I recently went camping in Glacier Park in Montana. At night, my friend and I spent hours watching the stars.
In the northern United States, free from light pollution, the night sky is crystal clear. Satellites pass silently overhead. Comets shoot across the sky. Planes full of travelers move through the starscape. Jupiter and Saturn appear for a time before dipping below the horizon. In a large city, we perceive these stars to be absent because we cannot see them. But the stars are always present and shining brightly despite our inability to see them.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, we meditate on the mystery of God who the disciples believe is absent in the midst of the storm. Jesus, in stepping back from his disciples, shows that God sometimes seems to mysteriously hide. Scripture speaks often of this experience:
“How long, oh Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)
“Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.” (Psalm 69:17)
“Why do You hide Your face and consider me Your enemy?” (Job 13:24)
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21)
Jesus himself, said on the cross, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46)
God, in his mysterious plan of salvation, appears to be absent from the lives of His people. In times of tragedy, great pain, or suffering, people often ask, “Where was God?” But we must remember the wisdom of today’s Gospel – that when the waves are crashing around the boat, and the winds of the storm howling, and the disciples full of anxiety, Jesus is on the mountain in loving communion with God the Father.
Jesus walks across the water toward the disciples, calming the storm and says to them (and us), “Fear not, it is I. Be not afraid.” In other words, though we may be in frightening or trying situations, his power is always greater. Notice here that he does not promise there will be no “storms” in life. But he shows us by word and action that He has power over all of them. “Fear not, is I. Be not afraid!”
There are times in our life too that we expect Jesus to be present to us in a particular way. Often it is we, through the darkness of our intellect, pride, or stubbornness who fail to recognize that Jesus is present and working in ways we may not perceive or understand. Jesus, open my eyes to see the ways you are working in the midst of my limited vision and faith!
“Be not afraid!” Saint John Paul II echoed the words of Jesus to a world gripped by the darkness of communism, Nazism, materialism, and secularism. The Holy Father, as a fruit of his prayerful communion with God the Father, was able to reassure the people of the world, and us, not to be dominated by fear, but to turn instead toward Christ with faith. Turning toward Jesus in faith did not eliminate the cultural and political “storms” swirling around them, but gave them strength and courage in the midst of these storms. A number of saints emerged from the darkness and storms and Poland in particular has a deep Catholic identity to this day.
This is a fundamental choice we face as Christians: in times of adversity, do I turn inward in fear? Or do I choose authentic communion with God the Father? Each of us faces challenges, both private and public, that demand we make a choice between fear of adversity or faith in Jesus.
What are the storms and winds occurring in my life today? Do I trust that Jesus, though he may seem absent at times, is truly loving me in these moments?
Jesus offers us the gift of peace, for He is the Prince of Peace. Although at times we perceive Him to be absent or distant, he is always present and interceding for us before God the Father. May we constantly turn to Him in prayer, particularly during the trials and tribulations of our own lives.
To download a PDF version of this homily, click here: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Rev. Zach Kautzky was ordained in 2010 for the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa. He is currently the chaplain and Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines. He holds an M.Div and M.A. from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, MO. Fr. Kautzky has taken courses and served as a chaplain for the Theology of the Body Institute.