“Do you not yet have faith?” This is not only a question that Jesus asks His apostles after calming the sea in today’s Gospel reading, but it is the question that frames all the Sunday liturgies for the rest of the liturgical year as we return to what the Church calls “Ordinary Time.” In the coming weeks and months, the readings at Mass will have us journey with Jesus and His disciples, reliving their experiences of Jesus’ words and deeds as they lived with Him, and through these experiences we are called to come to know and believe in Jesus as they did.
Today’s readings present us with a common literary structure. First, we have a dangerous situation, in this case the storm while at sea. Then there is the confident calling to God for help, followed by God’s miraculous intervention. This should then lead to thanksgiving, and awe and wonder by those who have witnessed God’s power. Today’s Gospel reading seems to be a good example of this; the Apostles become frightened by the storm while they are at sea, they call on Jesus to help them, Jesus tells the sea to “Be Still!” And the Apostles are filled with awe and ask themselves, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” Seems pretty simple right? Well let’s look at things a bit more closely.
For the Jewish people at the time of the Apostles, the sea was something to be feared. Yet, many of the Apostles were fishermen, they were used to the sea. They probably had gotten pretty good at reading the “signs” that a storm was approaching, and they certainly appreciated the danger that a storm posed to a boat at sea. Yet, despite their skill and experience, they have gotten caught in a storm on the open sea. They fear that they are going to be drowned. So what do they do? They turn to the carpenter who is sleeping in the boat.
We might be tempted to say, “See, the Apostles knew that Jesus could help them. They were demonstrating their faith in Him.” Well, let’s look a little closer at what the Apostles say. The Apostles do not ask Jesus for help directly. In fact they are a bit sarcastic, saying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Of course God cares for us! He sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die for us, so that we could be set free from sin and death, and have eternal life with Him in Heaven. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that He has come so that we might have life, life to the full. He promises that not even a hair on our heads will be forgotten. God’s love for each and every one of us is overwhelming.
However, God is not just the divine problem-solver. This is why Jesus chastises the Apostles, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Jesus wants all of His disciples to totally abandon themselves to Him, for this is true faith. It is an abandonment to God that excludes all fear. Either we accept God as our all-good, loving Father who only wants the best for us, or we don’t. If we accept God as our loving Father, if we truly believe and have really abandoned ourselves to His hands and will, then we know that nothing can truly harm us.
Sadly, this is not the faith of too many Christians. Many do not attend Mass regularly. They seek only to do the bare minimum, if that. But when they are experiencing a crisis, when a storm arises for them, they cry out to God to save them. Then when God does not give them exactly what they want, they say, “See, God does not care! He doesn’t really love us.”
Because faith is a gift and requires the submission of our mind and will, it must be nourished and protected with prudence and vigilance if it is to grow strong. Otherwise our faith will weaken, and perhaps even be lost. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say that only a faith in action deepens. By a faith in action she meant a faith that is nourished by daily prayers, Sunday Mass, reception of the sacraments, and acts of charity.
Certainly God wants us to bring our needs to Him, and to ask for the graces we need to live the situations in our lives. However, one we ask, we should then just live with the total confidence that God has already given us what we need; even if it might not be what we want. The storms in our lives are there so that we can exercise our faith in God.
“Everything is in God’s hands; if we could only convince ourselves of this! It is all in His hands, since He has conquered the world – even death. Knowing this should lead us to a habitual attitude of praise and thanksgiving” (Ermatinger, “Sacerdos Homilies, Cylce B: June-July 2006” p. 15).