Saturday, August 12, 2017

Faith is "an act of the whole self" (Thinking about tomorrow's Gospel Reading)

One of the priests who influenced me in my student days was Canon Jim Glennon who founded the healing ministry of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. An “evangelical sacramentalist open to the Holy Spirit” is how he sometimes described himself. At the heart of his preaching and his pastoral ministry was our need to live by faith, by which he often meant disciplining ourselves to focus not on the needs we have prayed about, but on the Lord who lovingly reaches out to us. (That, of course, can be a struggle).

I often heard Jim Glennon use the Gospel reading for tomorrow’s Mass (Matthew 14:22-33) as an encouragement for us to keep our eyes fixed more on the Lord than on our problems, and then reminding us that even when, like Peter, we fail, the Lord is there to help us get back onto our feet.

So, in this post I have gathered a few other insights on this theme.  

Pope Benedict on the nature of faith 
“. . . If we let our gaze be captivated by the tendency of the moment, by the wind that is blowing around our ears, then really our faith can only sink out of sight . . . If we do that, then we have already lost our true anchor, which consists in depending on our relationship to the One who can overcome brute force, the brute force of death, brute force of history and its impossibilities.  Faith means resisting the brute force that would otherwise pull us under. Faith means fellowship with him who has the other kind of power, one that draws us up, that holds us fast, that carries us safely over the elements of death.” 

“Faith is an orientation of our existence as a whole. It is a fundamental option that affects every domain of our existence. Nor can it be realized unless all the energies of our existence go into maintaining it. Faith is not a merely intellectual, or merely volitional, or merely emotional activity – it is all of these things together. It is an act of the whole self, of the whole person in his concentrated unity. The Bible describes faith in this sense as an act of the ‘heart’” (Rom 10:9). 

Archbishop Michael Ramsey
“God wonderfully accepts the persevering  faith that knows God to be present yet feels him to be absent. The key thing was what would they do when they eventually saw Jesus coming towards them?  Would they recognize him and invite him into their boat or keep on rowing in fear, (listening to their own imaginings, that he could be a ghost as Matthew tells us).”

A Ghost
Luigi Santucci’s meditation on Peter walking to Jesus across the water 

And Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water to join Jesus. But when he saw the raging wind he felt afraid, began to sink and shouted: ‘Lord, save me!’

There are many threads in this nocturnal miracle. Let’s try to disentangle its wonders.

Oars in the silence of the night. It was the disciples’ boat. They were on their way back from Bethsaida to Capernaum. It had been a heavy day: the miracle of the loaves and fishes had happened only a few hours before. The men were still stupefied by that prodigy and by the joyful task of emptying the inexhaustible baskets. Then the Master had sent them away with the boat and gone up a mountain to pray. And in the boat they were weighed down by that vague fear that always assailed them when he wasn’t there, that longing for another sort of life that made them silent and seem almost strangers to each other. At such times the fact of belonging to him didn’t count. A trembling leaf, not to mention a ghost, would make them jump to their feet, their hands in their hair.

A cry: ‘Look over there! A ghost . . .’

Yes, a figure was walking on the waves and the moon threw its long shadow over the lake. It was a figure without a face, just with those haunting steps directed - there could be no further doubt about it - towards the boat.

‘Go away, ghost . . .’

‘I’m coming to you’, the steps on the water were saying.

‘I was tired of praying; make room for me.’

But they still didn’t recognize him, so he had to make another salutation, and cried:

‘Courage, it’s me; don’t be frightened.’

A jump. Someone had climbed over the side of the boat and thrown himself into the water. Now two people were upright on the waves walking towards each other. It was Peter who had leaped overboard. He was the only one to leave the companionship of his safe corner and throw himself onto the black waves of unknown depth. Why? We know why - because he loved Jesus more than the others did. But Peter also felt a personal temptation of professional curiosity. What a revenge for a fisherman to be able to walk on the water, the treacherous water . . . And Peter gave way to the intoxication of that challenge which for an instant made him like the other, held him up in the same magic way. Perhaps the kingdom of heaven consisted in walking on the water with one’s feet dry and one’s body as light as a seagull’s.

Then a plunge. Peter sank headlong into the lake. The water suddenly opened under him and once more became the hostile beast that sucks all heavy things in. ‘Lord, save me . . .’

What had happened? Why at a certain moment did he begin to sink and throw the miracle out of gear?

Faith is an impalpable flash. Who can mark the frontier between faith and doubt? Even Peter was unaware of the imperceptible thought which made his heart beat faster and made him murmur: ‘Will I make it?’ But it was enough and the waters opened. Then the other one grasped his hand and set him afloat again.

‘Man of weak faith, why did you doubt?’

St Augustine's Sermon on the Gospel passage
. . . hence also is that which was just now read, “Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water.” Matt. xiv. 28.  For I cannot do this in myself, but in Thee. He acknowledged what he had of himself, and what of Him, by whose will he believed that he could do that, which no human weakness could do. Therefore, “if it be Thou, bid me;” because when thou biddest, it will be done. What I cannot do by taking it upon myself, Thou canst do by bidding me. 

And the Lord said “Come.” And without any doubting, at the word of Him who bade him, at the presence of Him who sustained, at the presence of Him who guided him, without any delay, Peter leaped down into the water, and began to walk. He was able to do what the Lord was doing, not in himself, but in the Lord. “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.”(Eph. v.8) 

What no one can do in Paul, no one in Peter, no one in any other of the Apostles, this can he do in the Lord. Therefore well said Paul by a wholesome despising of himself, and commending of Him; “Was Paul crucified for you, or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?”1 Cor. i. 13.  So then, ye are not in me, but together with me; not under me, but under Him. 

Therefore Peter walked on the water by the bidding of the Lord, knowing that he could not have this power of himself. By faith he had strength to do what human weakness could not do. . .

So Peter also said, “Bid me come unto Thee on the water.” I who dare this am but a man, but it is no man whom I beseech. Let the God-man bid, that man may be able to do what man cannot do. “Come,” said He. And He went down, and began to walk on the water; and Peter was able, because the Rock had bidden him. Lo, what Peter was in the Lord; what was he in himself? “When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord, I perish, save me.” 

When he looked for strength from the Lord, he had strength from the Lord; as a man he tottered, but he returned to the Lord. “If I said, my foot hath slipped” Ps.xciv. 18.  (they are the words of a Psalm, the notes of a holy song; and if we acknowledge them they are our words too; yea, if we will, they are ours also). “If I said my foot hath slipped.” How slipped, except because it was mine own. And what follows? “Thy mercy, Lord, helped me.” Not mine own strength, but Thy mercy. For will God forsake him as he totters, whom He heard when calling upon Him? Where then is that, “Who hath called upon God, and hath been forsaken by Him?” Ecclus. ii. 10 (Sept).  Where again is that, “Whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord, shall be delivered.” Joel ii. 32.  Immediately reaching forth the help of His right hand, He lifted him up as he was sinking, and rebuked his distrust; “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” Once thou didst trust in Me, hast thou now doubted of Me?


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