Nineteenth Sunday of the Year
August 13th, 2017
Suggested formula for recognition of indigenous people and their land.
We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we stand
We pay our respects to them for their care of the land
May we walk gently and respectfully upon the land.
I acknowledge the living culture of the ……..people,
the traditional custodians of the land we stand on,
and pay tribute to the unique role they play in the life of this region.
As we gather today let us acknowledge the local traditional custodians of this land,
and the first people that live in our own respective areas
.........for they have performed age-old ceremonies
of storytelling, music, dance, celebrations and renewal
and along with all Aboriginal people,
hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal Australia.
We acknowledge this living culture and its unique role in the life of Australia today
and acknowledge with honour and respect our Elders
past, present and future and pay our respects to those who have,
and still do, guide us with their wisdom.
Finally, we acknowledge with shame that much suffering
still endures to the present generation.
We pray today with faith and hope
for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and ourselves
that God’s mercy and justice will walk
in our lives, our communities and in the heart of our nation.
First Reading: 1 Kings 19:9, 11-13
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12,13-14
Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5
Gospel Reading: Matthew 14:22-33
§ Jesus, you call us to trust in you when we doubt, Jesus, have mercy.
§ Jesus, you call us to courage when we are fearful, Christ, have mercy.
§ Jesus, you call us to walk across the water and to follow you, Jesus, have mercy.
God of Courage, (or Ever present God)
strengthen us to believe in your love and your care
in the midst of doubts, uncertainties and fears.
May we see that Jesus, your Son,
is with us to give us hope and courage
to live with the risks of speaking truth to power
for the sake of our sisters and brothers..
God of Courage, (or Ever present God)
your word comes to us in Christ.
When your people are in danger, make firm their trust;
when you people falter, steady their faith.
Show us in Jesus your power to save and liberate,
that we may always acclaim him
as the One amongst us
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Prayer over the Gifts
God of Courage, (or Ever present God)
You reassure us with your presence
through our sharing in the food and drink Jesus offers.
May his reassuring word be
the foundation of our life and work
so that we have the courage to walk with him
and take the risk of love
as we cast aside our fears
Deliver us, God of Courage, (or Ever present God)
from sin and every evil
and grant us your peace today.
Keep us free from discouragement
and all paralysing fears.
Help us to discover behind obstacles
the saving hand of Jesus, your Son,
that we may walk forward with joyful hope
toward the full coming
of Christ Jesus, our Savior. R/ For the kingdom..
Prayer after Communion
God of Courage,
you continue to invite us through Jesus, your Son,
to come across the water with him
to commit ourselves to you and one another.
Having shared in this Eucharist
may we discover through our solidarity with one another
the trust and courage
to build up a future
of peace and justice in our midst.
Introduction: Jesus says, ‘Take heart! It is I! Do not be afraid’. Let us pray with trust in the God who is ever present to all people and speaks to us with a voice of peace. The response is: Give us courage, O God.
1. In the ‘lightning and thunder’ of anger and calls for revenge, hear the cries of peoples persecuted and deprived of freedom, we pray: R/ Give us courage, O God.
2. In the’ storms’ caused by those who inflict harm on others, be merciful to all victims of violence and injustice, we pray: R/ Give us courage, O God.
3. In the ‘earthquakes’ caused by fear and war, give wisdom to leaders through compassionate dialogue so that they may strive to attain peaceful conflict resolution, we pray: R/ Give us courage, O God.
4. In the ‘fire’ of judgement and condemnation of people, show your gentleness to those who are their victims and convert the hearts of those who cause such harm, we pray: R/ Give us courage, O God
5. In the ‘gentle breeze’ of people who try to serve you faithfully by taking the risk of reaching out to others, of breaking down barriers and closing gaps between people, give them your continued courage, we pray: R/ Give us courage, O God
Concluding Prayer: We pray for peace where there is no peace — in places where there is the constant threat of violence, in places where people live in harm’s way, in places of unspeakable poverty. For peace … we pray,
Gracious God, you love your people unconditionally and call us in countless and surprising ways. Be patient with us when we are hesitant, relentless when we resist, forgiving when we fail to respond. Open our eyes and ears, hearts and minds to the gifts you have prepared for us.
‘Human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.’ -
When we manage a flash of mercy for someone we don't like - including oursevles - we experience a great spiritual moment.
World events do not occur by accident. They are made to happen, whether it is to do with national issues or commerce; and most of them are staged and managed by those who hold the purse strings.
