Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Job 38:1, 8-11; 2 Cor 5:14-17; Mk 4:35-40 ]
A parakeet named Chirp never saw it coming. Its problems began when the parakeet’s owner decided to clean the birdcage with a vacuum cleaner. She pointed the end of the hose toward the bottom of the cage. Just then the phone rang, and when she turned to answer it, the vacuum hose swung up and, WHAM-OH, poor Chirp was sucked in. The owner gasped, dropped the phone, quickly turned off the vacuum cleaner, and ripped open the dust bag. There, buried in dust, was Chirp the parakeet, still alive, but stunned.
Since her pet was covered with dust and dirt, she took it to the bathroom sink, and held Chirp under the running water. Now the bird was soaking wet and shivering. So she reached for the hair dryer and blasted her pet with hot air. Poor Chirp! A few days later a friend asked how her pet was doing. The owner replied, “Well, Chirp doesn’t sing much anymore, he just sits there and stares.” It had been traumatized.
The violent storm on the Sea of Galilee was also a traumatizing, near death experience. The apostles were terrified, close to perishing. They woke Jesus who rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still,” and there was a great calm, not only on the sea, but also in the hearts of his apostles. In place of trauma they were filled with awe and said to one another, “Who is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
Down the centuries the story of Jesus calming the violent storm has given Christians courage to bear life’s traumas with trust in God. For example, the monks who sailed from Ireland to Dubuque in January, 1850, also ran into extremely stormy weather. The severe pitching of the ship on the Atlantic Ocean caused Br. Hilarion to fall and break his collar bone; Br. Anselm badly sprained his leg; an eighteen year old sailor was swept overboard and drowned; one of the monks became so sick that he died and was buried in the waters of the mid-Atlantic. At last, after several weeks, the storm ended and they sailed peacefully through the lovely Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico into the Mississippi Delta. Suddenly another storm with the force of a hurricane tore away the sails like cobwebs and swept their ship back into the Gulf. When that storm passed, their ship had to be towed by a steamer to New Orleans. Then, traveling up the mighty Mississippi River by steamboat they passed the graves of the six monks who died of cholera on that same journey a few months earlier. Finally, the monks arrived at New Melleray in mid-April, four months after leaving Mount Melleray. In spite of their traumatic experiences, they were not discouraged but eager to begin their monastic life in this new land.
Were their traumas over? No. The wooden building they lived in was poorly insulated, freezing in winter, unbearably hot in the summer. For the next two years their wheat and potato crops were complete failures. They had to sell one hundred and twenty acres of land to buy food and other necessities. The Prior, Fr. Francis, took a steamboat back to St. Louis to solicit donations. One night, about two A.M. he felt a terrific crash. His boat had been rammed in the darkness by another, much larger steamboat. Prior Francis tumbled onto the deck of the other boat, severely injuring his foot. Thirty other passengers drowned in the wreckage and the churning waters. It took the Prior several months to recover and return to New Melleray. And if these traumas were not enough to try one’s soul, the monks had the added burdens of heavy manual labor and wretched food. Their dinners consisted of turnip-water with milk, potatoes and bread. But because of their perseverance and trust in God we are able to be here today.
Without the consolation of knowing Jesus, whom even wind and sea obey, the monks could have been traumatized by their experiences. Instead, they never lost courage, just like the apostles who survived the violent storm on the Sea of Galilee. That storm was a near death, traumatic experience. But their worst experience was the crucifixion of Jesus. After the horror of Jesus’ suffering and death they were once again terrified of losing their own lives, and they began hiding out in an upper room within Jerusalem.
But he who commands the wind and the sea, also has power over life and death. By his resurrection Jesus took away the power of death to traumatize us. After seeing the Risen Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit, the apostles left the upper room filled with courage and the grace to calmly endure whatever other traumas life had in store for them. They suffered scourging, stoning, beheading, and even crucifixion out of love for Jesus, confident that no calamity can separate us from the love of God and the promise of eternal happiness. Jesus is able to calm the howling winds and the violent waves. Even better, he is able to calm our hearts no matter what befalls us.
But if you feel as helpless as Chirp, the parakeet that was sucked away, buried in dirty darkness, nearly drowned and blown apart by hot air, then waken Jesus in your heart by reproaching him for seeming not to care. He will do more than calm you in this life. He will save you for eternal happiness.