Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Theme: Do not be afraid
By: Fr. Gaetano Piccolo, SJ
Professor at Gregorian University, Rome
Homily for Sunday August 9 2020
There are storms that pass through our lives and never seem to end. Sometimes they are providential storms that obligate us to push our little boat on by any means just so that it doesn’t smash up in the shoals of hopelessness. Speaking on happiness, Saint Augustine imagines life as a voyage on the ocean, on which people are like sailors that have one desire in their hearts. Some of them are never able to leave the shore. Others go on the journey recklessly and end up losing their way. Finally others are blown off course by providential storms and risk forgetting their desired goal but manage to bring their ships back, though battered, to the peace of its desired port:
“Others, because of fog or because they are gazing at some waning star or enticed by something, leave the straight path and postpone ever setting sail.” – Augustine
In this passage from the Gospel, the disciples did not decide to go on a voyage. It was Jesus who obligates them to go on and confront their fears. It’s night, but they must set out into life with its dangers and face their insecurities. The sea, for a Jew, is the possibility of dying. Jesus forces the disciples to confront their fear because it is then that they will see what they carry in their hearts, what they are truly made of. The disciples have just experienced the power of God: Jesus has multiplied the bread to feed the multitudes, and yet that experience of God does not preserve them from their fear of abandonment.
In defense of the disciples, we must note that the storm is especially long: it starts in the evening but not until the night is almost over does Jesus decide to go out to meet them. There are times in life when it seems like the Lord has really forgotten about us and hope starts to fail. There is an inexplicable silence that obligates us to use everything we’ve got to stay afloat. The disciples ought to get to work; they are called to discover how to face the unexpected storms of life; they are forced to learn to save the ship.
When we are tortured by fear and discouragement, we struggle to even recognize the presence of God when He finally does manifest himself. The disciples are in a panic, afraid death is imminent and that Jesus is a ghost. It’s as if their hearts had already given up believing that God would remember them.
Sometimes it’s desperation that drives us to believe that we can walk on the water of our fears, between the waves of our doubts, through the breakers of our desperate reasoning. Peter, in the name of the community, frightened in that ship that has come to symbolize the Church, defies his fear. While he keeps his gaze fixed on Jesus, he does not sink, but the moment he takes his eyes off him and focuses on his limitations he begins to drown.
And yet, thanks to his courage and his desire to attempt the impossible, he is able to live a fundamental double experience. Peter understands that, on his own, he will get nowhere, that without Jesus he will surely drown under the weight of the negative image he has of himself. Yet precisely while he is drowning, he experiences being grabbed by someone and pulled out of the waters of desperation. This is the baptismal experience that is written in the faith of each of us: without the Lord, we drown, but when we are drowning, the Lord gives us his hand that holds us tight. This is what it means to be saved in the storms of life.
This double experience of drowning and being saved is the experience that the first Christian community found itself in. In this passage we find two formulas that were probably used in the early liturgy: “Lord, save me!” and “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
And if we are honest, our entire lives are a voyage between these two invocations, from fear of losing oneself to recognizing that we have been saved.