In our Gospel reading last Sunday Jesus fed the five thousand and twelve baskets full of fragments remained over from the original five loaves and two fish, and in that miraculous feeding Jesus was preparing His disciples for the gift of the Eucharist which He was soon to bestow on His Church. Since this is a time in Jesus’ life of schooling for the disciples, let us look carefully at His dealings with them immediately after that great miracle of feeding the Five Thousand to discover whether or not He might also have been preparing them for other mysteries soon to be revealed or gifts to be given; indeed, even perhaps helping us His distant disciples to better understand our heritage and face up to events in our lives as Christians in our very sinful and adulterous world.
Soon enough, Jesus would be taken away from the disciples and His Church, first of all for only 3 days, by His suffering and death on the Cross of Calvary; after that, He would rise from the dead to be with them again for a short while, until His glorious Ascension into heaven took Him from their sight for ages still unfurling. Such an apparently definitive absence would most certainly need to be understood aright by His disciples, and so now, immediately after that feeding of the 5000, Jesus:
Made the disciples get into a boat and precede Him to the other side of the lake,
whilst He dismissed the crowds to make their ways home along the shore line, before finally:
going up on the mountain (again) by Himself to pray.
Now, Peter’s boat has always been seen as a figure of the Church ever since Jesus first chose to put out on the water in it, that thus He might be able to preach to the large crowds gathered on the shore of the lake to hear Him, and so it turned out again on this evening, for, while Jesus was still at prayer:
The disciples’ boat was a few miles offshore being tossed about by the waves for the wind was against it.
This sudden and violent storm on the Sea of Galilee was indeed a matter of life and death, it was not just a chance happening that had caught Jesus and His disciples unprepared, but rather something Jesus was using to teach His disciples a lesson which -- as leaders of the Church of Christ throughout the ages to come -- they must never, ever, forget: for the threatened boat bearing the disciples this stormy night was intended to foreshadow the Church that would carry the Gospel of Jesus across stormy seas to hostile lands and distant continents so that all peoples might hear the Good News of salvation.
The boat was in serious difficulties that night on the Sea of Galilee and Jesus – quite deliberately -- was not with the apostles. Physically, He was praying on the hill top, just as when, after His Resurrection and Ascension, He would be eternally seated at the right hand of the Father as St. Paul would write in his letter to the Romans (8:34):
Christ Who died is also risen (and) is at the right hand of God making intercession for us.
The disciples thought they were alone, and it was supremely important for them to learn that no matter how lonely, vulnerable and dispirited they might find themselves they should never and would never be separated from the protecting love and power of Jesus. Though rapt in prayer, Jesus was both aware of their difficulties and willing to help them in their need: He came towards them walking on the waves. We are told:
They were troubled saying, “It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear.
Most assuredly, these future apostles of Mother Church were meant to remember this occasion, it was a most important part of God's plan to prepare them for their future: for Mother Church, the barque of Peter, following, pursuing, mankind wherever they might be over subsequent long centuries, would have to endure, and profit from, dangers and threats of all kinds, and she would not be able to do so without this rock-and-anchor original experience of Jesus’ ever-watchful awareness of her needs and willingness to save.
Their spontaneous outcry on seeing the figure of Jesus approaching them through the storm, apparently walking on the raging waters:
It is a ghost (a spirit)!
contained, in itself, unsuspected potential. For, the enlightened apostles would find it all the more easy to appreciate Jesus’ future Gift of the Spirit as ‘the Spirit of Jesus’ (Gal. 4:6) for all needed help in their proclamation of His Good News and establishment of His world-wide Church, and would not fail to assure God's People that security and peace would hold enduring sway in Peter's barque so long as they would trust and turn to Jesus, invoke, and commit themselves to the Spirit of Jesus, aka the Holy Ghost, bequeathed in unique measure to, and abiding unfailingly with, Mother Church.
