The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 10, 2020 Cycle A
by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.B., Chaplain
Saint John Paul II National Shrine
 Washington, D.C.

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Sunday Reading Meditations

Today’s first reading tells us that the prophet Elijah went to the mountain of God, Mount Horeb, where he took shelter in a cave. Then God commanded Elijah to go outside and stand on the mountain, where he waited for God to pass by. The Lord was not in the wind or in the earthquake or in the fire. God’s voice is like a tiny whispering sound. We do not find God in a confusing and noisy environment. We need silence and solitude to listen to our Lord.

After the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, Jesus sent the disciples to the other shore of the Sea of Galilee. He dismissed the crowds and went up the mountain to pray. For what purpose did he go there? Saint John Chrysostom answers: “To teach us that loneliness and retirement are good when we are to pray to God. With this view, you see, he is continually withdrawing into the wilderness, and there often spends the whole night in prayer, teaching us earnestly to seek such quietness in our prayers […].”

That night, Jesus was praying on the mountain. The apostles were by themselves in the boat, tossed about by the raging sea. Why did Jesus leave the apostles to their own devices? Jesus wanted to teach them something. For many hours, the boat was battered by waves. The apostles were tired and afraid. It is easy to imagine that they were starting to wonder why Jesus had left them alone there. During a previous storm, Jesus had been asleep on board when their boat almost sank but then woke up and calmed the sea.

The apostles did not expect Jesus to come after them but there he was, walking on the water: “When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified” (Mt 1426). They thought he was a ghost.

We should not be surprised by the ways that Christ chooses to come to us. They are what we least expect! Jesus told the apostles not to be afraid but Peter wants to make sure that it is really Jesus out there and not a hallucination. Jesus says to Peter: “Come.” Peter gets out of the boat and begins to walk on the water. He takes some tentative steps toward Jesus, like a child’s first steps. As long as the child is looking at the father or mother, he is able to walk. The problem comes when instead of looking at the one calling him, he looks at the floor or his hesitant legs. A flicker of doubt and down he goes! When Peter was focused on Jesus, he was able to walk toward him on the cold, dark water. Water is a symbol of death. As soon as Peter’s attention shifts to the wind and the size of the waves, he is immediately paralyzed by doubts, becomes frightened, stops looking at Jesus and begins to sink. That is when Peter says: “Lord, save me!” Jesus’ strong warm hand immediately grasps Peter’s hand and lifts him out from the waters that were beginning to swallow him.

This scene reminds me of a quote from Saint Thomas Aquinas: “From nature springs the fear of death; from grace springs audacity.”[2] If we accept Jesus’ call, we can do really amazing things in our lives. We can walk over the abyss of despair. We are able to perform audacious deeds! On the contrary, if we follow our own will, if we follow the voice of the world instead of the “tiny whispering sound” of God’s voice, we shall sink into the deep waters and the sea of our unhappiness will swallow us.

“Lord, save me!” Peter gives us an example to follow. Like Peter, we constantly need to cry out: “Lord, save me!” Let us pray for the same experience of salvation that Jesus granted Peter.  Amen.