Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Behold a great tempest arose in the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves, but He was asleep.
How often in the history of the Church have we not thought that all was lost. A great tempest arises. The boat is tossed to and fro, it is about to capsize, we are terrified, and He is asleep. We must admit that we do not understand. He is almighty, He could prevent the storm, or He could put an end to it before it turns into a fierce and deadly onslaught of nature. How odd, we think, that Jesus should sleep. He was certainly exhausted after walking and preaching and healing all day long. He had not a moment to Himself. Still, is it possible to continue sleeping when the boat is filling up with water? There is something very mysterious indeed about this sleep. It does not seem entirely natural.
The sleep of Jesus when the boat is about to capsize points us to a more profound meaning. And that meaning is this: in the Christian soul, as in the Church, the Lord is present, but He often remains quiet, as if sleeping. He allows the tempest to rage in and around us. He puts us to the test. And why is that?
For sure, the apostles did no wrong in waking the Lord from His sleep. The fact that He condescends to their request and, with His omnipotent voice, puts the sea to rest, shows that He was not hurt, much less annoyed, by their being so importune. Did He not tell us elsewhere that we must continue to knock and to ask until the door is opened and our petitions answered?
So why does He reproach the apostles: Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith? Did they not show great faith in asking Him to do something about a situation that no one ever in the history of humanity, before or after then, would have thought that any mortal man could do anything about? There is no doubt that they showed great faith. They knew He could do something. And we can see here implicitly at least a sign that already they believed Him to be divine. They knew He could save them.
And yet, there is the reproach: Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith? What are we to make of this? Quite simply that, even though their faith was great in waking Him to intervene, it could have been greater. In what could it have been greater? Quite simply, in trusting, blindly, resting in the absolute conviction that, as St Teresa of Avila would say: “He knows all things, He can do all things, and He loves me”. That other Therese, the Little Flower, captured this attitude in one of her magnificent poems:
Living on Love, when Jesus is sleeping,
Is rest on stormy seas.
Oh ! Lord, fear not that I will wake Thee.
I’m waiting in peace for Heaven’s shore…
Faith will soon tear its veil.
My hope is to see Thee one day.
Charity swells and pushes my sail :
I live on Love !…
And here we have a most vital lesson for our individual lives, for our growth in sanctity, as for our life in society and in the Church. For as individuals, we are sometimes faced with impossible situations. There is a wall. There is danger. Often we take the easy way out, and we try to do something, thereby showing little faith, if any. We can also choose to trust, to remain quiet and to hold our peace. We can choose to sleep with Jesus in the prow of the boat instead of agitating ourselves and others and pretending that it all depends on us. If He allows it to happen, it is to see if we will really trust. That’s all. That’s the only reason. Will we trust? Will we place our confidence in Him?
This virtue, this attitude, of trust, so essential for our personal growth in sanctity, is also fundamental for the peaceful coexistence of the members of any group or society. To trust when all is well is easy. To trust when there are waves is harder. To trust when you are about to capsize is heroic. It is to that heroism that today’s Gospel calls us. It matters not that we live in a world in which oppressive tyranny becomes more acute day by day, in both Church and State. It matters not that the very foundations of human society and divinely revealed faith are shaken to their core today. The hand on the tiller is firm.
Does that mean that we are to sit by and do nothing? Not at all. We do what lies in us. We make decisions that are required of us. We know, however, that our decisions and efforts do little to achieve the goal. We know that in the end only the Lord can calm the sea, but we also know that He will, in His time. In the meantime this trial is meant to teach us total abandonment, absolute confidence, blind trust in the guiding hand of the One who loves us.
Jesus is in the bark. All things are in His hand. That is the great lesson behind the reproach: in times of trial, trust, trust, trust. “Trust until you bust”, as my childhood parish priest was fond of saying. Close your eyes, relax. He is in control. I often tell retreatants that there are really only two things you need to learn to become a saint. The first is that there is a God. The second is that it’s not you. If you truly believe those two things and live accordingly, everything else falls into place. Give it a try. No one has ever trusted in the Lord and been put to shame (Sirach 2:11).