19th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 9 August 2020
Mass Readings: I Kings 19:9a, 11-13a; Responsorial: Psalm: 85; II: Romans 9:1-5; Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33
Sometime, probably in the early 6th century, a young Irish monk of reputable faith and holiness sought to find a place where he could seek and attend to God in prayer, penance and listening. St Kevin of Glendalough would establish strong monastic communities as well as minister to the souls living in the region. His preeminent purpose was always to seek God, to pray, to listen, to follow his Savior and Lord.
This was a time of extraordinary and bold faith in Ireland. Great monastic communities of prayer, study and formation were being established. The expectation and longing of so many of the Irish faithful was that in their hard lives God was with them and would lead them ever closer to His Presence.
Today our world of science and technology is engineered together with devout trust in reason, intellect and humanistic capabilities. The concept of someone listening for and hearing God is met with often mocking skepticism. Even among Catholics and other Christians there is a subtle fear of expecting or claiming to hear God speak. If not for concerns of seeming mentally unstable, then sins of pride and fear of ridicule all mix to make the stories of the early saints and the readings from our Scriptures today seem unreal, if not unreliable.
Was St. Kevin a crazy monk hearing voices as he built his hermitage and church in Glendalough? Was St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta walking a path of faith or of some vision of her imagination as she built her works of mercy? And in our Gospel with the account of Peter walking on the water to Jesus, is that a fanciful story of purely spiritual metaphor or a practical lesson in…listening to God?
There can be no question that the human soul is indeed able to suffer from afflictions of the mind that can cause one to seemingly “hear voices”. There are also very real perils of ego presuming to speak for God and uniting with the subtle temptations of pride that can lead to experiences of ungodly suffering and sorrow. To recognize and dread those afflictions and temptations is part of the God given grace to fear that which can be so destructive. But as is so often the case in life, such afflictions and temptations resulting from our fallen nature or the tempter, are but sad counterfeits of the designs and plans of God.
A greatest of realities is that God is indeed Love. [I John 4:8 & 16]. And our loving God, Creator, Savior and King longs to share a dynamic and very real relationship with each human soul. Scripture and sacred history clearly teach the longing of God to walk closely with us, to hear our cares, love, trust and needs and to speak to our hearts. God will do so if we but trust and grow in the gifts of listening to God. Listening especially to God’s whispers.
In our first reading from I Kings we read of the fascinating account of Elijah seeking God’s help and direction. The back story here is very important. Elijah has been faithfully and with courage, proclaiming the message of God to the people of Israel. At this sad time they were mostly a people immersed in idolatry and whims of popular politics and causes. Their relationships with God had weakened into intense and deadly practices and strife. YET God still loved and sought them, especially through His prophet Elijah. But then as now, living for God was not usually easy or popular. Elijah had been faithful. But he was now very weary and discouraged and had run off to the wilderness to hide but also seek his Lord. Elijah’s experience is a lesson for all of us. So often we long for God to come and in great power make clear His will but also His power to deal with the afflictions and our afflicters in life. Elijah needed to hear from God. But God spoke not in a great wind. God spoke not through the fire or even a great earthquake. Elijah wanted….. a clear message and sign from God that would tell him and show others God was on his side. But God was closer than an earthquake, fire or mighty wind. God whispered. In a tiny sound Elijah heard God’s voice. He hid his face in humility and went to the entrance of the cave where he was.
Just as with Elijah, with Peter in the boat, and with us in this post modern era, God uses His creation to get our attention. Often we simply need the life-shaking events to bring us to…pay attention to God. Sadly we often need reminding that it isn’t about our stuff, our work or our status. It isn’t about us. It is about us with God and with each other. Returning to our Gospel for today we see a clear message from God that if we but trust we will hear and know God’s whispers.
Matthew’s account of Peter walking on the water, however imperfectly, is rich in the whispers of God that would teach and guide us to Him. First we see that after Jesus has fed the multitudes He sends the disciples ahead of Him by boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He did so that He could have time alone to pray. Jesus, God come in the flesh, so needed the quiet time alone with His Father in the Presence of the Holy Spirit to renew His own soul. How much more have we this same need?
