Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Jer 20:10-13; Rom 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33
I recall a time around 1987 when I was Director of Staff Development and of Adjustment Counseling Services for the State of Nebraska’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services. I had become engaged a few months earlier and Kathy and I lived together in a very nice apartment near the Missouri River in Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, NE (I was obviously not a church-goer in those days!). In general, I was at the top of my game!
I had state-wide responsibility for those two programs and traveled about the state quite a bit. One time I was driving to our office in North Platte when a song, quite popular at the time, came on the radio. It was called “Don’t Worry; Be Happy.” …And I knew I couldn’t do that (I was obviously not a church-goer in those days). I had my demons.
Demons can be “the secrets that will be revealed.” We experience them as accusations of inadequacies. In this way, they make one’s life about self. The Accuser is always there and makes us wonder, “Something’s wrong with me. What’s wrong with me? Why does it eat at me constantly? Why can’t I just pay the fine and go home?!” It’s not necessary to scapegoat my retreatants to make this point; it’s true of all of us. St. Faustina writes of them frequently. It is why the felt presence of God at these times is called “consolation.”
So today, Jesus and Jeremiah tell us not to be afraid in spite of our personal demons. Jeremiah tells us the demons will be there, but… “The Lord will be with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph; for to [Him] I have entrusted my cause.” That’s important: the demons may always be there, but “they will not triumph” when we have more important convictions and commitments.
And because the demons will always be there Jesus cautions us, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul; but, rather, be afraid of one who can destroy both the soul and body…” That’s one’s personal demon, the one who is so persuasive, who so well mimics the truth.
It has been said that, “People’s problem ain’t that they’re ignorant; it’s all the things they know that just ain’t so!” One of the demons’ most common strategies is to mimic the truth by making us think that spirituality – even entering a monastery – is a program of self-improvement. He tells us that acquiring virtue is a way of self-enhancement. …It just ain’t so.
Virtues are acquired indirectly when one is concerned and committed to values greater than the virtue itself. It is not from what we undertake with a view to our own development, but from the things or person to whom we devote ourselves for their own sake that will issue the deepest formative effects on who we are.
When Jesus says, “Do not be afraid” He is calling us to be Free: free of the bondage of self. On the other hand, the demon promises refuge in the diversions of the world. This is a difference between God’s idea of happiness and that of the demons. We are free to choose…and we must choose. If we are free, we can choose a concern and commitment more important than self-satisfaction. St. Augustine confessed that “the whole business of this life is to restore the health of the eye-of-the-heart whereby God can be seen.”
And Jesus is our model for this because He is “the Truth.” And He tells us “the Truth will set you free.” I think this gospel is best summarized by Bob Dylan in a line from one of his songs:
just around the corner for you;
but with truth so far off
what good would it do?”[i]
That is what today’s gospel is about: the freedom that truth will give us. God converts our freedom. He converts it to Himself. So… don’t worry, be happy.
Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Job 38:1, 8-11; 2 Cor 5:14-17; Mk 4:35-40 ]
During the hot months of summer, the Sea of Galilee is a place where people living in Israel today go for vacations. It is a lake where tourists in the Holy Land like to go boating and swimming. But when the sun beats down with furnace like heat, and a cold front descends from the near by slopes of Mt. Hermon, violent storms sweep across the Sea just as they did 2,000 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 a few years ago. Seasoned fishermen, like the disciples of Jesus, pull their slow moving boats up on the seashore when there is a threat of storms. They know how dangerous the lake can be. On just such an evening Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. It was probably against their better judgment. But Jesus was preparing them for lessons they would never forget.
Without warning cold air currents came crashing down upon the lake. Waves whipped over the sides of the boat, driven by the howling wind. The boat began to be swamped by the waves, but Jesus was sleeping soundly. This story is symbolic of life. Being a Christian, leading a good life, doing the will of God does not give us immunity from storms, from suffering and trouble, from weakness and doubts, even death itself. Following Christ may even be the cause of our troubles, as happens during 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 the insane Roman emperor Nero. He ordered Christians in Rome to be tied to wooden posts and set on fire at night to light the way through his palace gardens. Matthew’s story about the storm at sea records Jesus’ response to the problem of suffering in our lives.
First, Jesus teaches that even when God seems asleep, indifferent or unaware of our plight, we can have faith that he will help us. Moses found the God who saves in a burning bush. Elijah found the God who saves in a tiny whispering sound. The disciples found the God who saves in the midst of a storm. Christ wants us to know that even when all seems lost he is able to help us.
Next the story teaches us a powerful prayer for times of suffering: “Lord, save us.” This cry it goes to the heart of our human condition. There are storms in every life. 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, Christ have mercy.” In our private prayers we might say with the publican: “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” But, this short pray includes them all: “Lord, save us.”
Finally, the story teaches that the bark of Peter, the Church, will never sink under the waves of persecution or any other affliction. With a command from Jesus the howling wind and the rolling waves suddenly stop. Silence turns into reverence. The disciples are struck with awe, “What sort of man is this that even the winds and sea obey him?” And we know the answer. This man is God, Savior of the world.
We are a Christian assembly gathered at the Eucharist, gathered around Jesus. And the boat that carries us safely to the other shore is the Church. 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 aware that Christ is present in every storm to help us even when he seems asleep. Second, pray for help, “Lord, save us.” And third, be united with the people of God, the body of Christ. That is why we are gathered here today, in this beautiful boat, this holy place. As successors of the first Christians, may our silence be filled with reverence. Then, with grateful love and one voice, we will proclaim, “Jesus, truly, you are the Son of God.”