to the sea,
made the sign of the cross,
and sailed back across the water to Spain
on nothing but his cape and his faith in Jesus.
Of course, Jesus wants us all to have the kind of absolute faith
that our patron did—but He doesn’t require it.
He just requires us to have just enough faith
to believe that He is the all-powerful God
and that He can save us from all the evils in this world
and the world to come.
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 fisherman like Peter, Andrew, James and John
were probably doing a good job of keeping their composure,
at least externally.
But I think it’s a 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 the laws of nature—
He just walks right over it.
But how do the apostles respond to God’s answering 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 2000 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
–and in this case causes him to step out on the waters toward Jesus
–as soon as he realizes what’s going on
–that he’s depending completely on Jesus
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 tells 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 other people—
we react in fear–and reject Him.
We–like the apostles in the boat
–are afraid to have real faith in Jesus Christ as 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 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 of St. Raymond to sail across the sea without a boat.
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.
Maybe you’re struggling with the effects of coronavirus
or maybe with all the political unrest around us.
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 12 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 sail across the sea on your cape
or calm the rough waters of the Lake by your faith,
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 carry you across the waters and calm the storms of life.
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.