Tag Archives: Faith

The Wind Ceased


The full readings for today can be found here.

And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

In the name of the Living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

You know, every now and then, the stars align, the gears click into place, the dice roll reveals our hopes to be well founded and the Lectionary gives us just exactly what we need. So today, we hear the story of a man named Peter who is willing to leave relative comfort and security because he hears the call of Jesus. As Einstein used to say, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

So, we know that one of the consistent metaphors used throughout the Old and New Testaments is the image of the sea as representing trouble or difficulty. These waters represent the nothingness before creation: in the Hebrew, the tohu wa-bohu. The sea was perceived as the vortex around which danger and chaos and evil spun. So, in today’s Gospel, we find Jesus calling the disciples, not away from the storm, but into it. In fact, Jesus sends the disciples into the boat while he dismisses the crowds and goes to pray. Jesus goes to the mountain, like Moses, to encounter the God of Abraham. Thus, while he retreats to the mountains, he compels the disciples to face the sea of chaos. Literally translated, they are being tormented by the waves. Jesus compels them to confront their own frailty, their own vulnerability.

This story reminds us of another story in Matthews Gospel, in the eighth chapter. If you’ll remember that passage, Jesus was sleeping through the storm while the disciples cried, “Save us, Lord, for we are perishing.” And if you’ll recall, that story ends with the disciples wondering what kind of man Jesus is, if even the wind and the water obey him.
So, in today’s reading, it’s worth noting that the disciples have been out in this storm, on the water, for a long time. They’re sent away before evening and they don’t see Jesus again until early in the morning. So, like many of us, they’ve been struggling to stay afloat for a good while. And I love the nonchalant way the Gospel writer reports, “he came walking toward them on the sea.” Mathew records it as matter-of-factly as if he were saying that Jesus then ate a ham sandwich. The disciples, as is so often the case, fail to recognize Jesus. And maybe, just maybe, it’s their fear that keeps them from knowing Jesus, just like our fear sometimes keeps us from seeing Jesus when he’s right beside us.
While the disciples are initially afraid that they are seeing a ghost, Jesus reassures them it’s him. And our translation really doesn’t do Jesus’ words of comfort justice. In the original Greek, Jesus’ announcement is more sparse, succinct, and significant: he tells them “I Am.” He harkens back all the way to the God of Abraham and Moses, reminding them of the presence of God even on this storm-rocked sea.

And then, we have this wonderful story of Peter. Now, if you’ve heard me preach before at all, you know I love Peter. Peter is full of confidence and bravado and a genuinely good heart which is regularly undone by his clumsy efforts to accomplish his tasks. Peter usually opens his mouth only to change feet, but he rushes in where angels fear to tread. He is full of well-intentioned, but impetuous folly.

And so, he sort of invites himself to join Jesus on the water. This is why I love Peter: he is so eager and yet, not quite ready. And he joins our Lord on the water and for a moment….the laws of nature and gravity are suspended. I suspect that, for just a moment, the angels stopped their singing and all heaven held its breath. And then, he began to notice the strong winds around him and he began to sink. And, whatever else you can say about Peter, at least he has the presence of mind to know where to turn in trouble. He turns to Jesus. He cries out, “Lord, save me.”

And when Jesus returns to the boat with Peter the wind dies down and the disciples all acknowledge that Jesus, the Jesus who walks across the storm and calms all our troubled seas, is the Son of God. And I don’t think we should judge St. Peter too harshly, in fact I don’t think we should judge him at all, because he embodies one of the fundamental principles of the Christian life: we are going to screw up. We fall down five times, we get up six.

Changing our lives is hard. It was hard for Peter and it’s hard for us. If we want to live for Christ, live whole-hearted lives, it’s going to take some time, and we’re going to make mistakes. In the religious life, that’s why we have a novitiate. Living with courage and hope and taking chances means we’re going to fail sometimes and we need to be prepared for that. And yet, God is always stronger than the sum of all our fears and failures.

