A 4th of July Meditation on the Paradox that Freedom Can Only Exist Within Limits

(credit: Rgoogin at Wikipedia)

All across the United States on the Fourth of July, we celebrate freedom. In particular, freedom from tyranny, from government that is not representative, from unchecked power, and from unaccountable sovereigns.

Yet as Christians, we cannot overlook that there are ways of understanding freedom today that are distorted, exaggerated, and detached from a proper biblical, Christian, or Natural Law context. Many modern concepts of freedom treat it as somewhat of an abstraction Yes, many speak of freedom in the abstract and have a hard time nailing down the details. Let’s talk about some of the details.

Most people like to think of freedom as absolute, as in, “No one is going to tell me what to do.” In the end, though, freedom is not absolute; it cannot be. As limited and contingent beings, we exercise our freedom only within limits and within a prescribed context. Pretending that our freedom is absolute leads to anarchy, which then leads to the collapse of freedom into chaos and the tyranny of individual wills locked in power struggles.

Yes, one of the great paradoxes of freedom is that it really cannot be had unless it is limited. Absolute freedom leads to an anarchy under which no one is really free to act. Consider the following:

1. Without traffic laws we would not be free to drive. The ensuing chaos would make it quite impossible, not to mention dangerous. The freedom to drive, to come and go freely, depends on us limiting our freedom through obedience to agreed-upon norms. Only constrained by traffic laws and agreed-upon norms can we really experience the freedom to drive. (See photo at upper right.)
2. Grammar or goofy – Right now I am writing this post in English. I appreciate the freedom we have to communicate and debate. But my freedom to communicate with you is contingent upon my limiting myself within the rules we call grammar and syntax. Were there no rules, I would lose my freedom to communicate with you, and you would not be free to comprehend me. What if I were to say, “Without not calendar if said my you in existential mode or yet,” and you were to respond, “dasja gyuuwe reuwiojlfs”? We might be exercising our “freedom” to say what we please, but our insistence on that absolute freedom would effectively cancel the experience of freedom, for we would not really be communicating. When we demand absolute freedom from the limits of grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, we are really no longer free to communicate at all. Anarchy leads not to freedom, but to chaos. 
3. Music or mumble – Once I finish writing this post, I am free to go over to the church and play the pipe organ (which I think I’ll do). But I am only free to do that because I once constrained myself with many years of practice under the direction of a teacher. I am also only free to play if I limit myself to interpreting the musical notation within a set of rules and norms. Within and because of these constraints and rules, I am free to play the organ. I may wish to refuse to follow the rule that one must first switch on the power, but I am not going to get very far or really be free to play unless I obey.

So the paradox of freedom is that we can only experience it by accepting constraints upon it. Without constraints and limits, our ability to act freely is actually hindered.

This is a very important first step in rescuing the concept of freedom from the abstract and experiencing it in the real world. Absolute freedom is not freedom at all. Because we are limited and contingent beings, we can only exercise and experience our freedom within limits.

This is also an important lesson to the modern world. Too many people today push the concept of freedom beyond reasonable bounds. They insist on their right to act, but without accepting the reasonable constraints that make true freedom possible. Many today demand acceptance of increasingly bad and disruptive behavior.

In rejecting proper boundaries, though, we usually see not an increase of freedom but a decrease of it for everyone. Our culture is becoming increasingly litigious as burdensome laws are passed by a “nanny-state” seeking to regulate every small aspect of our lives. Among the sources of the growing number of intrusive laws is people’s refusal to limit their bad behavior, to live up to their commitments, to exercise self-control, or to live within safe and proper norms. Many insist that the solution to protecting them from others who abuse their freedom is more laws. Many have been successful in getting increasingly restrictive laws passed.

Again, the lesson is clear: freedom is not possible without some limits. When reasonable limits are cast aside, the paradoxical result is not more freedom, but far less. Freedom is not absolute. Absolute freedom is not freedom at all; it is the tyranny of chaos and the eventual erosion of freedom.

Alexis De Tocqueville said, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” In America today, we are seeing the erosion of all three of these—in reverse order. Those who want to establish freedom in the abstract will only see that freedom erode.

