Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Sunday, August 07, 2005

O Still, Small Voice of Calm

This Sunday's Liturgy presents us with visions of our God who passes by, approaching us, stretching out His hand to us in order to save us.

The Gospel (Mt 14:22-33) which we hear today is probably one of my favourite. It is full of movement, wonderfully dramatic and instructive. It is also a scene which endears St Peter to me, for he is a most human of saints and one who reminds me of myself in my many foibles! As a convert to Catholicism I have long had a devotion to the Prince of the Apostles (and to St Paul, my namesake) but this devotion is born of the many lessons St Peter has for me in living the Christian life and growing in grace.

Today’s gospel well illustrates this. Let’s not be distracted by the walking on water. Far too many exegetes worry over the veracity of this and often resort to sadly rationalist arguments. There is a deeper lesson in this Gospel account, which invites faith in Christ, not our own limited mental gymnastics.

The following is a meditation on the Gospel and how it speaks to me. The storm-tossed lake is an image for life. Sometimes we can feel set adrift in the tumult of life, as the disciples were in their little boat. Jesus seems far away; we seem to have no sense of direction in life. But, just when all seems darkest, the Lord comes. He comes miraculously and unexpectedly; in this case He walks on the waters. In a similar way, the Lord enters our lives with all its ups and downs and He does so perhaps in ways we don't expect. It is not that we don’t see Him but we mistake Him or His actions for something else; the disciples took Jesus for a ghost! We perhaps are so caught up in our troubles or our own struggles that we don’t pay attention to His presence among us. The disciples cried out in fear, even as do we in times of distress. Note that it was not a cry of faith – oh no, nothing so noble – just plain human fear.

But inspite of the inadequacy of our reaction, the Lord’s response is wonderful and swift. St Matthew tells us: "At once Jesus called out to them…" At once. The Lord’s response is unhesitant and instantaneous and he encourages us and strengthens us saying "Do not be afraid!" For fear can enslave us and prevent us from living life fully and from loving, for love another is a risky enterprise!

Not surprisingly, St Peter’s successor, John Paul the Great said the same words to the Church back in 1978; "Do not be afraid!" For, as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us at his installation Mass, "If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that he might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the pope said: No!... Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ -- and you will find true life."

St Peter’s response in the Gospel is characteristic of the man: full of faith and bold, impulsive and full of trust in God – it is child-like. This is the same response Jesus desires of us in times of distress and uncertainty, when we are frightened or troubled. Jesus says to us: "Courage!" and asks us to place all our faith and trust in Him and to go to Him. And when we do, miracles happen. St Peter walked on water; we navigate life’s struggles and journey towards Christ. I believe that what keeps Peter aloft is his focus on Christ; he looks straight into the Lord’s eyes and walks across the water.

But then he sinks... And why? Because he "felt the force of the wind [and] took fright". We too sink when we allow the cares of the world to overwhelm us, when we are distracted by those matters that take our child-like gaze away from the loving eyes of Christ. We too sink when we allow fear to control us, for so often it is fear that keeps me from loving more, giving more, trusting God more. We sink, when we doubt the Lord's love and will for us and His desire to save us and place our trust in ourselves or other things. Incidentally there is a fantastic post ala St Thomas Aquinas on 'Doubt' in 'Disputations'.

But even if we were to fall prey once more to fear or doubt, we should not despair. St Peter, realising his need of God calls out... Again, St Matthew tells us: "Jesus put out his hand at once" and saves Peter. The Lord’s response is, once again, unfailing and immediate. We simply need to acknowledge our need of Jesus and call on Him to save us. And He does. Immediately. I have seen this played out often enough in my life and no doubt you have too. How wonderful and faithful God is!

So, like St Peter, we can and should call out to the Lord in humility and receive His saving grace. Whenever I get that sinking feeling I realize I need to renew my trust in God and re-focus my gaze; to look into His face. How can I do that? I adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament. This great mystery is God’s Presence among us, calm and serene amidst the turmoil of life. We need only look at the Host and contemplate this great mystery of Jesus’ humility and great love. And immediately, waves of peace and joy flood into our souls telling us: "Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid". The Lord is exposed on our altars, waiting for us to come and tell Him all our struggles and worries, to acknowledge our weakness and need of Him; to look into His eyes of love and allow His grace and peace to work within us.

The wonder of the Eucharist is that It is the silent, still Presence of God. Christ's humility is such that He is simply there, in the Host, quietly awaiting us. There is no theophany of fire, earthquake or typhoon (cf First Reading, 1 Kgs 19:11-13a); just the epiphany of Love that is the Holy Eucharist. And this silent Presence is truly, the "Son of God" who is here for us, to save us, to refresh us and to invite us to have faith in Him. Those who object to the Real Presence are precisely those who need to grow in their faith in Christ and His Word; the Blessed Sacrament invites and enables this growth in faith, which brings peace and salvation, as we surrender all our doubts and fears to Him.

To end, I quote John G Whittier's hymn 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind', one of my favourite hymns, which offers some reflection on today's Liturgy:

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.


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