Denis Winston Healey, Baron Healey CH, MBE, PC, British Labour politician.
Above all things let us never forget that (mankind) constitutes one great (brotherhood); all born to encounter suffering and sorrow, and therefore bound to sympathise with each other.
I believe that if we really want human brotherhood to spread and increase until it makes life safe and sane, we must also be certain that there is no one true faith or path by which it may spread. Adlai E. Stevenson
The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.
I've been waiting for something to happen
For a week or a month or a year
With the blood in the ink of the headlines
And the sound of the crowd in my ear
You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that you've seen it before
Where a government lies to a people
And a country is drifting to war
And there's a shadow on the faces
Of the men who send the guns
To the wars that are fought in places
Where their business interest runs
On the radio talk shows and the t.v.
You hear one thing again and again
How the u.s.a. stands for freedom
And we come to the aid of a friend
But who are the ones that we call our friends--
These governments killing their own?
Or the people who finally can't take any more
And they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone
There are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire
There's a shadow on the faces
Of the men who fan the flames
Of the wars that are fought in places
Where we can't even say the names
They sell us the president the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us every thing from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars
I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they're never the ones to fight or to die
And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire
Jackson Browne - Lives In The Balance -
We are one, after all, you and I;
together we suffer,
and forever will recreate each other
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ
Sometimes winning is to say we don't want to fight that war any more.
If one considers the church to be more like a ship than a house then nearly everything changes. The Bible ceases to be a brick to fortify your structure or throw at your enemy, but is spiritual food for the journey.
As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them. There are two things which [men] can do about the pain of disunion with other [men]. They can love or they can hate. Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and the sorrow that are the price of this resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion. But love by the acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds.
The Church of Christ must be an inviting Church, a Church with open doors, a warming, motherly Church of all generations, a Church of the dead, the living and the unborn, a Church of those before us, those with us, and those after us, a Church of understanding and sympathy, thinking with us, sharing our joy and sorrow, a Church that laughs with the people and cries with the people, a Church that is not foreign and does not act that way, a human Church, a Church for us, a Church that, like a mother, can wait for her children, a Church who looks for her children and follows them, a Church that visits the people where they are, at work or at play, at the factory gate and at the football stadium, and within the four walls of the home, a Church of those in the shadow, of those who weep, of those who grieve, a Church of the worthy, but also of the unworthy, of the saints and the sinners, a Church not of pious pronouncements, but of silent helping action.
Cardinal Franz König, former Archbishop of Vienna. Cardinal König spoke these words at the age of 96, two years before his death in 2004. From the Advent calendar of Wir sind Kirche-Jugend, December 8, 2002
The path of prayer leads to the centre of peace.
I'm going to speak to you simply as a pastor, as one who, together with his people, has been learning the beautiful but harsh truth that the Christian faith does not cut us off from the world but immerses us in it; the church is not a fortress set apart from the city. The church follows Jesus, who lived, worked, struggled, and died in the midst of a city, in the polis.
Archbishop Oscar Romero
To speak about prayer is indeed presumptuous. There are no devices, no techniques; there is no specialized art of prayer. All of life must be a training to pray. We pray the way we live.’
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
In another's eyes I see my plea for forgiveness, and in a hardened frown I see my refusal. When someone murders, I know that I too could have done that, and when someone gives birth, I know that I am capable of that as well. In the depths of my being, I meet my fellow humans with whom I share love and have life and death.
Henri Nouwen, from With Open Hands
Gathered at the River
As if the trees were not indifferent….
A breeze flutters the candles but the trees give off
a sense of listening, of hush.
The dust of August on their leaves.
But it grows dark. Their dark green
is something known about, not seen.
But summer twilight takes away
only color, not form. The tree-forms,
massive trunks and the great domed heads,
leaning in towards us, are visible,
a half-circle of attention
They listen because the war
we speak of, the human war within ourselves,
the war against ourselves,
the war against earth
is a war against them.
The words are spoken
of those who survived a while,
living shadowgraphs, eyes fixed forever
on witnessed horror,
who survived to give
testimony, that no-one may plead ignorance.
CONTRA NATURAM. The trees,
the trees are not indifferent.
We intone together, NEVER AGAIN,
we stand in a circle,
singing, speaking, making vows,
remembering the dead
We are holding candles: we kneel to set them
afloat on the dark river
as they do
there in Hiroshima. We are invoking
saints and prophets,
heroes and heroines of justice and peace,
to be with us, to help us
stop the torment of our evil dreams…
Wind threatened flames bob on the current…
They don’t get far from shore. But none capsizes
even in the swell of a boat’s wake.