Jesus and freedom – This leads us to understanding what Jesus meant when He said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

There are many people today who excoriate the Church and the Scriptures as a limit to their freedom. Sadly, quite a number of these are Catholics. To such as these, the Church is trying to “tell them what to do.” Christians are trying “to impose their values on the rest of us.” Now of course the Church cannot really force anyone to do much of anything.

Yes, many claim that the announcement of biblical truth threatens their freedom. Jesus said just the opposite: it is the truth that sets us free. Now the truth is a set of propositions that limits us to some extent. If “A” is true, then “not A” must be false. I must accept the truth and base my life on it in order to enjoy its freeing power. The paradoxical result is that the propositions of the truth of God’s teaching do not limit our freedom; they enhance it.

Image – As we have seen, absolute freedom is not really freedom at all. It is chaos wherein no one can really move. Every ancient city had walls, but they were not so much prison walls as they were defending walls. True, one had to limit oneself by staying within them to enjoy their protection, but within them there was great freedom because one was not constantly fighting off enemies or distracted with fearful vigilance. People were freed to engage in other pursuits, but only within the walls.

Those who claim that the truth of the Gospel limits their freedom might also consider that the world outside God’s truth shows itself to be far less free than it seems.

●  Addictions and compulsions abound in our society.
●  Neuroses and high levels of stress are major components of modern living.
●  A seeming inability to establish and honor lasting commitments has contributed to the breakdown of the family.
●  An apparent obsession with sex has led to widespread STDs, AIDS, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood (absent fathers), and abortion.
●  Greed and addiction to wealth enslave many in a sort of financial bondage in which they try to maintain a lifestyle they cannot afford and yet are still unsatisfied.

The so-called “freedom” of the modern world (apart from the truth of the Gospel) is far from evident. This bondage also extends to the members of the Church to the extent that we do not seriously embrace the truth of the Gospel and base our lives upon it. The Catechism says rather plainly,

The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin” (CCC # 1733).

In the end, the paradox proves itself. Only limited freedom is true freedom. Demands for absolute freedom lead to hindered freedom and even outright slavery.

Ponder freedom on this 4th of July. Ponder its paradoxes and accept its limits. Freedom is glorious, but because we are limited and contingent beings, so must our freedom be limited. Finally, ponder this paradoxical truth: the highest freedom is the capacity to obey God.

Poor Preaching Isn’t Only Due to the Preacher – A Homily For the 14th Sunday of the Year

The gospel today portrays the Lord Jesus as preacher and prophet, but even the greatest preacher in the world, Jesus, can find His powerful and precious words falling lifeless on the rock-hard surface of many a soul. Yes, even His words can meet with resistance and hostility, indifference and ridicule. Indeed, the gospel today shows the ruinous result of rejection.

My formal homily notes begin with the red text below, but first I’d like to provide some background reflections that may prove helpful.

We sometimes think that if only Catholic priests were better preachers, all would be well, but that is only half the battle. The Catholic faithful must also have ears to hear and hearts that are open and eager to receive the truth. A well-known preacher and fine Protestant teacher, William Barclay, has this to say:

There can be no preaching in the wrong atmosphere. Our churches would be different places if congregations would only remember that they preach far more than half the sermon. In an atmosphere of expectancy, the poorest effort can catch fire. In an atmosphere of critical coldness or bland indifference the most spirit-packed utterance can fall lifeless to the earth (Commentary on Mark, p. 140).

Yes, of this I am a witness. I have preached before congregations that were expectant and supportive, and saw my feeble words catch fire. I have also preached in settings where “I couldn’t hear nobody pray.” And oh, the difference!

I have been blessed to serve most of my priesthood in African-American parishes, where there is a deep appreciation that the preaching moment is a shared one, with shared responsibilities. The congregation does not consider itself a passive recipient of the Word, but rather an active sharer in the proclamation.

There is an air of expectancy as the faithful gather and listen and begin to sing and pray. This air of expectancy is sometimes called “the hum.” During the reading of the Word and the sermon there are nods. Hands may go up, a foot may stomp, and an acclamation or two fill the air: Amen! Yes, Lord! Go on now! Take your time! Make it plain, preacher! You don’t need to tell me! My, my, my!