The disciples hear the simple Word of God, the words of Jesus, and in obedience get into the boat that evening and head across the waters of Galilee. God’s whispers often come through the simple needs and works of the day. We must go there. We must do that. We need not go over there. It is in our everyday journey God is often leading us closer to Him. But it is also in our life experiences we may be prepared by God. Several of the disciples were fisherman. They knew the Sea of Galilee. They also knew, very intently, to pay attention to the weather to what was on the horizon. The disciples, as they got in the boat that evening, took notice of the skies, the winds, and sensed this may not be the best time to set out.
God often prepares us for storms we may need to face. In our hearts, our instincts, in “our gut” God may well whisper that we need to prepare for some rough sailing. It may be that God is leading us into a storm. Truly there are storms of life that must be encountered. While we will not know what can or will happen, God does. The storms of a pandemic in the world, the economic suffering, the political chaos in our country or of racial strife that is occurring, none catches God by surprise. Some may ask, “IF God is Love why does HE allow such suffering?” It is because God is Love that he allows us to encounter these storms because of our free will. God does not approve or smile at the immense suffering caused by ego bound politicians (of all parties) or greedy medical, economic practices that neglect and abuse vast groups of people. God may allow such suffering in allowing us the freedom to love…(or not love) as we are created and commanded to do. His allowing such freedom neither separates Him from those who seek Him, nor does it eliminate the ultimate consequences of the selfish, sinful choices that are made that hinder His love and cause so many to suffer. God will use the storms of life to bring all who will closer to Him.
The disciples got into the boat in faith and obedience, and love for Jesus. Yet all too soon, as darkness had set upon them the winds arose and the waves beat upon their boat. As they labored against the forces of the world they were terrified to see…Jesus. For walking on the stormy waters they saw Jesus in a way they never planned or anticipated. So it is with us. When Jesus leads to a time and place where we encounter Him in ways not meeting our expectations, experience or understanding, we can become very upset. If the encounter is intense enough we may, like the disciples get..scared. Jesus can’t walk on the water!!!! That isn’t natural!! God can’t be encountered in that place, with that type of music!! With those people!!! It isn’t the way I believe or with which I am comfortable!!! But we all will be much better able to better hear the whispers of God if we accept that God rather enjoys leading us out of our comfort zones. While Jesus has brought them to this difficult place He reassures them: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” God leads us to face our fears and conquer them with courage rooted in His love.
As the disciples see Jesus, and listen, Peter is moved, beyond his fears, to be closer to Jesus. Peter says..Lord, if it is you command me to come to you on the water.” One of the most important ways to discern God’s whisper is to, like Peter, ask: God, if this is you call me closer to You.” What do the many voices we hear bring to our relationship with God? Closer? Or distance? We must remember this whole experience is while the winds and waves were roaring. When God whispers, to the seeking heart, His voice will be heard, even amidst the storms of life.
Jesus says to Peter one word. “Come.” Spoken in the quiet of God’s peace, even with the winds howling, God’s whisper is heard and Peter steps out onto the water. So often we expect God to give us a full detailed itinerary of life. We want all the rules of life, family, church, liturgy, vocations, everything spelled out. IF, God forbid, something occurs outside the expectations we have we cry out: Where is God? Indeed God gives a great treasure of His commandments, His Word, of Holy Tradition that provide us an eternally powerful framework for life. But one of the unchanging graces God gives is the Truth that His followers must actively trust and follow the Holy Spirit to lead and empower us to walk through our own storms, dark nights and overcast to hear His whisper and draw ever closer to Him.
Peter did step out from the boat onto the stormy waves. But very soon common sense and experience got the better of him. He knew..this can’t work. This can’t be right. FEELING the sinking reality of his failure he starts to plunge ever deeper into the deadly waters. But he calls out to Jesus three words: “Lord, save me!” So often we, in our struggle would think I must save myself. I have to come up with my lifeboat, my floatation vest. This applies to us as individuals but also as families, as community. The “committee to design the lifeboat” will have to bring to the task force to build the boat approved plans for review after careful examination of costs, risks factors, and God knows what else, before we may start to build our life boats. So often what is simply needed is first, and foremost, individually or as a group a simple praying from our hearts: “Lord, save us”! Then as we reach out to God, or perhaps for God, we will find ourselves back in the boat and…the waters and winds calmed. And we will also hear Jesus whisper in our ear: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt.”
The Whisper of God is calling us as He called St. Kevin of Glendalough, Elijah the prophet, St. Peter and each of us. God calls us to His place of love, peace and power. He beckons us to the place beautiful in holiness. The whisper of God is calling us to Him.