Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings:  I Kgs 19:4-8; Eph 4: 30- 5:2; Jn 6 :41-51.

Some of us are old enough to remember the times of growth, expansion, new building.  There seemed no limit to what could be done and it all promised to be immortal.  Everyone was raising the glass and saying, Live forever, O King!  Competition was by definition “healthy.”  Independence gave greater security.

These last years have seen a reversal and raised the issue of sustainability to front and center.  Resources are now seen as limited.  Shortages and closures are common.  Debts are being called in. The prevalent question is, What does it take to sustain us?  We are forced to face the fact that we are sustained.  Who we are is the result of the generosity, giving, sacrifice of others.  What do you have that you have not received?  The earth and its biosystems lay down their lives to supply us with air, food and water.  We are the culmination of innumerable lives that have preceded us and made the way we live possible.  In no way do we start from scratch.  Our very breath of life is sustained by all the efforts of the biological system of our body and each breath is the gift of the moment.

Sustainability undercuts all our myths of independent living.  The environment, the economy, and human community are all interdependent.  Their health demands mutual respect.  In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis wrote: Environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked.  Violence in one area affects all areas. What do we need to sustain ourselves?  There is a hierarchy of our own needs.  If our physical needs for nourishment and protection are not met, we are not going to be able to participate in the level of social needs (education, family belonging, political involvement).  Our psychological needs for development and personal formation build on the former and lead to our religious needs for meaning and purpose.  If we don’t eat, we will die.  If our social, psychological, and religious needs are not met, we will die (even though we may be biologically alive).  We are our needs and we need others to meet them.  We are a hunger and thirst for life.

Jesus reveals himself as the Bread of Life.  In giving us life through bread, he gives us himself.  Bread is only real bread when it is shared.  And the bread must be broken to be shared.  Bread is a very humble and inconspicuous item on the menu.  If you have a seven-course meal, you might even take a pass on it.  But if you have nothing else, it can taste very sweet.  We are what we eat.  The bread is not simply digested and absorbed by our body.  We become the bread of life.  We are taken up into this new life-system called the Body of Christ.  Our “amen” means that we accept the commitments of this New Covenant.  We are now the bread of life for others.  It is experiencing the eternal life that is given to us.  Pope Benedict XVI said that eternal life is when totality embraces us and we embrace totality (Saved in Hope).  We now have a new need in that hierarchy of needs: the need to share life.  We have been given a life that must be shared if it is not to become a smoldering wick.

We have been given bread from heaven. Heaven is not just some high and distant locale.  It is the presence of the Spirit.  The reading from Ephesians vividly describes what the bread from heaven means.  It is being kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.  Be imitators of God as beloved children and live in love as Christ love us and handed himself over for us.  Amen.


Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: 1 KG 19:9a, 11-13a; Rom 9:1-5;  Mt 14:22-33      

During the hot months of summer, the Sea of Galilee is a place where people in Israel go for vacations, it’s the only lake they have for boating and swimming. But when the sun beats down with furnace like heat, and a cold front descends from the nearby slopes of Mt. Hermon, violent storms sweep across the Sea today just as they did two thousand years ago. Tourists sometimes make the mistake of swimming too far from shore and get caught in the sudden fury of storm driven waves. Two teenagers drowned in such a storm not long ago. Seasoned fishermen pull their boats up on the seashore when there’s a threat of storms. They know how dangerous the lake can be. On just such an evening Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus compelled his disciples, he made them get into the boat and head for the other shore, certainly against their better judgment. But Jesus was preparing them for lessons they would never forget.

After they were far out on the sea, cold air currents came crashing down upon the lake. Waves whipped over the sides of the boat driven by the howling wind. Until the fourth watch of the night they were tossed about by the storm. Where was Jesus now? The story is symbolic of being a Christian. Obeying Jesus may even be the cause of our troubles, like times of persecution. Many Christians in the world today are suffering because of their faith. Matthew’s gospel was written shortly after the first great persecution under Nero who ordered Christians to be tied to wooden posts and set on fire at night to light his way through the palace gardens. The storm at sea is Jesus’ response to the problem of storms in our lives.

First, Jesus shows that he is present even where we least expect him. When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea he identified himself with the words, It is I, ego eimi in Greek, the same words God used to identified himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Christ is present not only in the stillness and whispering voice heard by Elijah, but also in the violent storms that befall us, and he is God.

Next, the story teaches us a powerful prayer: “Lord, save me.” St. Peter’s cry occurs only once in the whole bible, but it goes to the heart of our helplessness. True to his name, Peter “the rock“, he begins to sink like a stone. Peter cries out: “Lord, save me.” There are a thousand ways to pray for help. In the Our Father we ask to be delivered from evil. In the Hail Mary we petition our Lady to “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” At Mass we repeat the litany, “Lord, have mercy.” In our private prayers we might say with the publican: “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” But, Peter’s short pray includes them all: “Lord, save me.

Finally, the story teaches how Jesus helps us. He brings us back to the boat. Peter left the other disciples behind when he climbed out of the boat. He tries going to Jesus by himself. But separated from the other disciples, Peter’s self-confidence is blown away by the force of the wind. He cries out, “Lord, save me.” Then Jesus takes hold of Peter and brings him back to the boat, symbol of the Church. As they step into the boat, the howling wind and the rolling waves suddenly stop. Silence turns into reverence. The disciples, struck with awe, are the first Christian assembly to worship Jesus, saying together, “Truly, you are the Son of God.