As a preacher, I too can call for help: Are you praying with me Church? Somebody ought to say, Amen! Come on, can I get a witness? It’s kinda quiet in here today; can I get an Amen? Yes, together we craft the message, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. While it belongs to the priest to craft the content, it belongs to the congregation to affirm the truth and acknowledge the Spirit through prayerful attention and support.

The preaching task is both precious and necessary, but it involves more than just the preacher.

Pope St. Gregory the Great also says this:

Beloved brothers, consider what has been said: Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest. Pray for us so that we may have the strength to work on your behalf, that our tongue may not grow weary of exhortation, and that after we have accepted the office of preaching, our silence may not condemn us before the just judge.

For frequently the preacher’s tongue is bound fast on account of his own wickedness; while on the other hand it sometimes happens that because of the people’s sins, the word of preaching is withdrawn from those who preside over the assembly.

With reference to the wickedness of the preacher, the psalmist says: But God asks the sinner: Why do you recite my commandments? And with reference to the latter, the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. He clearly means this: the word of preaching will be taken away from you because as long as this people irritates me by their deeds, they are unworthy to hear the exhortation of truth. It is not easy to know for whose sinfulness the preacher’s word is withheld, but it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence while often injurious to himself will always harm his flock [Ibid].

Note well, then, the shared responsibility of the preacher and the people. Let these texts serve as a worthy background to what is now to come in today’s gospel, which we can see in three stages.

I.  Real Rejoicing The text says, Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!”

Thus, the initial reaction of Jesus’ hometown crowd is positive. They are filled with amazement and joy. The text sets forth two sources of their joy:

His wise words – Many who heard him were astonished. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him?” Yes, what a blessing it must have been to hear Jesus preach. And boy, could Jesus preach! Scripture says of His preaching,

  • And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Mat 7:28).
  • Sent to arrest him the temple guard returned empty handed saying: No one ever spoke like that man (Jn 7:46).
  • And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth (Luke 4:22).
  • And the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37).

His wonderful works – They also say, “What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!” Yes, Jesus had worked many miracles up to this point. He had

  • cast out demons,
  • turned water to wine,
  • raised up paralytics,
  • cured the man with a withered hand,
  • cast out blindness,
  • healed deafness,
  • multiplied loaves and fishes,
  • calmed storms, and
  • raised up Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

And so we see that the initial reaction to Jesus preaching is good. Their remarks and rejoicing are a sign that the Spirit is working and prompting them to belief.

Things are about to turn sour, however. The Word of God can fall on the rocky soil of hearts, where it springs up but soon withers because the soil is so shallow. Or His Word can be sown on the paths of hearts where the birds of the sky come and carry it off. Or the Word of the Lord can fall on divided hearts, where the thorns of worldliness and the anxieties of the world choke it off. And sometimes it falls on good soil, where it yields thirty, sixty, or a hundred-fold (cf Matt 13:1-9).

II. Rude Rejection – The text says, [But some began to say] Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Notice how sudden their change is. There is an old spiritual that says, “Some go to church for to sing and shout, before six months they’s all turned out!”

They harden their hearts. Yes, the tide mysteriously and suddenly turns against Jesus. Sin has set in and hearts have hardened; the joy has been jettisoned. Though the Holy Spirit prompts them to faith and to call Jesus, “Lord,” they harden their hearts. It is a grim and tragic sin.

They also exhibit a kind of prejudice or unjust discrimination, dismissing Jesus as a mere carpenter and a “hometown boy.” It is odd that the poor and oppressed sometimes take up the voice of the oppressor. Thus, these simple people from a small town of only 300 take up the voice of the Jerusalemites, who regarded Galileans as “poor backwoods clowns” and as unlettered people. Yes, Jesus’ own townsfolk take up the voice of the oppressor and say to Him, in effect, “Stay in your place. You have no business being smart, talented, wise, or great. You’re just one of us and should amount to nothing.” It is the same sort of tragic rebuke that sometimes takes place among minority students who excel in school, when some of their fellow minority students accuse them of “going white.” It’s tragic.

