Adjectives come in three forms. The simple describes a person or thing as it is. The comparative describes a person or thing in contrast to another particular person or thing. The superlative describes a person or thing as related to all others in the same category. Enough for the language lesson! As for the “Spiritual Language”, well there are some problems.
Compara-sinning is the process we use to measure ourselves by presenting our’s less against the other’s better. Life becomes a contest resulting in personal experiences of inferiority. We can compare ourselves with God, the angels, the saints, our best friends and even people we do not know. It is a “sinning” because we tend to violate the personal relationship that God has with us and from Whom we receive our dignity through creation and baptism. We say to ourselves that this is not enough, we need more immediate and instant validation. We tend not to “super-late” very often, humbly admitting that we are never going to be the best. We do tend to compara-sin often to find out, usually, how “un” or “not” we are.
The first prayer which begins the Eucharist asks the Lord for mercy. We can prepare these days for that prayer and the saving grace of the Eucharist by gently catching ourselves in the process of measuring, evaluating and finding ourselves in the dead-end journey of looking at others to find out who and how we are. Each of us is different and there is nobody more or most unique.
Elijah is at Mount Horeb, because he was afraid. He was the holy prophet sent by God to speak to Israel. To understand more fully how he got into trouble with the false leaders of Israel, read the previous chapter. He ought to be scared.
We hear a little narrative about his listening for God’s voice. He has found shelter inside a cave, but then God tells him to go outside. A strong wind, an earthquake and a fire are presented which are the usual biblical symbols for God’s presence. God is not found or heard in these, but in a “tiny whispering sound.” Elijah knew the sound of that Voice.
What we do not hear today is the rest of the story. Elijah has to return and face the music back in the land of his prophesying. There is this comforting, this intimacy, but he cannot stay in the cave. He, the holy man, has to face his fears and doubts.
The Gospel continues the story from last week’s liturgy. Jesus and the disciples have fed the large crowd and Jesus sent them away full. He sends the disciples off in their boat and He goes by Himself to pray. What we hear is both a touching story of rescue and a disturbing invitation to trust.
Last week’s Gospel was about how Jesus was sent to find and renew the people of Israel. He had pity on them, cured them, fed them and sent them to remember who He was for them. Today’s Gospel extends this same theme with a new aspect. The disciples are in a boat which can be a symbol for the New Israel or Church. They are by themselves and there is a storm. Jesus comes to them and comforts them with the words that He has not abandoned them. This is the first half of the story.
This little boat of close followers is going to be experiencing storms of all kinds as it tries to live and proclaim the Good News. Tempests will make us frightened and feel very much alone. Their faith, as with ours, is both challenged and strengthened. The early readers of Matthew knew well the symbolic comfort of the story.
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus speaks these words to Peter after pulling him up out of the water when Peter failed to trust his ability to follow Jesus’ walking on the sea. Here is the real comfort for us. It is natural, healthy, and spiritual to have fears and doubts. “Why do we doubt?” we might respond to Jesus. We, like the earliest members of His followers were human and healthy and growing in their spiritual relationship with Jesus. Doubt and faith go together! It is not wrong to doubt, but doubts form the context for faith. We believe, because we have fears of being abandoned, of losing, of being injured and all kinds of realities which are symbolized by these men of “little faith.”
Jesus gets into their boat and the storms ceases. They are heading for further stretchings and groanings. As long as they have a sense of Jesus’ real presence in the boat or in their company, storms of anxiety and lostness become calm. The sailing with faith for them and for us involves rough waters of fears and doubts. Is there really a God? Is this the correct church or faith? Am I doing what is expected? If there is a God, why so much unlove, tragedy, and suffering? The real person of faith is not one who has no questions or wonderings.
We notice in the Holy Scriptures the often used statement, “Do not be afraid.” We might think then that this would mean that fears, such as Elijah and Peter had, would indicate they were not persons of true faith, because they feared. I have fear that you will not like this Reflection. I received an anonymous email today which indicated a more than negative response to a recent Reflection I wrote. Fears are good emotions, but notice, I am still risking and writing. Would that the positive feelings accompanied the exercise of the virtue. It is usually the opposite feeling that accompanies the virtue. When I am patient as a virtue, it is usually when I feel impatient. When I have experiences of faith it is usually when I am invited to walk on the wavy oceans of my fears or am hanging on to the gunwales of my comfort-boat.
“Lord, be true to Your covenant, forget
not the life of your poor ones for ever.”
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