Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jesus Stills the Storm


Anyone who has stood by the sea as huge breakers crashed against the shore has felt the tremendous power of the ocean. It is hard not to feel a sense of awe. The Ancient Israelites viewed the ocean as a manifestation of chaos which the Lord God had brought under control through his sovereign power. Our first reading from the book of Job talks about how God's power extends even to setting limits to the waves of the ocean and storms in the sky (Job 38:1-8). As the Creator, God has dominion over all created things.

As a youth I had the personal experience of being in a small sailing vessel that was overtaken by a sudden violent storm. My sailboat was blown off course and after a wild windblown journey, my sail ripped and we capsized. My partner and I were eventually thrown from the boat and left adrift in the stormy waters. We had the modern convenience of life jackets and were rescued fairly quickly by observant vacationers in a motorboat. The fear and excitement of this day have left this experience burned in my memory.

Our Gospel account this Sunday has the character of a vivid remembrance of a similar episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples. Church tradition recounts that Mark was the official recorder of the Apostle Peter's remembrances. Peter remembered that a number of boats accompanied them that day and that a sudden fierce wind caused waves to beat into the boat such that it was being filled with water and in danger of sinking. The storm was strong enough that even experienced fishermen were terrified. In the midst of this activity, Jesus calmly slept in the stern on a pillow. The disciples woke up Jesus with a reprimand, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

Jesus' actions in this incident display two things. First, Jesus' profound calm displays his abandonment to the divine will. Even in the midst of this storm Jesus shows no fear. Jesus' trust on a human level is perfectly united to his belief in God's sovereign control over all things. Jesus is able to model perfect peace. This episode in Jesus' life also shows that he is more than just a perfect disciple. Jesus manifests his own divinity by personally rebuking the wind and the waves. Upon realizing the implications of this, the disciples are struck with holy awe and cry out, "Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?" The reader of Mark's Gospel sees the answer clearly. This "man" is Jesus Christ the Son of God (Mark 1:1).

How can we obtain this kind of peace or inner calm in the face of life's many storms? St. Francis De Sales notes in a letter to the Abbess du Puy d'Orbe, "Let us do three things, my dearest daughter, and we will have peace: let us have the very pure intention of will to do all things for the honor and glory of God; let us do the little that we can toward that end, according to the advice of our spiritual director; and let us leave it to God to take care of the rest."

St. Augustine interpreted this Sunday's Gospel on a spiritual level as an analogy to the storms which sometimes disturb the peace of our interior life. The anger and indignation we feel inside us is like the storm and high waves which imperil our heart. He notes,

"When you hear the insult, you are eager to avenge it; you do avenge it, and by giving way to someone else's evil, you suffer shipwreck. And why is that? Because Christ is asleep in you. . . .You have forgotten Christ. So wake Christ up, remember Christ; let Christ stay awake in you, think about him. (Sermon 63.2)

We must turn to Christ. Cry out to him in the midst of our distress. We must allow him to purify our intensions. Do we desire the glory of God or our own glory in the situation? We might be tempted to think that such perfect peace is impossible. Let us look to the example of Our Lady. Holy Mary, refuge of sinners, comforter of the afflicted, help of Christians, pray for us.