They also exhibit the sin of envy. Envy is sadness or anger at the goodness or excellence of another person because we take it as diminishing our own. The text says, And they took offense at him. St. Augustine called envy the diabolical sin. This is because it seeks not to possess the good of another (as jealousy does), but rather to destroy what is good in others so that the destroyer can look better.

The result of these sins was that Nazareth was not a place where excellence was known, even among its own! Indeed, John 1:46 records Nathanael saying of Nazareth, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” It would seem that even the townsfolk of Nazareth would agree! (But Philip, who surrendered his prejudice, said to Nathanael, “Come and see.”)

But an even more awful result of these sins ensues.

III. Ruinous Result – The text says, Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Because they judge Him to be nothing, they get nothing. They have blocked their blessings.

Jesus says, He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward (Mat 10:41). When we banish or discredit God, however, we should not expect to see many of His works. These things come only from faith.

Miracles are the result of faith, not the cause of it. Thus, the text says, So [Jesus] was not able to perform any mighty deed there … He was amazed at their lack of faith.

There are some things that even God can’t do, not because He lacks the power but because He respects our choices. Pay attention. The Lord is offering us salvation and the Kingdom of Heaven. Either we reach out to take it or we don’t, but the choice is ours. If we take it, He’ll go to work, but if we refuse, He respects our freedom and will “not be able” to perform any mighty deeds.

What a ruinous result for Nazareth and for all who reject the prophetic utterances of our Lord and His saving help. Scripture says,

I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! I would soon subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes. Those who hate the LORD would cringe toward him, and their fate would last for ever. I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (Psalm 81:10-16).

Either we accept God’s word and yield to its healing and saving power or we can expect little or nothing but ultimate ruin. It is as if we are in a raging stream heading toward the falls and almost certain death, but then a hand is stretched out to save us—the hand of Jesus. Mysteriously, we reject that hand and ridicule its power. The ruinous result of our hideous and foolish rejection is our death. The text says, He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Pay attention! God is preaching the Word to you every Sunday—every day, in fact. Will you heed and be healed? Will you receive and be rescued? Or will you reject and be ruined? Will the Lord be able to do mighty deeds for you? Or will He be amazed at your lack of faith? The choice is yours; it is all yours.

What of our nation, once steeped in the Word of God? The Founding Fathers once wove Scripture freely into their discourse, but in recent decades a hostile secularism has insisted on marginalizing all references to God and scoffing at biblical morality. They talk “tolerance” yet file lawsuits against those who would dare speak of God, display a nativity, or call something a sin. There is no room in this post to present statistics that show our blessings ebbing away, but it is clear that as our families disintegrate, a nation that once led the world in almost every respect is now well back in the pack and fading fast. To forsake the preaching of Christ though His Scripture and His Church is to forfeit blessings. He can work no miracles here because of our lack of faith.

Even Jesus can have a bad day in the pulpit, but it is not really His bad day—it is ours. If we sinfully reject the Word of God, it is we who will forfeit blessings and miracles because of our lack of faith.

On the Necessity of Friendship and the Loss of It In Our Times

A recent article on Friendship from the Survey Center on American Life reports:

Many Americans do not have a large number of close friends. Close to half (49 percent) of Americans report having three or fewer. More than one-third (36 percent) of Americans report having several close friends—between four and nine. Thirteen percent of Americans say they have 10 or more close friends, which is roughly the same proportion of the public that has no close friends (12 percent).

One of the many troublesome aspects of the modern age of which I have written before is the demise of friendship. While the terms “friend” and “friendship” might be bandied about rather easily today, they do not usually mean friendship in its deeper and original sense. Rather, we use the terms to refer to acquaintances rather than friends. True friendship has a depth, history, and stability. It involves some sort of commonality of life and a deeper knowledge of the other.

