Gospel: Mark 6:45-52
After the five thousand had eaten and were satisfied,
Jesus made his disciples get into the boat
and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida,
while he dismissed the crowd.
And when he had taken leave of them,
he went off to the mountain to pray.
When it was evening,
the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on shore.
Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing,
for the wind was against them.
About the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea.
He meant to pass by them.
But when they saw him walking on the sea,
they thought it was a ghost and cried out.
They had all seen him and were terrified.
But at once he spoke with them,
“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”
He got into the boat with them and the wind died down.
They were completely astounded.
They had not understood the incident of the loaves.
On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.
Homily Transcript: God is Caring for Us Today
Summer before last I mentioned to several of you that I had the opportunity to go over to Rome and to be part of a small group that met with Pope Francis. As we were issued through the corridors of the Vatican—from one room to the other through all of these nooks and crannies—finally finding our way into the room where the Papal audience took place. In the antechamber where we were waiting for the Pope, above the doorway there was a painting of the Apostles in a ship in the midst of a violent storm.They were terrified; a scene depicting this struggle.
The Church has often been depicted throughout the years as a ship and the Apostles are symbolic of the leadership of the Church in the midst of this storm.This is the scene that Mark describes in the gospel today. Note that one of the details of the story is that Jesus made the Apostles get into the boat and precede him to the other side. Jesus in other words is setting them up in this test of faith. Jesus meanwhile goes off to pray.
And then in this famous scene Jesus is of course walking across the water in the midst of the storm and the boat is being rocked back and forth and the Apostles are fearing for their lives. But when they see Jesus their fear goes into terror because they think they’re seeing a ghost. Jesus’s words to them are words of assurance, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Immediately Jesus calms the wind and the sea and gets into the boat. And the reaction on the part of the disciples is particularly significant here in Mark’s telling of this story.
They said they were astounded and they failed to understand the meaning of the loaves because their hearts were hardened. You’ll remember that this scene takes place immediately after what we heard in yesterday’s Gospel of Jesus feeding, 5,000 men—not including women and children, with just a few loaves and fishes.
The disciples had failed to understand the meaning of that. Here are two test cases placed side-by-side. One is, there’s physical scarcity. There isn’t enough to eat and the disciples are panicking: ‘What are we going to do? Send them away! We can’t possibly afford to feed so many people.’ Jesus says, ‘Hold on boys. What do you got? Let’s lift this up in prayer. God will provide.’
The second test of faith, they’re out in the middle of the sea and this terrible storm is erupting and they’re terrified and Jesus says, ‘Calm down boys. I’m with you. You have what you need.’
Two cases of the Apostles experiencing their limits and their reaction to their limits is terror and fear. Mark says, “their hearts were hardened.” They didn’t understand that Jesus says, “when I am with you you have what you need.”
That’s part of the point that St. John makes in this beautiful first reading today from his first letter, chapter 4. Notice that it ends by his saying there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. So one who fears is not yet perfect in love.
The multiplication of the loaves and the feeding of the 5000; the miraculous calming of the storm; are two examples of Jesus teaching them a perfection in trust and love.
There’s a wonderful quote by St. Francis De Sales that I discovered a few years ago that I continue to return to and meditate on often. St. Francis de Sales was the bishop of Geneva in Switzerland. He lived in the midst of the Protestant Reformation. He was born in 1567 died in 1622. He was known for his astoundingly clear and profound spiritual writings and his gentle manner in dealing with controversies. At a time when the church was at loggerheads and Catholics were arguing with Protestants and Protestants were arguing with Catholics, accusing each other of being heretics and ignoramuses, Francis de Sales is extraordinary for his calm and his gentleness and his profound wisdom.
He wrote, “Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow. The same everlasting Father who cares for you today, will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it.”
Brothers and sisters, that’s the profound wisdom of the Gospel. If the Lord is going to be with us. He is with us now and he’s either going to shield us from the suffering or he’s going to be able to give us the strength to be able to get through it.
I was talking to a priest recently in Spiritual Direction who is going through a particularly difficult time and he acknowledged that he was angry at God. “God, why are you asking this of me at this time in my life?” He’s an older priest. He’s served the church for many many years. He’s been given an assignment that is just stretching him beyond what he thinks his capacity is.
And I’ve been meeting with him for over a year and this has been an ongoing struggle because he’s been in this job and it’s extremely demanding. But when I met with him recently, he said, “As I continue to pray into this and to bring these struggles to the Lord what I’ve recognized was deep areas of brokenness that relate to my childhood insecurities. The present storm of my life taps into that pool of unresolved anxiety that goes way back to my childhood. And he said, “If I’m really honest, as I prayed about this, what I’ve seen is my resistance, my anger, my pride. And I haven’t wanted to look at that. But this struggle has pushed me to my limits and it’s revealed areas of sin and insecurity in my life that I simply didn’t want to recognize. I didn’t want to look at. I see now that this struggle is actually God’s grace at work in my life revealing areas of sin and arrogance and pride that I didn’t even know were there or I certainly didn’t want to acknowledge.”
St. Francis de Sales’ wisdom here is so instructive: “Don’t look forward or worried about what’s going to happen tomorrow. God who is caring for us today will take care of tomorrow and every day after. He’s either going to shield us from the suffering or he will give us unfailing strength to bear it. In the midst of that we will be transformed. In the midst of that we will be brought closer to him.”
What’s the result? Francis de Sales says, “Be at peace. Put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings and pray this way: ‘The Lord is my strength and my shield. My heart has trusted in him and I am helped. He is not only with me but in me and I in him.'”
When we experience the shortages of life: What are we to eat? What are we to drink? When we experience ourselves in the storms of life. Are we going to get through this?
Remember the words of Saint John, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Pray that we may be perfected in love and put our trust where it belongs, recognizing that the Lord is with us and in us.