13Aug 13 August. 19th Sunday in O. T.

Ss Pontian, Pope, and Hippolytus, priest, martyrs; St Fachtna, bishop

1st Reading: 1 Kings 19:9, 11-13

God’s voice was like the gentle whisper of a breeze

At that place Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. ” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

2nd Reading: Romans 9:1-5

Paul grieves at his fellow-Jews refusal. He would do anything to win them for Christ

I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit– I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Gospel: Matthew 14:23-33

When Peter begins to sink Jesus chides him for his lack of faith

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.

Immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid. ” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water. ” He said, “Come. ” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”


In an unstable world

In many ways the world seems an uncertain and unstable place today and it is reasonable to be anxious: war — and even the threat of nuclear war if the war-of-words between North Korea and the Whie House gets any more violent — the desperation of refugees, unchecked climate change, the potential fallout from Brexit and so forth. In our church too, we face many challenges, including the very future of the institutional church and its sacraments, if a solution is not found for the decline in church ministry. Fear and anxiety—always a danger for people in leadership—are not healthy foundations for discernment and mission. It is not accidental that “Do no be afraid” is so common in the Bible. While we acknowledge the worries, the Good News should be felt to be just that—good. Only then can we see our way forward and have the courage to take the necessary steps into the future.

The reading from Paul opens up an opportunity to speak of Jews and Christians in God’s plan of salvation. Antisemitism—still existing alas—can have no place in Christian discourse and vision: our roots are solidly in the Jewish faith, from whom the Messiah himself came. Paul’s ringing words in Romans 11 have not always been remembered by Christians: For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. (Rom 11:29).

Kieran O’Mahony. Click here, for Kieran’s exegetical commentary on the readings.

The storm will surely pass

1. Voyagers: Life can be viewed as journey (Pilgrim’s progress; Exodus; Odyssey), or still better as voyage (because driven by forces more powerful than ourselves, like wind and wave.) We sail upon a rippling surface of events, feeling the joy of movement, being alive and going somewhere. When things go well, we feel the contentment of those experienced sailors, the apostles on their way home across the quiet lake of Galilee.

2. The Waves: A gale blew up, changing their mood. Danger and fear of drowning. Our own life-voyage has its share of storms too, anxieties, problems and pressures of various kinds. How often a sudden turn of events can rob us of inner peace. Are we on a charted course, or just drifting along without any determined direction? Many find it hard enough to stay afloat in bewilderingly changing times, struggling with family and work relationships, painfully insecure in themselves. Those frightened apostles in the storm can be us today: we are those sailors, tossing about in the waves.

3. Is there a Remedy?: Various remedies are tried to ease the upsets of our voyage. Like different brands of medication for sea-sickness! A long quiet rest, a change of occupation, psychiatric help or counselling, Yoga, Tai-Chi or Meditation, Mindfulness or Centering Prayer. Each has its own advantages, but what better remedy can we find in times of stress than an understanding friend? Today’s gospel suggests that our best and most constant recourse is none other than Christ himself.

4. His Presence: God is present where we least expect him, although it is a hidden, unseen presence, not always easy to discover. It takes faith nearer than the door.” So the apostles were amazed to see Christ coming to them in the middle of the storm, for (at that stage) they were men of little faith. Elijah, that lonely refugee, faithful to his God despite cruel persecution by Jezebel, discovered the mysterious presence of God in the still, small voice of his own soul. Standing at the mouth of a cave, on the slopes of the holy mountain, he got strength and comfort from the Living God. Where God is, there is peace. But his presence is everywhere, for those who learn to discern it.

A fine sense of God’s unseen presence is expressed in Francis Thompson’s poem, The Kingdom of God:

O world invisible, we view thee
O world intangible, we touch thee
O world unknowable, we know thee
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean
The eagle plunge to find the air
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken
And our benumbed conceiving soars!
The drift of pinions, would we hearken
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ’tis your estrangèd faces
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But when so sad thou canst not sadder
Cry; , and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry, clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!

5. Safely to Harbour: We don’t expect to be immune from the hardships and problems faced by all the other voyagers on this sea of life. Indeed, Our Lord shared fully in all of these anxieties, being tested as we are. If the Church is like a boat (with no idle passengers, for all are needed to row!), then we have as destination the safe harbour of eternal life. With the compass of faith, and Christ himself as unseen captain of the ship, that harbour will surely be reached. In the meantime, though tossed about by circumstances, he tells us: “Courage! Do not be afraid, you of little faith!’

In our present crisis

José Antonio Pagola

As we look at the disciples in the boat, tossed by waves and overcome by a strong wind against them, it’s not hard to see the figure of today’s Church, threatened from without by every type of opposing force and tempted from within by fear and mediocrity. How to read this Gospel story from the perspective of the crisis which seems to be shipwrecking the Church today? Notice how Jesus came towards them, walking on the sea. The disciples aren’t able to recognize him in the midst of the storm and the dark night. Fear has them terror-stricken. The only reality is the storm.

This is our main problem too. We are living the crisis of the Church, spreading discouragement and lack of faith from one to another. We can’t see that Jesus is coming close to us precisely IN our present crisis. We feel ourselves more alone and defenseless than ever.

Jesus says three things to them: «Courage! It’s me! Don’t be afraid». Only he can speak to them that way. But their ears only hear the pounding of the waves and the power of the wind. This too is our mistake. If we don’t listen to Jesus’ invitation to place our unconditional trust in him, to whom else can we go?

Peter feels an inner impulse to jump from the boat and start «walking towards Jesus across the water». That’s how we need to learn to walk towards Jesus today in the midst of the crisis: supporting ourselves, not in power, prestige and securities of the past, but in the desire to meet up with Jesus in the midst of the darkness and uncertainties of our times. It’s not easy of course. We too can falter and sink like Peter. But like him, we too can experience that Jesus reaches out and saves us while telling us: «You have so little faith. Why do you doubt?».

Why do we doubt so much of the time? Why don’t we learn anything at all anew from this crisis? Why do we keep looking for false securities to «just survive» in our communities, without learning to walk with renewed faith towards Jesus in the very interior of today’s secularized society?

The crisis in our Church isn’t the end of Christian faith. It is the purification that we need in order to free ourselves of mundane interests, deceitful triumphalism and deformations that have separated us from Jesus over the centuries. He is acting in this crisis. He is leading us towards a more evangelical Church. Let us reawaken our trust in Jesus. Don’t be afraid.

Ss Pontian, Pope, and Hippolytus, priest, martyrs

Pontian and Hippolytus (2nd-3rd century) both suffered martyrdom through being sent to hard labour in the mines of Sardinia, in the persecution under emperor Maximian in the year 235. One had been pope for five years, the other an antipope for 18. They died reconciled. Their bodies were brought back to Rome and buried as martyrs. Hippolytus had been a rigorist who fought for an ideal Church composed only of pure souls separated from the world. He and his group remained in schism through the term of three popes. His writings are our main source for knowledge of the Roman liturgy and the structure of the Church around 200 A.D.

Saint Fachtna, bishop

Fachtna of Tulachteann, Co. Cork (6th century), established the monastic school of Rosscarberry. Before that was one of the pupils of Saint Ita, and founded a monastery (Molana) on an island in the Blackwater, near Youghal. He is patron saint of the diocese of Ross