12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B (June 21, 2015)
First Reading: JB 38:1, 8-11 Second Reading: 2 COR 5:14-17 Gospel: MK 4:35-41
“The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
As I prayed over this week’s scriptures, this line from today’s Gospel jumped off the page and I sat with it and let it simmer in my mind. This gospel and this passage present us with a question that most of us ask at some point in our lives, “Where is God in the midst of the storms life throws at us?”
Job, the main character in our first reading surely had to answer that question. Stripped of literally everything the world viewed as “good”, he was left with nothing but questions. Wealth. Gone. Health. Gone. Family. Gone. Job faced the most severe storms that life could throw at him and he was left with nothing but himself and his relationship with God as he wrestled mightily with this question.
Let’s take a look at the miracle story we heard in today’s Gospel and see what light it can shed on our reflections. Why do you suppose Jesus, who is God, and therefore all-knowing and all-powerful, allows himself to fall asleep just as the storm was brewing and especially when things got tough, really scary, for his disciples? This is a question for all of us. Maybe we won’t be on a boat during a storm that threatens to sink us. But I look out at you sitting here before me and I know many of you right now have storms of your own in progress. Maybe it is the:
- long and painful sickness of a loved one with a chronic condition or disease
- perhaps the death of a spouse or child through disease …
- perhaps the death of a spouse or child through disease or tragic accident,
- it might be the damage caused by your own or a family member’s addictions and infidelities,
- you found out one day you no longer have a job that you count on to feed and support your family
- or perhaps it’s sheer, heart-sickening loneliness
Right now some of you here may feel as if you are on that boat and the storm is raging around you while God is asleep. Why would he do that? Why? It’s a natural question to ask. The Catechism tells us clearly that we will not understand God’s ways fully until we meet him face to face on the other side of death.
[Catechism #324: The fact that God permits physical and even moral evil is a mystery that God illuminates by his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose to vanquish evil. Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life.]
However, we can understand God’s ways partially, if we understand God’s plan for our lives. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus told us, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” And often when we go through these difficult seasons of life; when we are asked to pick up and carry a cross of our own, it can feel as if God has fallen asleep in our boat while the storm rages all around us.
This past week, we buried a parishioner named Barbara McHugh. Barbara was a modern day Job. Barbara was divorced some 20 years ago and had no children. Both parents had died and she had no brothers or sisters. In short, she had no family whatsoever. Shortly after her divorce, she had a severe case of Pancreatitis that ravaged her body, stole her good health and eventually her ability to work or even get out of her apartment, save an occasional doctor’s visit or trip to the grocery. My wife began to take Barbara Communion eight years ago and for the last five years she took her Communion just about every week. If anyone had reason to be bitter or wonder why God was asleep in her boat while the storm raged in her life, it was Barbara.
But Barbara had learned the lesson I believe God was teaching his disciples in the midst of the storm we heard about in today’s Gospel. We are not all-powerful; we need the mighty hand of God to guide us as we pick up the crosses that come into our lives. Today’s Gospel reading illustrates that it wasn’t until Jesus fell asleep in the midst of the storm, that his disciples came to understand just how much they truly depended on him. If it seems God is sleeping in the midst of our storm, perhaps it’s precisely so we will acknowledge our dependence upon him.
Barbara engaged her God and wrestled with him, much in the same way Job did. Eventually, she came to acknowledge her total dependence on God for the grace she needed to weather the crosses she had been given to carry. She not only survived those storms, but she truly thrived in them. She was a light to the people she was able to meet in her limited visits out of her home. And she was a light to my wife who often told me that she was so blessed by Barbara’s positive spirit and love for the Lord in spite of the many hardships she had to endure. Barbara is someone we should try to emulate. Barbara relied totally on God’s grace to not only see her through the storms but how to reflect the Lord’s light on others she encountered in her limited outings.
By virtue of our baptism and confirmation, we received the Holy Spirit into our very beings – always there and ready to be engaged. What a gift we have been given. The question is, do we open the gift and make use of it like Barbara did.
Indeed, God is with us always and just waiting to be engaged. Look at what the Apostles did. They approached Jesus and engaged him. He waited, they approached. My brothers and sisters – God will not leave us alone in our times of challenge, when the storms of life are raging around us. But we need to be willing to approach him; to engage him; to develop an ever-deepening personal relationship with him. The Apostles turned to him, went to him in the back of the boat and engaged him. We need to draw close to him and ask him to draw close to us – not just once the storm is upon us but each and every day.
Prayer is how we approach Jesus. It was by going to Jesus, asleep in the back of the boat, that the Apostles discovered his greatness and survived the storm. Prayer is our classroom of silence, where we grow in intimacy with our God and begin to understand our place in His plan; where we come to know his voice so we will be able to hear it when the storms of life threaten to overtake us. Prayer is our gym where we exercise and strengthen the faith that allows Jesus to become the Lord of our lives, not just in theory, but in practice – every day!
I’ve heard it said that we don’t do altar calls in the Catholic Church, that “It’s one of those protestant things.” I disagree. We have an altar call at every Mass. It’s called Communion. When you and I come forward to the altar to receive our Lord, body, blood, soul and divinity, it’s as if we are approaching Jesus in the back of that boat, to engage him. Today when you come forward to receive, here’s what I want you to do. First, thank Jesus for laying down his life so that your sins might be forgiven. Secondly, invite Jesus to be the Lord of your life, letting him know that you do depend on him to live as his faithful disciple – and mean it!
Then, as you receive our Lord, experience the joy and peace of knowing that your God lives; that your God loves; and that your God is always in control, no matter what storms may be raging in your life.
That is the secret Barbara McHugh discovered many years ago and that the Apostles learned the day that Jesus woke up in that boat, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”