Gospel Reflection – Stormy Seas
Today’s Gospel about the Apostles’ boat on a stormy sea (Matt 14:22-33) is timely. The logo chosen by Pope Benedict XVI for the Year of Faith in 2013 pictured a boat tossed high on waves. We all recognise that this is a difficult time for the Church. Persecution of Christians is as bad now as at any time in history although it gets very little reportage. Attendance at Mass has fallen considerably as well as Christian ceremonies for marriages and funerals. Christian teaching on abortion is disregarded. Very few are coming forward for priesthood and consecrated life. Europe has lost touch with its Christian heritage and become very secular.
The uncovering of clerical and financial scandals shook the faith of many people. Getting to the root of this sinful behaviour has identified a serious faultline in the clerical mindset which caused a denial of the wrongdoing. We were the untouchables. The Church needs a root and branch cleansing.
Barque of Peter
The hand on the tiller of the barque of Peter today is that of Pope Francis. The Church of today is a huge vessel and it takes time and space to turn it around. Pope Francis is not the sort of traditionalist who wants to conserve only a certain period of history. He wants us to go back the whole way to the gospel and the time of the apostles, before clericalism, legalism and careerism controlled the steering wheel. He refers to the Beatitudes as a Christian’s calling card. Being strongly Pro Life he addresses the social sins underneath the global problems of poverty, racism and climate change. He is meeting with strong currents of resistance to his vision of a Church of the poor, for the poor.
Let us return to the terror of the Apostles on the stormy sea. Are we close to sinking? Jesus had gone up the hills to pray. This perhaps refers to the time after his ascension when he is no longer physically visible in our boat. But fear not. Jesus has not deserted us. As the song says, “God is watching, from a distance.” In God’s own time, he comes. “Courage, it is I. Do not be afraid.” One of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit is fortitude. Fortitude is the sort of courage that enables us to retain hope even when we are scared stiff. The Holy Spirit will not allow the Church to sink.
Peter was the spokesperson for the apostles just as his successor, Pope Francis, is regarded as the spokesperson for the Church. Peter trusted in the Lord’s invitation. He stepped overboard into the heaving sea. As long as Peter remained focused on Jesus, he walked on the water. But once he looked at the breaking waves he began to sink. The Letter to the Hebrews says: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.” If we only see the problems, if we let the bad news take possession of our minds, we begin to sink. But focus on Jesus, absorb the Good News, and the hand of the Lord holds us up.
“You of little faith, why did you doubt.”