During this month of August, the month of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us ask of our good Lord to give us a true devotion to the Immaculate Heart of His Mother, Mary! This Sunday is the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time. This weekend I share with you a reflection on living our Faith in a trusting relationship with Jesus. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
Faith in Christ - with Him, we can do everything; without Him we are incapable of taking a single step.
Immediately after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, our Lord Himself took leave of the crowds and ordered the disciples to set out in their boats. (Mt. 14:22-36) It must have been late in the evening. After a long day of work, attending to those who sought Him out, Jesus felt compelled to pray. He walked up a nearby hill and, after nightfall, remained there alone, in conversation with His Father in Heaven.
From that hilltop Jesus saw the Apostles far offshore; and their boat - buffeted by the waves, the wind against them - was in danger. The Pasch was near and there was a full moon, so Jesus could make out the little craft in the middle of the lake. But in the fourth watch of the night, around three in the morning, well before sunrise, He came to them walking upon the sea. Seeing a vague figure coming over the surface of the sea toward the place where they were struggling, they were filled with fear. It is a ghost!, they said. And they began shouting out in terror. But then our Lord revealed Himself. Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid. Christ always presents Himself in this manner in the life of a Christian, giving encouragement and serenity. Peter takes courage; led on by his love, moved by his desire to be close to the Master, he makes an unexpected request: Lord, if it is Thyself, bid me come to Thee over the water. Love’s daring has no limits, and our Lord yields easily to the request. And He said, Come. Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. Those were stirring moments for all: Peter gave up the safety of the boat at Jesus’ word. He did not remain clinging to the side of the vessel, but went towards Jesus, who was now only a few yards away from His disciples. Awestruck, they contemplate the Apostle moving forward on the swirling waves. Peter walks on the water. Faith and confidence in his Master are all that sustain him - only that.
The difficulties that surround us don’t matter if we walk with Faith and confidence toward Jesus, who is waiting for us. It doesn’t matter if the waves are high and the wind strong, or that it’s not natural for man to walk on water. If we look to Jesus, we can do anything; and looking at Him is the virtue of piety. If through prayer and the Sacraments we remain close to Jesus, we will remain on the right path. If our gaze wanders away from Jesus, we will sink; we will be incapable of even a single step, even on firm ground.
When Faith diminishes, difficulties seem greater.
Peter’s Faith, great at first, was soon to diminish. He realized the force of the waves and the wind (St. John states that the wind was strong), that it was impossible for a man to walk on water. He worries about the difficulties and forgets the only thing that was keeping him afloat: the Word of the Lord. He paid attention to the obstacles and his Faith diminished: the miracle was linked to complete trust in Christ.
At times, God asks for things which seem apparently impossible, but which become a reality when we act with Faith, with our sight fixed on the Lord. On a certain occasion, the Founder of Opus Dei, Blessed Josemaria Escriva, told a (spiritual) daughter of his who was going to another country where there would be difficulties inseparable from the beginning of the apostolic work: When I ask something of you, my daughter, don’t tell me that it’s impossible, because I know that already. Since I began the Work, our Lord has asked me to do many impossible things… and they’ve become a reality! (P. Berglar, Opus Dei - Life and Work of the Founder) And they have kept on happening!: so it was with their apostolic work in many countries… and vocations came, and with them people who were willing to help out in that work with great generosity and detachment. In many ways he told them: Men of Faith are needed and the great works of Scripture will be repeated. Those great works are done each day on earth… This is the way it has always been in the history of the Church. It is God who keeps us afloat and makes us effective in the midst of those apparent impossibilities, of an environment which often goes against the Christian ideal. It is He who makes us walk on water - on one condition: we should keep our eyes set on Christ and not allow obstacles and temptations to distract us.
In his Gospel commentary St. John Chrysostom points out that Jesus taught Peter, through personal experience, that all his fortitude came from Him; left to his own devices, Peter could only expect weakness and misery. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the St. Matthew’s Gospel, 50) When our cooperation is lacking, he added, God also ceases to help us. That is why as soon as Peter began to fear and doubt he also began to sink.