The waxy paper cups sheltering them catch fire.
But still the candles sail their gold downstream.
And still the trees ponder our strange doings, as if
well aware that it we fail,
we fail also for them:
if our resolves and prayers are weak and fail
there will be nothing left of their slow and innocent
no bole nor branch,
Denise Levertov, poet
two million mostly black and brown
expensive in lives
expensive in dollars
who knows if you did
any of what empire accused
but when the average murderer
serves seven years inside
your eighty year sentence
is clearly unjust
three women living in a whitewashed concrete
cage built for one
stored like lost baggage
the casual cruelty of male violence
keeps your female body in line
watching you in the shower
on the toilet
patting your body familiarly
for weapons of mass destruction
missing the missiles of your words
to cringe as a controlled victim
you must have scared them
Texas white girl
hanging with the brothers
looking for justice
looking for human rights
looking for women’s equality
you must have scared them
after sixteen years inside
they locked you in a hole in a hole
September 11 terrorism
a paranoid police state
will never celebrate you
they cannot force you
to cut out your own tongue
Larry Kerschner, peacepoet
How true it is that the great obligation of the Christian, especially now, is to prove oneself a disciple of Christ by hating no one, that is to say, by condemning no one, rejecting no one. And how true that the impatience that fumes at others and damns them (especially whole classes, races, nations) is a sign of the weakness that is still unliberated, still not tracked by the Blood of Christ, and is still a stranger to the cross.
Thomas Merton July 22, 1963
Never, ‘for the sake of peace and quiet,’ deny your own experience or convictions. The only kind of dignity which is genuine is that which is not diminished by the indifference of others. Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for. Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.
The pursuit of peace and progress cannot end in a few years in either victory or defeat. The pursuit of peace and progress, with its trials and its errors, its successes and its setbacks, can never be relaxed and never abandoned.
Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, [Swedish diplomat who served as Secretary General of the United Nations from April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in September 1961]
Greed says: ‘I snatch all things to myself. I hug all things to my breast; the more I have gathered the more I have.... When I have whatever I need, I have no worries about needing anything from someone else.’ Simple sufficiency replies: ‘You are harsh and devoid of mercy because you do not care for the advancement of others. Nothing is sufficient to satisfy you. I, however, sit above the stars, for all of God’s good things are sufficient for me.... Why should I desire more than I need’
Hildegard of Bingen, Book of Life’s Merits
The job of the peacemaker is to stop war, to purify the world, to get it saved from poverty and riches, to heal the sick, to comfort the sad, to wake up those who have not yet found God, to create joy and beauty wherever you go, to find God in everything and in everyone.
Muriel Lester, [1884-1968]
We are going to render an account to God, not only for our idle words, but also for our ill-considered silence.
John Trithemius, Rule
We exact your elements to make cannons and bombs,
But out of our elements you create lilies and roses.
How patient you are earth and how merciful!
How can we say ‘Our Father’?
...when we allow other Children of God to be placed behind razor wire.
How can we say 'Who Art in Heaven'?
...when we allow asylum seekers to be placed in a living Hell.
How can we say 'Hallowed be Thy Name'?
...when we regard our land as too hallowed to admit the persecuted, the desperate, the tortured.
How can we say 'Thy kingdom come’?
...when our 'kings' are selfishness, blindness, materialism and apathy to refugees.
Dare we say 'Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven'?
...when we defy the divine will by refusing mercy to those seeking asylum, thus driving them to the point of self-mutilation and even suicide.
Dare we say 'Give us this day our daily bread'?
...when we give our refugee brothers and sisters stones while we shut our eyes to our exploitation and warlike response to the poorer countries.
Can we say 'and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us'?
...when we detain all who cross our borders without papers as trespassers regardless of their tragic circumstances.
Who can say 'and lead us not into temptation'?
...when asylum-seekers we have imprisoned are cursed as 'queue-jumpers' or 'illegal immigrants' or 'security risks' or 'potential terrorists' and are tempted to sew their lips together or slash their wrists.
What temerity lets us say 'but deliver us from evil'?
...when we commit such evils against helpless people, driving some to madness?
Dare we say ‘Amen’?
...to a disgraceful policy of detention that makes its victims cry to the heavens for mercy and justice.
Cliff Baxter former journalist
Because God does not expect blind obedience from God’s children, Christians cannot even think of giving unconditional obedience to a worldly sovereignty
Allan Boesak, South African pastor
Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.
