19th Sunday Year A, 2017. A realhomilie from Fr Kevin Walsh, Sydney Australia.
STEP OUT IN FAITH!
Many, many years ago when I was in the Seminary at Holy Cross Monastery, Templestowe Vic, my ideas about the Bible were thrown wide open. Like most Catholics in the 50’s and 60’s, and I suppose before that as well, we thought that the Bible was one Book! A history Book at that! Containing the literal truth about God’s involvement with his people, and that the New Testament was far better than the Old Testament. The New Testament didn’t contain nasty stories of wars and bloodshed, and that God’s people had grown up more by the time of the New Testament. Yet, I remember at school at Marist Brothers High School, Mosman, and then at St.Pius X College at Chatswood, that the way the world was created according to the Bible was very different to the way we were learning in Science, especially about evolution. I distinctly remember asking a Brother who was teaching us in Form 5/Year 11 …” Brother, how do we really know that the Adam and Eve story is true?” the response was swift and to the point! “Get out of the class, Walsh; you don’t ask questions like that!”
I also remember in English classes, learning about Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the absolute necessity to learn about the background of the author, and the reason for its structure of fourteen lines, and perhaps the mind of the man which caused him to write a particular Sonnet. We never applied any of this kind of critique to Scripture….until I was shattered, when I entered the Seminary, and we were encouraged to go deep sea diving into the Scriptures. A whole new exciting world was opened up to us, and we wanted to learn more and more because we were taught by Priests who inspired us, because they were inspired by God’s Word and the discoveries that they had made. Some of these men were Frs. Robert Crotty, C.P., Nicholas Crotty,C.P, Jerome Crowe,C.P, Gregory Manly,C.P, Angelo O’Hagan, OFM, Camillus Hay, OFM, Tony Kelly, CssR and Walter Black,MSC. For these men, their world had been opened up during their post graduate studies in Rome and Jerusalem. To these men who taught us at Yarra Theological Union, Box Hill, VIC, I will be always in debt to them. You may not have heard of any of their names before, but me, and my fellow students owe so much to them. In short, these men taught us an inspired us to be curious about all things. That has stood by me and my fellow Alumini all these years.
So, after going down Memory Lane, what can I say about the Bible in a short number of words? I believe that the Bible is God’s Word! It is also like a photographic album, containing so many of the snapshots of God’s continuing Invitation to humankind to be in communion with God. The Bible contains lots and lots of stories which were written at a particular time in world history which need to be put under the microscope, so that we can discover the hidden chambers of God’s activity with His People – the New Israel! God’s Word is evergreen…..it is a Word which is always in season! As we look at the Bible, the faces have changed over the centuries, but the message remains the same! The Bible is the greatest ‘love story’ that has ever been written…..it continues to be written and etched in the minds and hearts of all people at all times. We are then called to be Gospel writers…..Yes, a definition of a Gospel is this….the collection of the snapshots of the things that God has said and done in us, and in others, shared and celebrated in life’s Liturgy. Liturgy means, simply and profoundly the work of all in the Assembly at worship. (Ritual is something else which we don’t need to look at this time around.) So Liturgical activity is somewhat like a team of rowers in an ancient boat powered by work of the team, steered by a Leader/Pilot, moved by the Spirit; the keel and mast is Christ, the boat is the Church, the beginning and destination of the Assembly is the work of the Father.
READINGS: 1st Book of Kings 19:9. 11-13 Gospel Matthew 14:22-33
I gave you a hint at the beginning that this might be a long one….Now let’s look at the first reading. Elijah travels a long way to that place where Moses encountered the Lord God. Mt.Horeb is another name for Sinai. In Scripture, mountains and hills are mostly places of revelation….the unveiling of God to someone or a group. In order to catch the importance of Elijah’s journey and destination, we need to remember that Mt.Sinai was extremely significant to our ancestors in faith. It was that place where the Lord God had initiated a Covenant with his people….a kind of Marriage contract. “I will be your God, and you will be my people”. The Ten Commandments or Decalogue (Ten Words from God) safeguarded the relationship between us and God, and us and others. It was also that place where Moses experienced the presence of God….but not His face! No one has ever seen the face of God….However, in Theology; we call Jesus, the human face of the Father.
