August 7, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

No matter how fierce the storm, stay close to Jesus

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“At the mountain of God, Horeb … Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.’ A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a).

The Gospel reading for this weekend, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (cf. Mt 14: 22-33), tells the story of Jesus walking on water and Peter’s bold, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to imitate him. This Gospel story is very familiar, but rather than take its meaning for granted, we should spend some time reflecting on what this particular miracle signifies for us today.

Three important things happen in this story: First, Jesus demonstrates that he is close to his disciples in their time of distress. Nothing can harm them as long as Jesus is present to them either in his prayer alone on the mountain, or in his outreach to them on the stormy sea.

Secondly, Peter reveals, once again, that his faith is genuine but immature. He boldly asks Jesus to allow him to walk on water, to come to him without being harmed, only to lose his nerve and, beginning to sink, to cry out, “Lord, save me!” (Mt 14:30) And finally, the Lord encourages Peter to take a bold risk and, in the end, puts up with his weak faith saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt 14:31)

Today, as every day, it’s important for us to experience the closeness of Jesus and his power to save us from the storms we encounter in our personal lives and in society. Expressed in the words of a popular hymn, “No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging, since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?” Peter (which means “rock”) is each of us. His faith is solid, but not perfect. He makes rash decisions and lets his fear overwhelm him, but he always returns to Jesus because he knows, in his heart of hearts, that Jesus is Lord of heaven and Earth. If we cling to him, no physical or spiritual power can destroy us.

The first reading for next Sunday (1 Kgs 19:9a, 11–13a) reminds us that God is close to us in ways that we don’t expect. Like Elijah, we expect God’s presence to be revealed in dramatic ways: a strong and heavy wind, earthquakes and fires, or lightning

bolts cast down from the heavens. But most of the time, God is present to us in much simpler ways. For Elijah, it was “a tiny whispering sound” (1 Kgs 19:12) that revealed the divine presence. For us, it might be a friendly smile or a kind word spoken in the midst of a devastating pandemic.

Jesus, who Pope Francis reminds us is “the face of God,” is close to us in ways we don’t expect. He invites us to “Come,” to take risks, and to step outside the comfort and security of our daily lives to join him in the midst of the chaotic seas of this world. Are we ready to take this risk and, unlike Peter, to sustain our decision—with the help of God’s grace—to walk with Jesus no matter how strong or heavy the prevailing winds may be?

Too often, we find ourselves like Peter and the disciples, huddled together in fear and uncertainty. We ask ourselves: “Where is God? How could Jesus abandon us during these troubled times?” Can we really afford to abandon our comfort zones and risk going out to meet the Lord? And if we take this risk, will we really be able to “walk on water” as Peter did until he lost confidence in Jesus’ ability to uphold him?

Once again, Jesus is the still, small voice that says to each of us, “Come.” If we trust in him, he will sustain us no matter how difficult things are. No storm can shake our inmost calm—if we cling to the Lord of Love.

Let’s cling to Jesus. Let’s abandon our fears, and our need for security, and take the risks our faith demands. The Lord is close to us always. †

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