‘There is a growing awareness of the sublime dignity of human persons, who stand above all things and whose rights and duties are universal and inviolable. They ought, therefore, to have ready access to all that is necessary for living a genuinely human life: for example, food, clothing, housing, . . . the right to education, and work . . .
The Church and the Modern World, #26 Vatican II
Peace is not merely the absence of war. Nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies. Nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called 'an enterprise of justice' (Is. 32:7). Peace results from that harmony built into human society by its divine founder, and actualized by men as they thirst after ever-greater justice.
The Church in the Modern World, #78 Vatican II
Let there always be quiet, dark churches in which people can take refuge....Houses of God filled with his silent presence. There, even when they do not know how to pray, at least they can be still and breathe easily.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
The Lord’s Prayer: An Adaptation
Our God who is in heaven,
And all of us here on earth;
The hungry, the oppressed, the excluded.
Holy is your name.
May your reign come.
May your reign come and your will be done:
In our choice to struggle with the complexities of this world,
And to confront greed and the desire for power in our selves,
In our nation and in the global community.
May your reign come.
Give us this day our daily bread;
Bread that we are called to share,
Bread that you have given us abundantly
And that we must distribute fairly, ensuring security for all.
May your reign come.
Forgive us our trespasses;
Times we have turned away from the struggles
Of other people and countries,
Times when we have thought only of our own security.
May your reign come.
Lead us not into temptation;
The temptation to close our minds, ears, and eyes
To the unfair global systems that create
Larger and larger gaps between the rich and the poor;
The temptation to think it is too difficult
To bring about more just alternatives.
May your reign come.
Deliver us from evil;
The evil of a world where violence happens in your name,
Where wealth for a few is more important
Than economic rights for all,
Where gates and barriers between people
Are so hard to bring down
May your reign come.
May your reign come, for yours is the kingdom,
the power and the glory forever and ever. AMEN!
Adapted Center of Concern
The deterioration of every government begins with the decay of the principles on which it was founded.
C. L. De Montesquieu, 1752
There is a perverse form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by non-violent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes work for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.
Edward R. Murrow, broadcaster during the McCarthy era in the USA.
I believe that any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight the measure, is bound to become a slave.
H. L. Mencken
The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.
The pioneers of a warless world are the youth that refuse military service.
Do not hold the delusion that your advancement is accomplished by crushing others.
Marcus Tullius Cicero - (106-43 B.C.) Roman Statesman, Philosopher and Orator
The bad thing of war is, that it makes more evil people than it can take away.
Immanuel Kant - (1724-1804) German philosopher
‘There are some whose only reason for inciting war is to use it as a means to exercise their tyranny over their subjects more easily. For in times of peace the authority of the assembly, the dignity of the magistrates, the force of the laws stand in the way to some extent of the ruler doing what he likes. But once war is declared then the whole business of state is subject to the will of a few ... They demand as much money as they like. Why say more?
Erasmus of Rotterdam 1469-1536, Adages IV.i.1
They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
C. S. Lewis:
What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?
May I say to my Christian friends as powerfully as I can, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about love not hate, acceptance not rejection. It celebrates the essence of one's humanity. It calls people beyond the prejudices of tribe, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. It challenges those who have elevated their religious convictions to the realm of infallible or inerrant truth. But even more powerfully it calls those of us who claim to be disciples of this Christ to stand at the side of those our world would victimize, to counter the rhetoric of religious prejudice, to risk our lives for justice, and to do it quite publicly.
Bishop John S. Spong
Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.
Plato, Greek philosopher (428/427-348/347 B.C.)
A time will come when a politician who has wilfully made war and promoted international dissension will be as sure of the dock and much surer of the noose than a private homicide. It is not reasonable that those who gamble with [men's] lives should not stake their own.
The soul of our country needs to be awakened . . .When leaders act contrary to conscience, we must act contrary to leaders.
Veterans Fast for Life
Today's human rights violations are the causes of tomorrow's conflicts.
Mary Robinson, former President of the Republic of Ireland and then: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (Retired)
Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular- but one must take it simply because it is right.
Martin Luther King Jr. 1929-1968
In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese monk, activist and writer.
In the modern world, capitalist exploitation is rampant almost everywhere. Capitalism is now rapidly moving into the final stage of degeneration. In the early part of the capitalist era, society experienced certain advantages, but towards the end, society has become the victim of insatiable rapacity, unbearable hardship and heartless deprivation. Those countries suffering under the weight of capitalist exploitation are rapidly moving towards worker revolution.