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, drawing on the Thomistic tradition, has this to say about friendship:

Every true friendship, St Thomas tells us, implies three qualities: it is first of all the love of benevolence. By which a man wishes good to another as to himself … [Further] Every true friendship presupposes the love of mutual benevolence, for it is not sufficient that it exist on the part of one person only …. Lastly … friendship requires a community of life (convivere). It implies that people know each other, love each other, live together, spiritually at least, by the exchange of most secret thoughts and feelings. Friendship thus conceived tends to a very close union of thought, feeling, willing, prayer, and action (Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life, Vol II, pp. 188-189 Tan Publications).

Notice the emphasis on sharing private thoughts and feelings, as well as the close union of thoughts, feelings, actions, prayers, and wills. True friendship involves more than the knowledge of acquaintances.

A director of a clinic for the treatment of psychological matters once recounted that as he conducted entrance interviews for those beginning an inpatient treatment program, he would ask them how many friends they had. He would often receive expressive answers such as “Oh, I have lots of friends!” Their answers indicated that they did not really understand what he meant. So he would rephrase the question: “How many people do you share deeply with? How many people on this planet know almost everything about you? How many know that you’re here at this treatment program and why? Did any of them help to get you here?” Questions like these tended to generate blank stares.

Fewer and fewer people have relationships of this deeper nature. True friendships, with all the qualities described above, are increasingly rare in our culture today.

There are many reasons for this.

  1. People today are quite mobile. It is not unusual for people to move several times during their lifetime. Fewer and fewer people grow up, live, and die in the same town, and even those who do have long roots in a certain community will tell you how dramatically it has changed over the years.
  2. Our daily activity takes us far and wide. Because of the automobile, trains, and especially planes, many people no longer limit their activities to their home town or places nearby. They may commute a couple of hours each day and be involved in activities far away from their neighborhood churches, schools, doctors, and hospitals. They may not even frequent the neighborhood shopping centers. It seems there is little opportunity or need to interact with people who live close by.
  3. The pace of life today is rapid. We all seem to be in a big hurry to get somewhere else. The idea of lingering over a cup of coffee seems rare. The few times we do take our time to converse and such things, it is usually in loud bars where communication is actually quite difficult. And if perchance we are in a setting where we are in the presence of others for a lengthy period (e.g., a subway, train, or plane) most people are focused on their cell phones. We seem more interested in information about people far away, many of whom we have never even met.

None of these factors helps in the development of deep, lasting friendships. Most people in our lives are merely acquaintances. We know very little about most of the people we interact with, even those we encounter on a daily basis. Even family relationships are often shallow. Long dinners or extended conversations are rare as family members run off to practices, meetings, shopping, and work.

The lack of deep friendships in the true sense of the word causes many issues. True friends help form our personalities, completing what we lack. True friends rebuke sins and other troublesome quirks we can develop. True friends encourage and enrich us. Without true friends we remain incomplete. Without the necessary rebuke that friends can give, we can suffer from pride and other egotistical character defects.

Scripture both commends friendship and warns against regarding mere acquaintances as friends.

  1. Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up (Ecclesiastes 4:11).
  2. Let your acquaintances be many, but your advisers one in a thousand (Sirach 6:5-6).
  3. A faithful friend is a sure shelter, whoever finds one has found a rare treasure. A faithful friend is something beyond price, there is no measuring his worth. A faithful friend is the elixir of life, and those who fear the Lord will find one. Whoever fears the Lord makes true friends, for as a man is, so is his friend (Sirach 6:14-17).
  4. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Prov 27:6)
  5. A true friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity (Prov 17:17).
  6. A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov 18:24).
  7. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away (Prov 27:10).

Therefore, our friends should not necessarily be numerous. We ought to be selective in what we share and with whom. All the more reason, then, that we should have close friends with whom we share almost everything.

Do you have close friends? 

  1. Are there people who know almost everything about you?
  2. Are there people who can rebuke you, correct you, or summon you to humility?
  3. Are there people about whom you know almost everything and whom you can rebuke with love for their own good?
  4. Is there anyone who looks to you for advice, and who can turn to you for necessary encouragement?
  5. Is there anyone whom you love and esteem for his or her own sake, not merely for what you can get?
  6. Is there anyone whom you are not anxious to impress, to whom you can speak the truth, and who will speak to you truthfully?
  7. Is there anyone who would care enough about you to be present with you in great adversity?
  8. Is there anyone whom you would gladly assist in his or her time of need?