Following Jesus is no assurance of smooth sailing. Following St. Dominic does not shield us from the hard knocks of life and death. In fact, the biblical witness would tell us something quite to the contrary: we are assured of the storm. You know, we clothe our new brothers and sisters with cowls and scapulars. I’m not sure we wouldn’t do better to give them life jackets and crash helmets.

I’m reminded of a poem by a fellow named Andrew King. He wrote:


Consider the wild wave, its wet tension,
tissues of torn foam in its curled fist;
contradiction of calm, enemy of evenness,
it says to the stormed soul: fear my strength.

Consider the flinty wind, its walled power,
shreds of white clouds in its biting teeth;
uncaring and unkind to brittle weakness,
it says to the scoured soul: fear my strength.

Consider the fragile flesh, its limitations,
gravity’s slave and tattered by time;
weak against wave and wind’s toughness,
it says to the struggling soul: I’ve little strength.

Consider Christ who walks through storm toward us,
who reaches out, compassion in his hands,
counters fearing with God’s loving faithfulness.
Who says to the yearning soul: here is strength.

You see, like St. Peter, God wants more from us than lives of safety and stability. God’s dreams for the world are bigger than that. God has called us to be explorers on an adventure: seeking God in unlikely places, and pointing out his presence when others cannot see it. And so it is with our brother Peter, who will make his life vows this evening. Like Joseph in the Old Testament reading today, he has come, seeking his brothers and his sisters.We have seen in him the love of God, reflected in his love and commitment to this Order and the path of St. Dominic. We have watched him grow in marvelous ways. God has wonderful dreams for our brother, and we do, too. And so, we join him in stepping out of the boat, sinking sometimes, but always proclaiming the presence of God in the storm. Amen.

James R. Dennis, O.P. © 2017

And Now You’re Here

My travel schedule remains quite busy, so today’s post will be short.  Today is the feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun who lived a short life from 1873 to 1897.

I ran across this in Celtic Daily Prayer, from The Song of Simeon:

And now You’re here–
the light is shining where
the darkness used to be–
and all the world
is a different place…

…and every single day a fresh beginning.

As St. Thérèse once said,  “May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.”

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

My Lord and My God!

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’  John 20: 24-28.

On December 21, the church celebrates the Feast of St. Thomas, sometimes known as the Doubting Thomas.  This feast day may seem like a bit of an interruption in our Advent preparation, but I hope to convince you that it makes perfect sense.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing the Incarnation.  Of course, the Latin root of that word is carnis, which means meat or flesh. So, the term Incarnation means that God became flesh and bone, that the immortal became mortal, that the spiritual became physical. God, in a sense, consecrated humanity by entering into our history.  

This was  not, however, some metaphysical entry, nor some encounter with an ethereal spirit.  No, Scripture tells us that Christ was born into human history, born among the animals in a stable or a cave or a stall.  This Incarnation was lowly, mean and decidedly real.

Similarly, in this story of St. Thomas, we learn that even the resurrected Christ bears the scars of his entry into human history, of his encounter with human sin.  Thomas doubted the reality of the resurrected Christ, and would not permit himself to believe until he saw the marks of that encounter in Jesus’ flesh.

I don’t think we should judge Thomas too harshly.  Most of us will face serious doubts at one point or another, and maybe face them again and again.  Perhaps because of my Jesuit education, I’m inclined to think a rigorous examination of our faith is healthy.  Otherwise, we consign ourselves to something I believe is perhaps more dangerous, a faith that is five miles wide and a quarter- inch thick.  Many of us have prayed, in some desperate hour, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”  I certainly have, and so feel  a certain spiritual kinship with this good Apostle.

“Then Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!'” I think the point of this Gospel reading is not so much how Thomas came to the conclusion, but that he ultimately reached the conclusion of the  sovereignty and divinity of the Incarnate Word. 

So, we’ve been talking about what Advent means, in terms of the triumph of hope and promise over desolation and darkness.  Advent calls us to look beyond what John Newman called “the shadows and deceits of this shifting scene of time and sense”.  And as we approach again the entry of Jesus into the world, we hear Christ calling to us, “Do not doubt, but believe.” 

Emmanuel, God is with us.

James R. Dennis, O.P.

 © 2011 James R. Dennis