Shrii Prabhat R. Sarkar http://www.worldproutassembly.org/
We first fought the heathens in the name of religion, then Communism, and now in the name of drugs and terrorism. Our excuses for global domination always change.
Reflections on the readings
Like most of us, Elijah, does not experience God’s presence in the expected places. Not in power or violence such as earthquakes, fires or winds but in a quiet, gentle breeze. by responding to everyday issues that involve service and solidarity with others. Demands on our time, energy, generosity, perseverance, can tempt us to withdraw from the plight of others. However, today’s readings suggest that it is in precisely these places and situations that we experience and touch God. God cannot be encountered in withdrawal from life’s realities but by ‘walking across the water’ and trusting in the one who says ‘Courage! It is I!’
Elijah, thinking he is the only prophet left, hides in a desert cave in fear and self-pity. His efforts to bring about a just and God-centred world have collapsed and is on the run after mistakenly that God wills the destruction of ‘the sinner’ or evil – after slaughtering 100’s of so-called ‘false prophets’. It is in the gentle and quiet moments, that Elijah realises that he took the wrong way – the way of violence, the way of those in power who use these methods to deal with opposition or conflict. Elijah came to see that God is not in destruction, violence or killing.
Last Sunday, August 6 the feast of the Transfiguration. It showed everything that God can do in love and be present in all aspects of our lives. August 6 also commemorated the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and three days later of Nagasaki. The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Hiroshima was a turning point in human history. Both involved light. One was the light of love, life and hope and the other a deadly light, the death of everything for generations. One event was loving and life giving, the other was mass murder and ongoing threat. This showed some of the worst that humanity can do to other people and creation itself. And people still live with the consequences of these bombings and the ongoing nuclear testing that had damaged many Pacific Island nations. It is significant to me that a Madonna who survived this blast, she was blackened through the greatest evil known to humanity. Her eyes are gone, but her countenance remains. She is steadfast in the face of evil. She shows that love, truth and beauty can prevail in the face of the greatest horrors. I wonder if this is the message of the readings today. God in Jesus is saying ‘Courage! It is I’.
In the 1980’s when I was involved with people living with and dying of AIDS, God was sometimes brought in as a ‘punisher’. But, I saw God present in the people who by their touch, care, love, support, nursing, advocacy showed another power at work in the world. And, as we commemorate the great evil unleashed 72 years, we see God presence in the efforts to make peace and bring wholeness wellbeing to all. These are ‘acts of God’. God is with those who cry out, ‘There has got to be another way’.
Prophets try to take us beyond the ‘narrow places’ of our lives. The original Hebrew name for Egypt was ‘Mitzrayim’ – meaning the ‘narrow places’. God raised up Moses and a people to be prophets, who would lead people out of all the narrow places of their lives and respond to those whose spirits are crushed by poverty, trauma, and abuse, whose intellect and imagination could lift whole families and villages out of poverty but for the lack of education; whose bodies are wounded or killed by hunger, disease and violence. Those narrow places today are clearly visible in the resistance to climate change, to accepting asylum seekers, to seeing other ways of dealing with conflict rather than violence, to recognising people who are different as equal to us, to holding on to causes and structures rather than engaging with people. Prophets today are called to take people beyond the idea that God/Jesus is pro-capitalism, pro-empire, pro-rich, pro-war, and in the minds of some pro-American or pro-Israeli.
Politicians, and some who listen to them, still suggest that people who are homeless, seeking asylum, unemployed, living with disabilities, are responsible for their situation or just plain lazy. Like it or not, this is at odds with Jesus’ teachings. We use the phrase (a troublesome term) ‘act of God’ when applying for insurance to refer to natural disasters’ earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, but the real acts of God occur when a natural disaster occurs or disease or tragedy or famine occur, a child who has suddenly become a homeless orphan is sheltered, when food is shared, when people donate money or goods, when neighbours help, when strangers will give up their time week in and week out to assist people who are ill or in distress, when people by their presence offer hope to others, when people will raise ‘hell’ to highlight the plight of people who are socially disadvantaged or to highlight to unjust and inhumane treatment of men, women, and children who seek asylum. Like it or not it is politics. Like it not Jesus engaged in this kind of politics. God is present in all these things – but in the sense of being present in the good work done by those who go about doing ordinary and extraordinary things.