So, Elijah goes to that place, ascends that high mountain which having done it myself….it takes its toll on the human body, in terms of effort, and one has to have a good reason to want to go to the top of the mountain. That journey in itself is a metaphor for personal renewal, and cleansing for what awaits one at the top! For me, upon reaching the summit for daybreak was one of the most mind blowing experiences of my life. The very last thing that I wanted to do at the top of Mt Sinai was to talk to anybody. The place is totally saturated by the faith of the people who have been drawn there. The Words of God are so loud, in the silence that, I found it hard to stand up. I can understand the action of hiding in the entrance of the Cave, but then there is an irresistible calling to quietly walk out, to the open and ‘be present’….and thank goodness there were no shops or McDonalds or any type of Cafe’. God speaks loudly in the sounds of silence! Why do you think Elijah covered his face? It is an amazing action…it is a sign of being in the presence of God, it is a sign of inner contrition within the presence of God, it is a sign of unworthiness within God’s presence….it even touches on ‘Fear’ in the presence of God. That overall experience is repeated time and time again through the Scriptures…..” Do not be afraid….you have won God’s favour” says the Angel Gabriel to Mary. In the Gospel today, we see the Lord saying:’ Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’
In the Gospel, notice that Jesus goes up into the hills to pray….to listen and speak to his Father in the silence, and solitude of the hill. Evening time is also a Biblical time for a revelation an Epiphany, and invitation and response in faith! We need to remember that this Gospel was written no earlier than about 55AD, and it would seem to have been written for Palestinian audiences, with a solid Old Testament background.
That being the case, the story of Jesus walking on the water, and all that takes place has a particular Literary Form. That means that this story actualised what was happening in the early Church, and the Words and works of Jesus were not only for the there, and then, but for all times.
The Boat, symbolised the Assembly, hence the Early Church was venturing out seemingly on their own into a world of opposition. Upon feeling the opposition to the message, the disciples become terrified when they see someone coming towards on the water. With God, the impossible becomes possible! Thinking that it was a Ghost, Jesus calls to them, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid!’ Now, Peter who has an element of doubt in him…just like us at times, missed what Jesus really said! ‘It is I’ in English does not strike us in the way it would if it were written in Aramaic or Greek! ‘It is I’ is a translation for what would be seen and heard immediately by the listeners to this Gospel….in short it is the Divine Name! The same name that was given to Moses by the Angel of the Lord at the Burning Bush in Exodus Chapter 3. Wow! Remember in John’s Gospel, on the night of Our Lord’s arrest…in the Garden, Jesus says, ‘who are you looking for?’ The soldiers answer, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, he responds by saying, ‘I am He’. What happens to the soldiers….they get bowled over by this response from Jesus, in awe….the Divine Name.
Notice that Peter, who is still caught up in the moment, and did not recognise the Divine name, still is a bit unsure…..a bit like us, at times, eh? Then that extraordinary prayer, ‘Lord, save me!’ I’m sure that has been and will continue to be our special Mantra-Prayer…. Lord, save me! Notice the strength of the Lord in raising Peter from the waters of the tomb, and then. Remember the strength in God the Father re breathing new life into His Son at the moment of Resurrection? This experience for Peter and for the men in the boat was another experience of salvation….that means seeing the saving hand of God in Jesus! Notice how Peter and the men responded to this faith-moment, this insight in the Christ who is always with his Church, even in troubled times….it is a kind of Liturgical response: In unison, they acclaim: ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’ How good is that?
Now for us in the here and now, see how easily all this can be related to our own situation…that is why God’s Word is evergreen. God’s Word always does what it was intended to do…in God’s time; that can be a problem for us, because sometimes, we want it in our time…………. Let’s reflect upon the elements of God’s Word today, and pin point those times when we have been the faces…as the message remains the same…..Let’s sit back and ponder deeply into our personal Gospel story, namely the things that God has said and done in us, to us and within our family, within the wider community. I would like to conclude with a little Reflection, taken from: New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies by Fr.Flor McCarthy,SDB Page 266..titled: Courage! Do not be afraid!
Like Peter we too have often set out confidently
Across the waters of life.
However, as soon as the winds of trouble rise against us,
And the waves of adversity begin to buffet us,
We lose our nerve and begin to sink.
Lord, when our faith falters, as it often does,
May we hear your gentle voice saying to us,
‘Courage! Do not be afraid.’
In that moment, Lord,
May your divine power uphold us,
Calm our fears, steady our nerves,
And enable us to steer our little boat
To a place of safety and peace,
Beyond the wind and the waves.
Fr Kevin Walsh -Sydney Australia. email@example.com