People of God, let us admire and give thanks for both God's wisdom and love. He never springs total surprises on His servants; He aims to lead them to salvation and so He prepares them to accept and embrace His plans for their well-being. Consequently, we should always aspire to hear, and expect to learn from, God as He seeks to help us walk ever farther, and with ever greater confidence and trust, along the ways of Jesus.
In our first reading we heard of Elijah. He of all the prophets was the man for the big occasion. Didn’t he -- on Mount Carmel -- call down fire from heaven to consume the sacrificial offering he had carefully prepared for the Lord before thoroughly soaking it with barrels of water? Didn’t he subsequently order the slaughtering of the 450 prophets of Baal who were Queen Jezebel’s favourites? Again, didn’t he inflict a drought upon Israel that went into its fourth year? And didn’t he revive the widow’s son from death? And in today’s first reading, once again he was in a climactic situation as he sought to find and learn about his own future from the Lord:
A great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks;
then, the mighty hurricane was followed by a shuddering earthquake and a consuming fire.
In all these manifestations of primeval power, however, Elijah did not expect the Lord to be present, nor indeed was the Almighty Lord present to speak with him about his future. Elijah showed himself a true servant of the God he knew and loved because, despite his dramatic past history he waited more patiently and listened more closely for the Lord to communicate with His prophet through:
A gentle blowing sound,
or, as other translations have it ‘the soft whisper of a voice’, ‘a still, small, voice’.
The voice of the Lord was being carried, as it were, on the breath of a floating sigh, and the Lord was demanding that Elijah listen; for only in one sublime moment of total self-forgetfulness and divine awareness in the depths of the prophet’s being was the – oh so breakable! -- silver thread of contact between divine and human able to make God’s message heard with understanding and acquiescence by the prophet of so many previous, humanly discernible, prodigies.
Here we should immediately recall that humble virgin of Nazareth, our blessed mother Mary, who alone heard the Angel Gabriel’s message of salvation! This is not simply due to the fact that the angel was sent only to Mary; rather is it the case that Mary was the only one in the whole of Israel, past and present, able to hear such an angelic voice, to appreciate and respond to, such a sublime message: Mary was the only one possessed of a heart and soul so humble, so devout, and, indeed, so tranquil, that the divine message could be clearly heard, understood, and allowed to freely bring forth its Fruit.
People of God, just as the Lord prepared His disciples for life in and leadership of the Church, so He is always ready to guide all who are striving to be His faithful disciples in Mother Church. However, it is a far too common failing among such disciples that they are overly-dedicated to ‘important’ moments and the big gestures; and this is mostly because they are not sufficiently strong in faith or humble enough in person to be able to wait and listen for long. Many of them find long-listening wearisome, and quickly reject it as fruitless; others become so anxious in their waiting that they are irresistibly primed to high-jack the situation rather than wait for, and attend to, any still, small, apparently unimportant, voice addressing them. Nevertheless, God will only speak decisively where His words are able to be heard and obeyed, and Mary was uniquely self-less and self-sacrificingly obedient, uniquely prepared, that is, to become the mother of such a Son as Jesus.
Truth and beauty go together, dear People of God, and holy Catholic living -- like Christian parenthood -- is to be seen as an art rather than a science, since it is not merely a knowing of factual truth, but rather a loving appreciation and response to living truth, which is only known in the fullness of its integrity when its beauty is appreciated and loved. In that sense we disciples of Jesus are called to become true artists! Artists whose selfless commitment to their art as distinct from worldly success and advancement are rare; but such a characteristic in a few secular artists can help us appreciate in some small measure the sublime virtue of humility and love in the life of Mary, the supreme artist of Christian living.
People of God aspire to know and love Catholic truth; seek to become, with Mary, sincere artists of humble, Christian and Catholic, living: and for that you must be willing and ready above all to hear and learn from the Spirit of Jesus in and through all the ordinary, apparently not very important, happenings of daily living in Mother Church.
Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord and HE SHALL GIVE YOU THE DESIRES OF YOUR HEART. (Psalm 36:3-4)