In our first reading, Queen Jezebel is pursuing Elijah in order to avenge his killing of the prophets of Baal. Elijah is fleeing those who are trying to take his life…and he seeks shelter and protection, as well as the reassurance of the presence of God. And what happens? He isn’t fooled: by magic, Jezebel conjures up wind, then earthquake, then fire in order to trick Elijah from his hiding place, but he waited and listened…and in a still, whispering sound, Elijah discovered that the Lord was near, was with Him. And with the Lord at his side, Elijah comes out from hiding, with confidence and certainty: all will be well.
And in our gospel, we find Peter doubting the care of Christ amidst the powerful storm which threatened to swallow the disciple. Letting the waves and the wind distract him, Peter relies no more on the comforting presence and strength of Jesus, and thus he begins to falter. But the simple gesture of Jesus’ outstretched hand is enough to save the suffering one. If Peter had stayed focused, even in the midst of distractions and challenges to his faith, he would have been blessed, he would not have faltered, nor become fearful.
And so it is for us. In the midst of life’s daily challenges and struggles, we might be tempted to see all of the things that are heaped upon us, and we may be come distracted. Those distractions might be sadness or loneliness, they might be disappointments or fears, they might even be suffering or sickness…or both. But even in the midst of these, if we can continue to seek a fuller perspective, we might catch a glimpse of the One who is our Hope, our Comfort and our Peace. Sure, he may not remove our struggle or suffering, but he will be with us.
This can be difficult to accept, but realize that it is possible. In the 12th century, a nun and abbess—Blessed Umiltá of Faenza—suffered cancer, ridicule, isolation and so many other torments, but she was able to keep her mind open to see God. In the midst of what were surely grave persecutions and suffering, sister Umiltá wrote this prayer:
“O Jesus, gentle love, you who are the true and complete peace in every discord, bring peace and concord to every conflict. When you are with me and I feel your power, my heart is merry and leaps with joy, my imagination adorns itself with flowers of great beauty, and my soul dreams in the sweetness of blessed love.
Let my enemies come, who in the world are so numerous, but if I feel myself to be with you, I overthrow them all…. I am like a fish that rests in the sea; when the waves sweep over it and the great tempests assail it, the fish enjoys swimming, because it cannot be captured, and it leaps more nimbly. Thus do I in this world that is a troubled sea: the great currents arrive, and I sail below them, and I take shelter in your bosom, and let them pass by. Then my soul arms itself with two wings so noble and flying so high that no one can see me: I rush then into your arms, O Jesus, up into your heavenly realms. Still I offer invocations to you, so that you may be always near me. Feeling myself with you I have no fear of the raging currents. I even conquer them in navigating, and I come forth from them unharmed. But if I do not possess you, I am like the whale that, when the tide goes out, sits on the sand and is condemned to death, because without the tide, it no longer has the chance to escape.”
May God be present to each of us when storms assail and suffering attacks us…may we see Him in the still whisper…and perceive His gentle, outstretched hand. Fr. David