James Baldwin’s words come to mind as we listen to Jesus’ invitation to Peter: ‘The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.’ The invitation is to keep connected with Jesus and with each other. When we focus fully on our call to work for justice we have the resources to remain afloat in shared community. When we forget that Jesus and others in the larger community are also working for justice, we risk feeling abandoned and self-righteous like Peter and Elijah. Our credibility is enhanced when we are seen as part of a larger community aspiring to do extraordinary things (such as loving and embracing our enemies, absorbing the anger and fear of homophobic persons without responding in kind, and living openly, courageously and faithfully, in order to provide inspiration and hope for others). Unity and love are realities that approach us in the face of battling the dominant, anti-life ways of the world. We too can ‘walk on the water’ like Peter, if we are a united community. But when selfishness, fear, greed, suspicion exist, we become separated; we cease to hold on to one another and sink. Our world is in desperate need of witnesses to the possibility of living Gospel values. Much of our world is drowning in overconsumption and media distraction. Our brothers and sisters are perishing from irrational violence and intolerable poverty, all in the shadow of scandalous wealth. Too many human beings, each of whom has a name and face cherished by God, languish on the margins of a busy world without anyone to gaze on them with the tenderness that alleviates loneliness, even if, it cannot cure their ills or relieve the pains of aging.
Peter’s fear is not unfamiliar to many of us. We know what fear feels like. It is about taking a new path or new way in our following of Jesus. I try to imagine the parents of children in Yemen, Syria, and Gaza as they live under exploding bombs or an ever-tightening situation of violence. I try to imagine the fear of parents with a sick child. I try to imagine the fear that people must feel with rising inequality and struggle to pay their bills or debts! I try to imagine the fear one may feel about a new relationship! Fear can take us in various directions. It can cause people who have lived in harmony for centuries to turn on each other. Closer to home, fear can lead people to hide their fears in alcohol or drugs or just deny it exists.
We all reflect a bit of Peter in times when we are unsure, anxious and feeling fragile. We can be reluctant to step out in the water of uncertainty, and trust in God. It can be more comfortable to live behind walls, dogmas, structures and even in darkness rather than step out and hear the words ‘Courage! It is I’, ‘I am here for you’. It in those moments when we can beyond the usual or familiar and manage mercy or love compassion or advocacy that we experience a great spiritual moment and led to unexpected moments of conversion.
The image of the boat reminds me of a beautiful and powerful gesture by Archbishop Rainer Woelki, archbishop of Cologne, in May 2016. An advocate for refugees for many years, he stood in a boat he had found on a beach that had been used by refugees to cross the Mediterranean. The great cathedral was used as a backdrop to celebrate Mass, on the boat to be in solidarity with people who had come to Germany with hopes and dreams just like anyone else, people who risked their lives in unpredictable seas – hoping to find calmer shores and safer homes. Though intending to make a visual connection to the plight of refugees and Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy, his liturgical gesture was criticised by segments of the political and religious world. He had dared to bring a political issue literally into the church.
The challenge is not to continue to let the walls of our churches or religious houses to shield us from the violence, injustice, atrocities and indifference around us. Those walls should not cause us to disengaged from seeing or responding to responding to the human dignity denied to many in our world. As we approach world refugee day later this month, it is good to remember that welcoming the stranger or speaking out for those who have been marginalized are basic to our faith. We cannot show ourselves to be followers of Jesus when we remain in the dark or avoid the unknown waters of conflict?
We are always being drawn into uncharted territories, places where the still small voice can only be heard if we quiet and align our hearts to God. Like Jesus, we are all meant to work for the empowerment of the marginalized. As ministers to and with others, will we choose darkness or will we revel in the light that heals, transforms and casts out all fear?
We are invited to do what seems impossible: to build our lives and friendships here and now, in the midst of troubles and tragedies that life serves up. Sometimes walking on water might be easier than overcoming or facing some other issues – like forgiving where there is resentment and bitterness; being a peacemaker where there is suffering and conflict; being compassionate where there is hardness of heart; preaching the good news while the world staggers under the weight of hopelessness and fearfulness. There are other moments that can be tumultuous: speaking out and not remaining silent in the face of wrong; when we take a stand that might be in opposition to the belief of family, friends and colleagues; when we try to do what is right in face of racism, the forces of poverty, urban problems, government intransigence or even the church.
We aren’t being asked to walk on water, but to act like we believe that God’s love for us and in us is more powerful than chaos, evil and apathy. The Gospel challenges us to take on the storms of our day with a love and hope that will risk going overboard. The headwinds are fierce, but the force of God’s Spirit is greater still. “Take courage, it is I.” His greeting said “I’m here for you.”