06 August 2011

Homily - 7 August 2011

The Nineteenth Sunday of the Year (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

What is it that the prophet Elijah heard that caused him to hide his face in his cloak before going out to meet the Lord (see I Kings 19:13)?  We are told: “After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound,” a sound that the Hebrew text literally describes as “a sound that was no sound” (I Kings 19:12).  The man of God hid his face because the Lord spoke to him in the silence of his heart; he hid his face and went out to meet the Lord.

There “at the mountain of God, Horeb,” the very mountain on which the Lord spoke with Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments, Elijah could well sing with the Psalmist, “I will hear what God proclaims, the Lord – for he proclaims peace.  Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land” (Psalm 85:9-10).

With Saint Paul, the prophet Elijah, who only a short time before proved victorious over 450 priests of Baal, felt “great sorrow and constant anguish in [his] heart” (Romans 9:2).  Having heard of the deaths of her 450 priests, Queen Jezebel sought Elijah’s life.  So distraught was he, so exhausted through his fear, that he said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life” (I Kings 19:4).

But the Lord instead gave him food and drink, saying to him, “Arise and eat, else the journey will be too long for you” (I Kings 19:7).  Elijah did as he was told and walked forty days and nights to Mount Horeb.

Gathered at this altar of the Lord we, too, have come to the mountain of God.  Many here are also filled with great sorrow and constant anguish, and the tiny boats of their lives are “being tossed about by the waves” (Matthew 14:25).  Here the Lord wishes to feed us with his own Body and Blood, for without the nourishment of his own life the journey will be too strong for us; our own strength – as in the case of Elijah and of Peter - is not sufficient.

The Lord comes to us at every celebration of the Holy Mass, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:).  But if we are to hear his voice and recognize him, we must say with the Psalmist: “I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for his word” (Psalm 130:5).  Like the prophet Elijah, we must wait for the Lord in silence for in the stillness “kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss” (Psalm 85:11).

For this reason, Holy Mother Church urges us to observe silence within the worship of God: 

Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times.  Its purpose, however, depends on the time it occurs in each part of the celebration. Thus within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation to pray, all recollect themselves; but at the conclusion of a reading or the homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts.

Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.[1]

The periods of silence observed throughout the Mass and before are meant to help us quiet ourselves so as to hear the voice of God speaking within the depths of our souls, to hear that sound that is no sound, that tiny whisper, that we might be aware of him in whose presence we are in.

Reflecting on the necessity of silence, Pope Benedict XVI has said: 

And here a fundamental idea appears on the way towards the Truth: creatures must be silent, leaving space for the silence in which God can speak. This is still true in our day too. At times there is a sort of fear of silence, of recollection, of thinking of one's own actions, of the profound meaning of one's life. All too often people prefer to live only the fleeting moment, deceiving themselves that it will bring lasting happiness; they prefer to live superficially, without thinking, because it seems easier; they are afraid to seek the Truth or perhaps afraid that the Truth will find us, will take hold of us and change our life.[2]

It is in silence, then, that we must wait for him, trusting that “the Lord himself will give his benefits,” as Saint Peter knew so very well (Psalm 85:13).

It must have been a difficult time for Peter and he surely began to question having left everything behind at Jesus’ unexpected invitation: “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19).  After having taught the crowds in parables, Jesus was rejected at Nazareth and Herod had just beheaded John the Baptist.  Would the same fate befall Peter?  It seemed likely enough, especially since the Master sent his disciples across the sea as a storm was brewing.  Jesus had taken hold of Peter from that first moment and wanted to change his life, but would Peter allow the Lord to do so?

As he was tossed about by the waves with the great sorrow and constant anguish in his heart, Peter was overjoyed when he heard the voice of the Lord; he had waited for the Lord and the Lord had come to him.

Indeed, so great was Peter’s excitement that he “felt an intense need to touch him, to feel him near, a desire to go to him that was so strong that he didn’t even think to wait until Jesus got into the boat.”[3]  And so, as he did before, Peter followed the call of the Lord.  Earlier he abandoned his boat and his nets to follow Jesus; now he again abandons the boat to go to him.

As long as Peter kept his gaze fixed on Jesus, that is, as long as he looked to Jesus in faith and remained courageous, the waves did not overpower him, for “we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7).  But as soon as he let his fear take hold, thinking the storm more powerful than the Master, he was overcome by the waves.

Sinking into the waters, Peter’s “anguish was complete: he realized that he was sinking not out of weakness but out of pride and that death would not seal his powerlessness but his rebellion.”[4]  He doubted Jesus’ power to guard those he calls to himself.  But regaining at least some of his faith, Peter called out, “Lord, save me!” and the Lord caught him (Matthew 14:30)!

My brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to step out of the relative safety of your boats onto the waters that seem ready to engulf you.  Look through the winds and the waves and see the Lord already coming toward you.  Be still and silent, and listen for his voice: “It is I.  Come” (Matthew 14:27, 29).  Walk out to meet him, for 

the Lord is continuously holding out his hand to us too. He does so through the beauty of a Sunday; he does so through the solemn liturgy; he does so in the prayer with which we address him; he does so in the encounter with the Word of God; he does so in many situations of daily life - he holds his hand out to us. And only if we take the Lord's hand, if we let ourselves be guided by him, will the path we take be right and good.[5]
Let him take hold of your hand, let him lead you through the storms; let him you lift you out of the murky waters of despair, sorrow and anguish; let him change your life.  Do not rebel against him, but yield to the strength of his love and you will know the kindness of the Lord and be saved, for he proclaims peace.  Amen.

[1] General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 45.  Note omitted.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 25 August 2010.
[3] Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, O. Cist., Simon, Called Peter: In the Company of a Man in Search of God.  Matthew Sherry, trans.  (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2010), 39.
[4] Ibid., 41.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 10 August 2008.

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