Sunday, August 10, 2008


What a great set of readings we had at Mass today! There was poor old Elijah being restored and healed on the inside, finding God, not in the earthquake, the wind or the fire . . . but in the "still, small voice" (1 Kings 19:9,11-13). The Gospel Reading (Matthew 14:22-33) began with Jesus, too, taking "time out" for prayer with his Father. It then continued with the well-known account of his walking on the water.

Among the points in the homily were these:

1. The disciples were in a situation conducive to fear. The danger was real. They were "beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them" (v.24) We thought about how that is so often the condition of our lives - as individuals, and also sometimes as a church community.

2. Their fear increased as Jesus appeared to them, walking on the sea. "In the fourth watch" meant between 3.00 a.m. and 6.00 a.m. The disciples must have been exhausted by then. They were startled by Jesus and thought he was "a ghost." Jesus said to them, "Take heart, it is I; have no fear" (v.27)

3. Faith stirred in the heart of Peter. "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water." (v.28) The Gospels show Peter to have been impulsive by nature. He often got things wrong. But he loved Jesus. (When he did well, he REALLY did well; when he bombed out, he REALLY bombed out!) So, when Jesus replied, "Come", Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. We thought about how Peter didn't walk on the water for the sake of performing a feat of faith, but in order to get closer to Jesus. Our steps of faith are likewise important, not for their own sake, but because they, too, bring us closer to him. (We also remarked that although it might seem that Peter walked on the water, he really "walked on the Word" that Jesus spoke. The water just happened to be underneath! Peter trusted that Word; he responded to that Word.)

4. Peter was O.K. for as long as he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus. But, he did what we all do. He took his eyes off Jesus and "saw saw the wind." In other words his focus shifted from Jesus to the storm, the circumstances of his life that were beyond his control. He became afraid - maybe even questioning the reality of what he was doing - and began to sink. We all know what that feels like!

4. Jesus rescued Peter. He did say "O man of little faith,why did you doubt?" (v.31) From our vantage point we sometimes look down on Peter and concentrate on his failure. But his "little faith" was more than that of those who were still in the boat. Maybe they were "safe", but it was Peter who took the risk to get closer to Jesus. There is always an element of risk when we respond to the Word in a new way. Today's Gospel shows that if and when we fail, the Lord will rescue us. Failing and being rescued by Jesus is much better than not having responded to his Word in the first place!

5. When Jesus and Peter reached the boat together (in my imagination I see them now dancing for joy on the water rather than just walking!) the others in the boat "worshipped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'" (v.33). A moment of revelation for the onlookers. What that says to me is that our continued response to the Word, and our preparedness to take the "risks of faith" God puts before us, is an important part of our witness to others. If more us us responded to the Lord as Peter did, it is likely that those around us would - like the men in the boat - come to a fresh realization of who Jesus really is!

And 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?
The entire sermon is HERE.

“. . . 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.” In God and the World (p. 240-241)

“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). In Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism: Sidelights on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (p.29)

And now, O Father, mindful of the love
That bought us, once for all, on Calvary’s tree,
And having with us him that pleads above,
We here present, we here spread forth to thee,
That only offering perfect in thine eyes,
The one true, pure, immortal sacrifice.

William Bright (1824-1901)


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