If so, who? Please consider naming your true friends in your heart.

I pray that you do have true friends, but true friendship is rare in this changing, hurried, and polemic culture. Consider well the need for true friends, for deep friendships that are stable and lasting. We all need true friends.

What has happened to friendship in our culture? How do you see it?

This song is a rather good description of true friendship.

Don’t Forget the Old Evangelization

The term “New Evangelization” was originally used by Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to refer to the unique situation of the West, wherein we were not preaching the Gospel to a people who had not heard it, but were instead “re-presenting” the Gospel to a culture that had once embraced the Gospel and later rejected it. In essence, the term means “re-evangelization.”

In his “Latin Letters,” C.S. Lewis quipped that while the ancient Europe encountered by the Apostles and the early Church was a virgin awaiting her groom, Jesus Christ, modern Europe is an angry divorcée.

Reaching this quite different audience, of course, would require adjusting the way in which the message was delivered. “New Evangelization” was the phrase used to signify this.

However, many have taken up the phrase in a less restrictive sense and use it in the marketing sense of “new and improved!” This has opened the terminology to abuse and misunderstanding such that it comes to mean that we must mimic secular marketing principles and “mega-church” tactics. To some, it also means that we must alter the message of the Gospel by emphasizing what is popular and pleasant, while minimizing what is challenging and countercultural.

“Welcoming” has become the watchword for many in world of the misconstrued “New Evangelization.” Being welcoming is most often used to mean being nice, pleasant, unchallenging, and completely inoffensive. The only problem with this is that Jesus, as we shall see, wouldn’t qualify for membership on such an evangelization committee.

As a kind of admonition and corrective to much of this, Eric Sammons wrote a few years ago, The Old Evangelization: How to Spread the Faith Like Jesus Did. Consider this passage:

We have a simplistic notion of what it means to love our neighbors. We think of it strictly as being nice to them. Yet … Jesus rarely ever appears “nice” as we moderns would define it. On the contrary he is usually abrupt, sparing with compliments, and willing to confront others directly about their failings. He appears not to follow Dale Carnegie’s advice about “how to win friends and influence people.” Yet he has a deeper love for every individual than we will ever imagine (pp. 51-52).

It would seem that Jesus never got the memo when it comes to many modern notions of evangelization. To be sure, many found in Jesus remarkable love and healing, but it was not the sort of saccharine and soft love (understood as mere kindness) that so many think of today. It was a strong, vigorous love. It was providing true healing rather than mere emotional relief.

Healing often requires difficult surgeries. Healing can hurt. It can disclose deep drives that require strong rebuke and aggressive therapies. Many people are looking for relief, but not healing. Jesus was in the healing business and was more than willing to assert that the cross was the necessary remedy for what ails us. A lot of this does not sit well with the welcoming, pleasant paradigm of evangelization.

In his book, Mr. Sammons goes on to remind us of the true goal of evangelization:

[We think that] if we are nice enough, everyone will want to be our friends. But that was not goal of Jesus Christ. His goal was to covert sinners, to rescue souls from damnation and bring them to their eternal reward in heaven (p. 52).

True spiritual health and final salvation are the goals. Hospitality and making people feel good and welcome have a place initially, but it’s a little bit like the dentist’s office. A nice waiting room, pleasant hygienists, soothing music, and a smiling dentist are all good, but once the pleasantries are accomplished, we have to talk about dental health and get down to the business of teeth cleaning, and checking for cavities and gum disease. If a dentist sees problems and says nothing because niceness is his goal, he is not being nice or compassionate at all. Indeed, by his silence, he is guilty of serious malpractice and unworthy of his title, Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS).

It is the same with an evangelizer. An evangelizer is unworthy of the title if he leaves the call to repentance and conversion unspoken. Pleasantries and a welcoming environment have their initial place but if that is all there is, then there is no true evangelization taking place and it is outright malpractice on the part of the evangelizer, parish, or Church.

True love for others desires what is best for them, not merely what is apparently good or pleasant in the moment. The fundamental kerygma (Gospel proclamation) is summarized as follows: “Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). These were the opening words of Jesus’ public ministry of evangelization. I seriously doubt that most parishes would even consider such a proclamation as central to their evangelization program.