That’s the climax of Matthew’s story: Jesus saves by bringing us into the praying community. Separated from the boat, from the people of God, we are exposed to being overwhelmed by the wind and the waves. The Christian assembly gathered in church at the Eucharist is the boat that carries us safely to the other shore. To this day the long central part of our Church buildings, where the community gathers to pray, is called a nave, from the Latin word navis, which means a boat.

What, then, is our response to suffering? First, to be aware that Christ is present not only in a soft whispering voice heard during contemplative prayer, but in every storm that overtakes us, and he is God. Second, to pray for help, “Lord, save me.” And third, to stay united with the people of God. That’s why we are gathered here today in this holy place. As successors of the first Christians, with grateful love and one voice, we proclaim our faith together saying, “Jesus, truly, you are the Son of God.”



Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 19:9a, 11–13a; Rom 9:1–5; Mt 14:22–33

“But the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake there was fire—but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound,” the “voice that speaks of peace.”  This lightsome word is spoken in tens of thousands of churches today, in hundreds of different languages. By contrast, last week the country and the world were treated to this: “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Today, our ears are soothed and our sights raised high: “But the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake there was fire—but the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.”  The Lord is not in the fire and the fury, but in a silence the world has never known. “Have you no answer to make,” Pilate asked Jesus, “but Jesus answered nothing any more”; the Word was most eloquent when silent on the Cross, the Word that was uttered in the beginning, “Let there be,” and there was, light, and the great lights, and everything that lives and that breathes and that gives praise to the Lord.

“Fire and fury like the world has never seen” is a shameful boast, a flaccid threat, a faithless disdain for the power of the Word that does not return until it accomplishes that for which it was sent: Creation, restoration, sanctification.  Catholics especially, but all Christians and all people of good faith, cannot abide threats of fire and fury, the word of destruction, “that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more:, it is,” as Shakespeare puts in the mouth of Macbeth, “a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (Macbeth Act 5 scene 5).

We give in reply the wise words of Saint Pope John XXIII written over fifty years ago but maybe more needed today than then: “While it is difficult to believe that anyone would dare to assume responsibility for initiating the appalling slaughter and destruction that war would bring in its wake, there is no denying that the conflagration could be started by some chance and unforeseen circumstance.

“Hence justice, right reason, and the recognition of man’s dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race. . . . Everyone must sincerely co-operate in the effort to banish fear and the anxious expectation of war from men’s minds. “But this requires,” and here is a word to idiots full of sound and fury,  “. . . that relations between States, as between individuals, must be regulated not by armed force, but in accordance with the principles of right reason: the principles, that is, of truth, justice and vigorous and sincere co-operation. . . .  The warning of Pope Pius XII still rings in our ears: ‘Nothing is lost by peace; everything may be lost by war’” (Pacem in Terris 112, 113, 114, 116).

Shakespeare’s idiot full of sound and fury is in the grip of his negative emotions. Negative emotions can be deadly, like an earthquake, a tornado, a firestorm can be deadly, too.  There are strong emotions in our readings today. Peter was afraid, Paul had great sorrow and anguish of heart, and Elijah a zeal bordering on anger and tilting him toward despair: we know this from the verse that comes just before and again just after the account we heard this morning: “I have been hotly zealous for the LORD, . . . ”; of all the prophets “I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.”

Un-channeled, not checked, not balanced by distance and reflection, negative emotions can do lots of damage. Look at families, look at relationships, look at communities—workplace shootings, wounding words, slammed doors, oppressive silences, and things like that.  Paul shows us a way to channel emotions: he writes letters, he argues with himself, looks at things one way and then another, tries to hear and be fair to all the evidence and every point of view. 

From the story of Elijah we can learn to balance our emotional response by distance and reflection. Twice the Lord asks him, ”Elijah, what are you doing here?” Saint Bernard asked himself this question all the time. It is a reality check, it is a question about our priorities, about our values, about our vocation and ultimate aim.  Asking ourselves questions when emotions get hold of us gives us time, puts us in touch with ourselves, lets us have our emotions rather than them having us.

And Peter’s emotion is checked by the love and understanding of a friend: “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him,” but also challenged the cause of his fear: “Why did you doubt?” As Paul wrote to the Romans just before today’s second reading, “If God is for us, who is against us? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ” (Rom 8:31, 35).

What about Jesus? Did Jesus know emotions? Without a doubt. Was he a victim of his emotions? Never, but of other peoples’, evidently. The key is in his question to Peter: “Why did you doubt?” Jesus did not look at the storm around him, but at the goal: “We are going to Jerusalem” where they will kill the Son of man “and on the third day he will arise” (Lk 18:31-33).  Jesus went to lonely places to pray.  Jesus always heard “the tiny whispering sound,” the voice of the Father that said, “You are my son.” It is the voice of the Holy Spirit within us, in spite of our little faith, “bearing witness that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16). “Nothing in all creation,” and certainly not our negative emotions, “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39).

Once , a village turned Jesus away. The disciples James and John were angry: “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus was listening to the whispering sound; he just led them on to another village (Lk 9:53-55).  “The world,” said John XXIII, “will never be the dwelling place of peace, till peace has found a home in the heart of each and every man, till every one preserves in themselves the order ordained by God to be preserved.” That is why St. Augustine asks the question: Does your mind desire the strength to gain the mastery over your passions? Let it submit to a greater power, and it will conquer all beneath it. And peace will be in you—true, sure, most ordered peace. What is that order? God as ruler of the mind; the mind as ruler of the body. Nothing could be more orderly (PT 165).