FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 12th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, June 20, 2021:
Can I start with a question today and I know this one might be hard to answer publicly. How many of you feel anxious? How many feel like your anxiety has been on the increase during the pandemic and maybe even longer? Thank you for those who had the courage to raise your hands today – know that my hand is raised right there with you. I read an interesting report this week that was on this same issue. Mental health professionals have reported that during this time of pandemic, reports of depression and anxiety have increased by more than 50% over their normal rates.
And we know why. These are incredibly difficult and anxious times. We are fatigued by the ongoing nature of the pandemic; we are heartbroken at the nearly 4 million lives lost to this virus. We worry about our children, about our elderly parents and grandparents; about our job security, food security, housing security. In the midst of all of that is the political and civic polarization that spews vitriol at a nonstop rate. It is a polarization that even makes its way in to the church. Add to that our own daily struggles with family, friends, or co-workers. The hurt feelings, the regretful words, the daily challenges of life.
We can feel as though we are constantly being tossed around by the storm and we don’t know how we will get through it. It is enough to overwhelm us. It is enough to make us feel like the disciples in our Gospel passage today. We find them on the sea with Jesus in the boat. A violent squall comes up out of nowhere. They are being battered and tosses. The waves are crashing over the side of the boat. They are frightened for their lives. They cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” In Matthew’s telling of this story, they are even more desperate, “Lord, save us!” they cry out. “We are dying!”
Where is Jesus in the midst of all of this chaos? Sleeping. “Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.” How could Jesus be so calm during such danger; during such anxiety? We got a hint in our first reading from Job. We remember that Job is perhaps the Bible’s greatest case study of affliction and anxiety. Job has been the victim of one disaster after another. He has lost his children and his possessions, and he has come down with leprosy. Through all this, Job has remained faithful to God. In our passage today, God responds to Job’s pleas. And listen to the interesting words we hear, “The Lord addressed Job out of the storm.”
Isn’t that curious? And yet it is a regular motif in the Old Testament. When God speaks, it is frequently in the midst of storm. From the very beginning in the Book of Genesis, God creates an orderly universe out of primordial chaos. Psalm 18 says, the Lord made “his canopy, the water-darkened storm clouds.” The prophet Nahum said, “In stormwind and tempest he comes.” In Habakkuk, we hear, “At the sight of you the mountains writhed. The clouds poured down water; the deep roared loudly. The sun forgot to rise.”
The point of it all? It is exactly in the most tumultuous moments of our lives, that God wants to speak His calming, loving, peaceful, gentle, quieting words. Only God can calm the storm of our souls. Only God can quiet the anxiety of our hearts. Only God can lead us to seek healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness in all of the broken places in our lives. And only if we rouse Him and invite Him to do so.
Back to our Gospel passage. Once roused, Jesus spoke, “He rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ The wind ceased and there was great calm.” My friends Jesus wants to do the same for you and for me; if only we will rouse Him to address the chaos of our lives; the storms of our destruction; the waves that crash over us mercilessly.
The great St. Augustine spoke of today’s passage in one of his sermons. He said, “When you have to listen to abuse, that means you are being buffeted by the wind. When your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves. So when the winds blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger, your heart is imperiled, your heart is taking a battering. On hearing yourself insulted, you long to retaliate; but the joy of revenge brings with it another kind of misfortune – shipwreck. Why? Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten His presence. Rouse Him, then; remember Him, let Him keep watch within you, pay heed to Him. A temptation arises: it is the wind. It disturbs you: it is the surging of the sea. This is the moment to awaken Christ and let Him remind you of those words: ‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’”
So, my friends, if you, like me, are feeling the stress of the anxiety of our times; if you, like me, are feeling overwhelmed by the crashing waves sometimes. If you, like me, sometimes have words you wish you could retrieve, or relationships fractured that you wish were healed; or sins you struggle with and want to overcome; then remember – Christ is asleep in you. Rouse Him! Rouse Him to your side. Rouse Him to your aid. Rouse Him to your help. Invite Christ to speak to the storms you are facing those same powerful words, “Quiet! Be still!”
God, through all of time, has spoken powerfully from the midst of the storms of life. So, today, take a deep breath, go to the Lord and wake Him. Let Christ set you once again on calm waters that lead to His peace.
My friends, Christ is asleep in you. Rouse Him once more!
May the Lord give you peace.
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