Peace in the Storm: Homily for Saturday of the Second Week of Easter
If you live in the presence of God, high above the deafening storm, the sun will always be shining on you; and deep below the roaring and destructive waves, peace and calm will reign in your soul.
ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA
The Forge, no. 343
“They saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid. But he said to them, ‘It is I. Do not be afraid!’” (John 6:19-20).
The Gospel says that the sea was tempestuous, stirred up—just like the apostles themselves aboard their boat—straining, panting, shouting to one another. Chaos reigned as they struggled to keep their sailing vessel afloat.
But then a bright figure approaches, moving calmly across the waters, totally unfazed by the tempest. The apostles are more than afraid. “Terrified” is the word used by other gospels. As they struggle to keep on course, their attention fixes instead on the apparition. The oars drop from their hands. They stop fighting, forget the strain of their muscles against the heaving of the waves, and refocus on bringing Jesus aboard.
And then there is sudden calm. And just as suddenly they arrive at their destination.
If you are an apostle aboard this vessel, what do you make of this? Maybe some had been rethinking the whole idea of following Jesus: If we weren’t following Him, we wouldn’t be on this boat in this storm at this hour of night. Hard work, struggle, terror, and then the presence of Christ, and all things are made easy—this is the Gospel pattern. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes we heard about yesterday, or several miraculous catches of fish, all show the same combination of human weakness and divine power made perfect in it.
What the Lord wants us to have in mind isn’t so much an expectation of miracles, but a renewed attitude of spirit. We should always operate according to this gospel principle: With God, nothing shall be impossible—the first truth of our redemption, heard first by our Lady before she pronounced her fiat, welcoming the Redeemer into her womb.
If nothing is impossible for God, then we should receive the present moment that God has placed before us not as a punishment but as providence, not as something to fear but as something to work with. Whether we try and fail or try and succeed, Jesus should always be in view as the one who “sits enthroned over the flood,” as “the LORD who sits enthroned as king forever” (cf. Psalm 29:10).
He watches us and understands our struggle, but not as a spectator. He is in the heart of the storm, not standing outside of it. And if He can do all things, then He must be permitting the present struggle for a reason.
Why did He allow the Apostles to fight the storm for several hours before coming to them? What was the Lord trying to teach them? We are told: “They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:52). The Lord was trying to soften their hearts by first allowing terror to seize them and then suddenly bringing about perfect calm.
The Apostles were still laboring on their own without firm belief that Jesus can do everything. The problem is not that they were over-exerting themselves, but rather the attitude with which they toiled. They lacked confidence in Jesus. And so their struggle was disconnected from God, from providence, and was viewed more as an unforeseen, random obstacle they had to grapple with on their own.
When we struggle against something, we often fail to appreciate the presence of Christ for the same reasons the disciples failed to recognize it. They are not expecting Jesus, not watching and waiting for Him. The possibility that Jesus would come to them and could come to them in this extraordinary way was beyond their imagining—apart from being completely absorbed by their own efforts in rowing against the waves. They couldn’t be torn away from their oars for anything in the world.
Blessed John Henry Newman has the Lord lovingly challenge the disciples about their shortsighted fear:
He said to the disciples when the storm arose, “Why are you fearful?” That is, you ought to hope, you ought to trust, you ought to repose your heart on Me. I am not only almighty, but I am all merciful. I have come on earth because I am most loving to you.
Do you doubt My power or My will, do you think Me negligent of you? Why do you doubt? Why do you fear? Have I been so long with you, and you do not yet trust Me, and cannot remain in peace and quiet by My side?
How often do we find it hard to see and hear Jesus in life’s storms, and how frequently is our first response like that of the disciples? Sometimes there’s too much commotion, restlessness, or hopelessness to hear the gentle and strong voice of the Son of God saying the only thing that can still the soul and restore peace: “I am. Fear not.” Be still, and know one thing: I am God.
Newman has the Lord continue in deeply reassuring tones:
Why am I here, why am I in human flesh, why have I these hands which I stretch out to you, why have I these eyes from which the tears of pity flow, except that I wish you well, that I wish to save you? The storm cannot hurt you if I am with you. Can you be better placed than under my protection?
Look at where Jesus is when He speaks: walking on the turbulent waters, yet in full command of them. The same Lord who appeared walking to the disciples through the waves is the same Lord who walks into our lives, into our own storms, with the same encouragement: “I am. Be not afraid.” At one and the same time He terrifies and reassures. Will you obey and serve a God like that?
Jesus speaks words that only God can speak—words that cut through all terrors and calm the heart. Take a close look at our Master, hear His voice above the clamor of the tempest, and understand what it means: Jesus can also command our distress and anxiety, and they will cease.
Yet we should not be surprised if, at first, He addresses our alarm by putting His finger gently and firmly on our fear. Christ treats us as He treats these strong fishermen: He changes their focus from self, from their efforts and abilities, to Him, through an experience of fear and trembling.
Jesus wants them and us to overcome our fears by living in His presence. “It is I; be not afraid.”
As Newman reassures us, in words parallel to St Josemaria’s:
All of us who live in this mortal life, have our troubles. You have your troubles, but when you are in trouble, and the waves seem to mount high, and to be soon to overwhelm you, make an act of faith, an act of hope, in your God and Saviour. He calls you to Him who has His mouth and His hands full of blessings for you.