Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. I remember a day a few years back, going on a fishing trip in a hired boat off the Saltee Islands at Kilmore, off the Wexford coast. It was one of the worst experiences of my life! For starters, I was sea sick for the whole three hours of the trip. But feeling this sick was not as bad as the feeling of fear when a storm blew up when we were out at sea. The skipper of the boat didn’t seem the least bit worried but for the rest of us, we honestly wondered if we would survive. The fear of being immersed in an angry sea was overwhelming.
I recalled this day when reading the Gospel this Sunday that tells of Jesus who approaches the disciples in a boat that is being bashed by waves during a storm. They are understandably terrified. The story is an incident that really happened but is also a symbolic message for the early Church that was under-going persecution at the time. The boat is symbolic of the Church whose leader was Peter. To this frightened community, the Lord approaches and encourages them with the words ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid!
For us in the Church today, it is certainly a time to have courage in the face of many trials. There are many things to be anxious about with much uncertainty. Yet in the middle of it all, Jesus tell us once more: ‘Courage, it is I; do not be afraid!’ We humans are anxious creatures by nature. We can easily become afraid about many things that threaten us – most of all by death which explains the Apostles’ fear of drowning.
But remember the words of St Paul to the Christians who were suffering in Rome. In his letter, he reminded them that nothing, not even death ‘can separate us from the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord’. This is why Jesus encourages us not to be afraid – because He is with us always as he promised. We are never alone. Whatever trial we face or worry we carry, we don’t have to face it on our own. He is with us, always.
In the Gospel, Peter is asked to step out of the boat by Jesus. The leader is asked to walk on water which is a big test of his faith. Peter begins to walk on water and continues to walk, as long as he keeps his eyes on Jesus ahead of him. For us Christians, how often have we been asked to walk on water? – to do what seems humanly scary and very difficult. Often, we are asked to rise above our fears, to take a chance or to keep going with a strength that comes from someone greater than us. Here is the strength that is given to us as long we keep our eyes fixed on the Lord. That is the key to faith – redirecting our attention, looking at him and his promises, beginning not with ‘Oh God, look at this terrible situation’ but with ‘God is real, he is with me and helps me. All will be well as long as my life is centred on him’.
When we try to go it alone, when we try to create a Church apart from Christ and when we allow all uncertainties to overwhelm us, we become like Peter who begins to take his eyes off the Lord, panics and begins to drown. But even if this happens, the love of Christ never stops pursuing us. To those who are struggling and drowning in the cares of life, Jesus reaches out his hand and offers us his saving love. Whether we grab that hand or refuse it, is up to us. What Jesus asks of us is that we keep believing in him, keep listening to him, loving him and trusting him.
This is what Christians have done over the centuries, particularly at times of trial and what we are called to do today. Everyday is a new opportunity to trust him. There will always be things to worry about if we look. But once we keep our lives and hearts fixed on him, we will walk and survive. And if we do stumble and sink, his hand of saving mercy is always there. What a powerful message this is!!