Readings: Heb 11:1-2,8-19 • Lk 1:69-75 • Mk 4:35-41
I've always been intrigued by that verse in today's reading from Hebrews in which the author describes the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - as men who "acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth" [Heb 11:13].
It's seems like such an odd thing to say, doesn't it? After all they were born here on earth, lived on earth, and died on earth. How could they consider themselves aliens?
That verse troubled me for years...until one day I realized I was getting old...or at least older. It was then, from my perspective as a more mature Christian, that I began to see the earth -- the world we live and die in -- as a fairly hostile place. I came to realize that this world, so hostile to all that I believed, so hostile to our faith, was not our home; that it was really a place of preparation, a place that would lead us to our true home, the home for which we were created.
But if we let it, the open hostility of this world can drive us to respond not in faith, but in fear. The antidote to that fear is described in that far more famous verse from the same reading of Hebrews:
"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen" [Heb 11:1].You know, most people, if asked, "What's the opposite of faith?", would probably answer, "Doubt." And yet, that's not what Jesus tells us, is it? In our Gospel passage from Mark, and indeed, throughout all four Gospels, Jesus seems to be telling us that faith is opposed mainly by fear. What did He say to the apostles in today's passage?
"Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?" [Mk 4:40]
|Jesus Calms the Wind and the Sea|
Fear, of course, is a normal human emotion, one that if it's controlled can actually aid us in our survival. As a Navy pilot I occasionally found myself in rather scary situations. Fear certainly kicked in, but so did my training, and I managed to overcome the fear. My faith was there, too, supporting me, but I was more focused on simply doing what had to be done.
If we allow fear to control us, it will turn against us, and paralyze us. We see this manifested by the apostles in our Gospel passage. Jesus sleeps, in complete trust in God, but the apostles panic, overcome by fear. That they still call Him "teacher" tells us they do not yet understand who He is. But even in their fear and ignorance there's a glimmer of faith; for they awaken Jesus, and scold Him, hoping He can do something to save them.
But Jesus simply speaks to the sea as if it were a living thing, another being in this hostile world, something that the devil can manipulate.
"Quiet! Be still!" [Mk 4:39]It's as if He's scolding an unruly child. The apostles are awestruck. And they ask the question that answers itself:
"Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?" [Mk 4:41]
The boat, of course, foreshadows the Church, and over the centuries it too will be tossed about by an increasingly hostile world. But as Jesus reminds us again and again, it will be the faith of the Church that saves us, your faith and my faith that save us; for Jesus is never far away, but always there with us, calming our hearts.
And so today, let's pray that the trust and peace of Jesus will fill our hearts, that in our faith we'll know He is always with us, always ready to calm the storms of our lives.
Now...one more thing...
Today is the feast of the great 13-century theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, a man whose influence on the teachings of the Catholic Church can hardly be overstated. A Dominican, he was a brilliant philosopher and theologian, but also a man of deep faith, a man of prayer, goodness, and simplicity. In addition to being the patron saint of teachers, students, and schools, St. Thomas is also fittingly the patron against storms.
|Church - St. Thomas Aquinas, Paris|
Yes, it was April in Paris of that year when Claude and Patricia first met. Like Thomas Aquinas both were studying in Paris. And less than two years later, they married. I'm sure over the years they've encountered a few storms, but in their deep faith, together they have weathered them all.
And so today we join Patricia and Claude as they celebrate their fifty years of marriage, and call them forward to renew their vows and receive Father's blessing.