When Faith diminishes, difficulties seem greater: Living Faith depends on my ability to respond to God, who calls me and wants to treat me as a friend, as One who is the great witness of my life. So if I respond to Him and love Him, and if He is someone familiar in my life, if I live close to Him, I am safeguarding my Faith, because my Faith is founded on God… On the other hand, if I keep my distance from God, if I forget Him, if I keep Him outside my life and am submerged in merely human and material things, if I let myself be carried away by what is immediately in front of me and God fades from my soul, than how will I have a living Faith? If I don’t speak with Christ, what is there left of my Faith? That is why, in the final analysis, all obstacles to a life of Faith may be reduced - in their root - to a withdrawal, a separation from God: we cease to deal with Him face to face. (P. Rodriguez, Faith and Life of Faith, Pamplona, 1974) Then it is that temptations and obstacles gain strength. Peter would have remained firm on the waters and would have reached the Lord if he had not separated his confident gaze from the Lord. All the tempests put together, those within the soul and those arising from outside, cannot shake us as long as we have firm recourse to prayer. To abandon prayer, to pray with little intimacy or sincerity, exposes us to sink into discouragement, pessimism and temptation.
Our Faith should never falter even when the difficulties are enormous, even though they seem to crush us under their weight. What does it matter if the whole world with all its power is against you? You… go forward! Repeat the words of the Psalm: ‘The Lord is my Light and my Salvation. Whom shall I fear?... Si consistant adversum me castra, non timebit cor meum.’ Though my enemies surround me, my heart shall not waver. (J. Escriva, The Way, 480)
Jesus always comes to our aid.
Then Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water to come to Jesus. But seeing the wind was strong, he was afraid; and as he began to sink, he cried out, saying Lord, save me! And Jesus at once stretched forth His hand and took hold of him saying, O thou of little Faith, why didst thou doubt? And when they got into the boat the wind fell.
Amidst dangers, obstacles and doubts we should look to Christ: let us run with patience to the fight set before us; looking toward the author and Perfecter of Faith, Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2), we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Christ should be a clear, sharply-defined figure for us. We have contemplated Him so many times that we cannot confuse Him with a ghost, as the disciples did that night. His features, His voice, His gaze are unmistakable. He has looked at us so many times! He is the beginning and the culmination of Christian life. If you want to be saved, writes Saint Thomas Aquinas, look upon the Face of your Christ. (St. Thomas, Commentary of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 12:1-2) Dealing with Him habitually, in prayer and through the Sacraments, is the only guarantee of staying on our feet, as Children of God, in the middle of the rough seas in which we live.
What’s more, together with Christ the conflicts and labors we confront almost daily strengthen our Faith and Hope, and unite us more closely to Him. The same occurs to the trees that grow in shady, sheltered places: while externally they appear to thrive, they are feeble and easily hurt. However, the trees that grow on the pinnacles of the tallest mountains, buffeted by many winds, constantly exposed to harsh conditions, beaten by fierce storms and covered by snow, these grow as strong as iron. (St. John Chrystosom, Homily on the Glory of Tribulation)
Peter stopped looking at Christ and he sank. But he knew enough to return immediately to Him to whom all is submitted. Lord, save me!, he cried with all his strength when he felt all was lost. And Jesus, with infinite affection, stretched out His hand and pulled him up. If we see that we are sinking, that temptations and difficulties are overwhelming us, let us go to Jesus. He always stretches out His hand to us, for us to hold tight. He will
never let us sink, if we do the little required of us. God has also placed
our Guardian Angel next to us to help us in all adversity and to serve
as a powerful aid on our road to Heaven. Let us deal with this friend
confidently; let us ask his help in small things and great things, and we
will find the fortitude we need for victory.” (From: In Conversation
with God by Francis Fernandez)
Through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Joseph,
St. Michael and St. Paul, may God grant us the grace of firm Faith and