Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Homeland
June 20, 2021
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Turbulence in the Air and on the Sea
A few years ago, I was on a flight with Father Bianco. As the plane reached cruising altitude, it encountered severe turbulence. The plane was vibrating, dropping suddenly, and swaying from side to side.
As much as I have flown, I was frightened. I thought it might be the end. But when I turned to Father Bianco for a little reassurance, he was sound asleep, seemingly unconcerned that, we and our fellow passengers, were about to perish. I don’t think that Father Bianco commanded the bad weather system to dissipate, but fortunately, the plane found smoother air and we landed safely.
I recalled that experience when I read today’s Gospel from St. Mark. Jesus and his disciples were in a small boat on the Sea of Galilee when a severe storm arose, violently tossing about the their craft, and causing it to take on water – truly, the disciples were in mortal danger.
We get a better sense of how imperiled they really were when we recall that the disciples were experienced fishermen, accustomed to navigating the Sea of Galilee with its frequent squalls.
A line from today’s Responsorial Psalm describes their predicament: Tossed about by the waves, “they mounted up to heaven; they sank to the depths. Their heart melted away in their plight…” – Suddenly, their skill and experience were of no avail.
In the meantime, Jesus was asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat. From what I can gather, he was as calm as Fr. Bianco was on that rough flight. Exasperated, the disciples awakened the Lord and said, “Doesn’t it matter to you that we are perishing?”
And with that, the Lord commanded the waters to be calm, leaving the disciples “all lost in wonder,” full of awe at the Lord’s power.
“Who is this?” they asked, “whom the sea and the wind obey?”
Stormy Seas as a Metaphor for Our Troubles
We can readily see that the stormy weather on the Sea of Galilee as a metaphor for turbulence in our own lives, and by extension, for the turbulence in the life of our Church and the wider society.
Even if we are normally calm and steady, we can be rankled as our problems multiply and as the means to deal with them disappear.
For example, during the COVID lockdown, many people felt overwhelmed by the illness itself, by financial pressures, and by the isolation it imposed – and such problems are likely to linger long after COVID has faded away.
If you find yourself in that situation, be sure to cry for help, like the disciples. The Archdiocese is launching a comprehensive effort to help restore mental wellness, to restore peace and calm in our lives that have been so thoroughly disrupted. Training and resources are being gathered and soon a website will go live. This is simply one way the Lord calms troubled waters in us and among our loved ones.
We may also experience inner turbulence when we survey the challenges the Church is facing, such as declining belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the stark reality that many Catholics are disaffiliating, and the polarization that is evident in our ranks.
These and other problems seem just too big and vexing for any one of us to handle. Indeed, the plight of those Galilean fishermen should be instructive, for the Church is like a boat, a barque, travelling the stormy waters of history.
There is never a time when the Church is not tossed to and fro by the upheavals of culture and history and by the weakness of her crew. Wisely did our Lord predict, “In this world you will have trouble,
but take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
As we reflect on the huge challenges afoot locally, nationally, and internationally — even if we enjoy relative peace and prosperity — we may nonetheless feel insecure… as if we are holding on for dear life, as if tomorrow will be surely worse than today.
What will the planet be like when today’s children come of age? Will we find new ways to live together in peace and harmony, or will racial and social strife be the order of the day for years to come? What of the poor and vulnerable in our midst in such great numbers or the high number of homicides or the neighborhoods in decay?
Like Job in our first reading, we may cry out to the Lord for our society, only to have him answer us, as he answered Job, “out of the whirlwind,” right in the midst of the storms and upheavals of life. What answer does the Lord give us in the midst of it all?
The Lord Answers Us out of the Whirlwind
Faced with so many problems on so many fronts, we might like it if the Lord came down to meet with us and to lay out a blueprint, a strategic plan, for dealing with them.
Yet, the Gospel makes clear that is not what the Lord did in the sinking boat. He did not advise the Apostles how to ship water more effectively or to steer into or away from the waves, or even how to build a better boat. Rather, he spoke and stilled the wind and the sea.
After he did this, the disciples asked the question, “Who IS this?” Isn’t this essentially the same question Job asked in our first reading? Who set the boundaries for the sea? Who made the oceans? Who stilled the waves?
The unanimous answer that the Book of Job and the Gospel of Mark give us is…God! Only God can do those things and like the disciples in the boat, our hearts should be awestruck as we acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior, the One who “stills the roaring of the waves and the tumult of the peoples.”
Let us not try to face the storms of life without Jesus at our side, without encountering the Lord in Scripture, Eucharist, private prayer, and one another. Only Jesus, who passed from death to life thus conquering sin and death, enables us to make safe passage from the turbulence of this world to the peace of his Kingdom.
After Jesus had calmed the storm, he asked his disciples, “Why are you afraid?” The cause of their fear must have seemed as obvious to them as it does to us. If the Lord were merely a human being and nothing more, or if the Lord were a mere figure of history in a textbook, we would be justified in wallowing in all that frightens us.
But the Lord Jesus whom we proclaim in Scripture and receive in the Eucharist is more. He is the Risen Lord, the Lord of History and the author of the new creation, the One in whom we can put our total faith and trust, the One to whom we can entrust our lives. By stirring up our faith and trust, we awake the Lord Jesus, who is asleep in our souls, asleep in our mind and heart, waiting for us to call upon him.
“I sought the Lord and he answered me,” says Psalm 34, and he delivered me from all my fears.”
This is so much more than ‘staying calm and carrying on’ with a stiff upper lip. Rather, faith and trust allow the Lord to speak to us out of the whirlwind, to speak to our hearts right in the midst of our trials and tribulations, and to surround us with his provident love, calming the storms that rage in our hearts. Delivered from fear, we see more clearly how to address the problems that beset us,
May the Lord grant us the blessings of peace and serenity, guide us safely through the turbulence of this life, and may God keep us always in his love!