From the Hermitage
It is my hope that the gospel reading in particular will be an opportunity for you to consider your own current boat ride. The experience of the apostles and of Jesus himself has genuine meaning for all of us. However, let me begin with Jesus' dilemma. The crowd is so thrilled by his actions that they only see what is in it for themselves. Jesus realizes that they want to make of him what he is not going to be, a king. It is probably for this reason that Jesus decided it was best for him to get away from them and the apostles to be along with the Father. There are times in our lives when others want something for us which they might consider as good for you. "Oh, you should take the promotion!" or "Sure, that is a house you should buy; it is what is best for you and your family." But there might be that silent whisper that you read about in the first reading which is also speaking to your heart. Finding time with the Lord in quiet prayer and listening is most often going to be the opening of the door for what is best for you.
Let's look at the apostles for a moment, especially Peter. Jesus sends them off alone on the windy waters of the lake. There they are alone and battered by the waves. Fear captures their very being. Alone and without their friend, was this going to be the end? Suddenly there comes a voice from someone on the waters, someone not in their boat. Superstition takes over: Is it a ghost? Like most people caught in fear, these fishermen withdraw into silence, probably falling down into the bottom of their boat. But they hear words, "It is I." Then Peter calls out to Jesus, probably in hopes of rescue or at least in hopes of some comforting and care. Peter's heart and mind bring him out of the boat -- a truly foolish thing to do. When did Peter learn to walk on water? Never! But at this moment he does not think about drowning or not being able to walk to Jesus. He needs help. He knows he and the comrades are in a difficult situation. Jesus will help. Without any thoughts of sinking, Peter goes over the side of the boat and starts his walk to Jesus. Imagine how strongly Peter felt about Jesus as friend and Jesus and miracle worker. But then, as he came closer to Jesus, he began to let his trust falter. "Oh, my Lord, I cannot walk on water." And he begins to sink. "Oh, my Lord, I am drowning." This must have been his thought. Then Jesus takes his hands and holds him above a watery demise.
What are we to make of this? I recall a time shortly after my ordination back in 1972 when a priest leading me on a retreat asked me to imagine myself in a boat with rough waters. What was Jesus saying to me with this gospel story? First, for me, as I recall that meditation so clearly today, I felt that I had to be away from the land and all that it represented with its securities, with my friends, my superiors (at the time I was still a Jesuit priest). I found myself alone with all the challenges that a relatively newly ordained priest confronts: expectations, the adulation from friends because of my new status as priests and high school administrator, some difficulty in finding meaning in prayer. I had to get away from the land to be alone with the Lord. The retreat director knew what was best for me: separate myself from all the world around me for a time of prayer and quiet with the Lord. Fr. Griffith was asking me to be alone with the Lord, to walk to him even in the rough waters that were challenging me at that time. How difficult it was to abandon the safety and security of my little boat to walk out to Jesus. Jim knew my heart well. What a challenge!
Each of us goes through times in our lives when we find ourselves bouncing around in our own little boat, battered by a variety of waves. What these waves represent for me are the challenges to my faith, to my priesthood, to my service to God's people, etc. etc. etc. Each of us has those moments, that frightening bouncing-arounds in our little boats. "Lord, how small is my little boat in the vast sea of my life." Like Peter, however, we have to be strong in our trust. Yes, in whatever storm our lives have put us in, we need to be quiet, listening for the whisper of the Holy Spirit. It is His voice that make take us over the side of the boat to walk on water, to venture where we would never have imagined before.
A final thought for those who have struggles with their faith: if we are willing to risk the challenge of walking on the waters put before us in whatever our storm may be because we do want to trust that Jesus will be there for us, we, too, will not sink! How often Peter can be for us a model, a favorite saint for us because he was so daring and so trusting. Is your faith this strong?
Oremus pro invicem.