In modern settings (and probably in Jesus’ day), “Repent” is not exactly a “welcoming” word, but it is a loving word nonetheless. “Repent” suggests (actually, it outright says) that there are problems and that changes are needed. Yes, there are some problems that need attention and some drives that must be called sinful whether or not it is politically correct or popular to do so. The transformative Word and grace from God can heal and perfect us, but we must come to believe the Gospel. To believe the Gospel is to accept the wisdom of the cross, which is absurdity to the world.

Thus, “Repent and believe the Gospel” challenges; it doesn’t always feel welcoming. Eric Sammons further notes,

Too many Catholics will avoid tough topics in the desire to remain “welcoming.” But this is exactly where we most fail in evangelization. In order to make disciples, we must be willing to push into uncomfortable areas … Only by doing so will we bring another to confront the truth. (p. 57).

Only the truth will set us free. Care and prudence will assist us in knowing how and when to shift from welcoming to making disciples, but we cannot forever remain in welcoming mode and call it true evangelization. The true Gospel comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable; each of us, including the people we evangelize, is a little bit of both.

Be careful, then. The term “New Evangelization” is not always rightly understood.

I recommend Eric Sammons’ book as an important help in understanding that the “New Evangelization” cannot exclude the “Old Evangelization” established by Jesus and the Apostles, which must remain our truest model. It is not that there are no insightful aspects of the “New Evangelization” Just be careful not to embrace the new so much that the old is repudiated. Jesus’ approach was quite different from many versions of the “New Evangelization.” It would be an ironic twist if Jesus and His methods were not welcome in your warm, embracing, and welcoming parish.

At work here is the supreme evangelizer, even though He breaks almost every modern rule:

The Journey of Jairus – A Homily for the 13th Sunday of the Year

Today’s Gospel today focuses on a man named Jairus and a journey he makes from despair to deliverance, with the help of Jesus. Of course, Jairus is not merely a synagogue official who lived two thousand years ago; you are Jairus and his journey is your journey. We also meet a woman whom the Lord points out as an exemplar of faith. If you are ready to accept it, she can be you.

Let’s observe this gospel in six stages, as Jairus makes his journey.

I. TRIAL – The text says, When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”

Jairus is going through a crisis, a great trial. Most of us have had similar experiences. Perhaps it was the grave illness of a loved one. Perhaps it was the loss of our job. Perhaps it was the effects of a natural disaster. Perhaps it was simply the fear of some catastrophe.

In his crisis, Jairus seeks Christ. Falling to his knees, he pleads for help and healing for his beloved daughter.

Note that it is this very crisis that brings him to Jesus so prayerfully. While suffering remains a mystery, it sometimes takes suffering to bring us to Jesus. It should not be this way, but it often is. Even for regular church-goers, it sometimes takes a real crisis to make us finally cry out, “Lord, I really need you. I cannot survive without you!”

Thus Jairus, quite possibly a proud synagogue official, is now at Jesus’ feet pleading. What about us? Does it take this kind of calamity? Perhaps it does. For whatever purpose, God often allows suffering for a reason and for a season.

Jairus is now undergoing a trial, a test; but remember, there is a “test” in every testimony.

II. TARRYING – The text says, [Jesus] went off with him, and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.

Note that Jesus seems to tarry. He could have healed Jairus’ daughter instantly from right where He was (as He did with the centurion’s servant), but instead He says to Jairus, in effect, “Let’s journey together for a while.” The Lord delays the daughter’s healing and, as we shall see, this delay results in her death.

We, too, must often experience the Lord’s delay, for our crying out for healing and mercy does not often yield instant results. It is as if the Lord wants us to live with our questions and struggles for a while, as if He wants to walk with us on a journey of faith that requires waiting and watchful trust.

Such a delay is likely part of God’s plan to build our trust and faith, but whatever its cause, He often requires us to wait, to hold out. Gospel music is replete with such themes. One song says, “I promised the Lord that I would hold out. He said he’d meet me in Galilee.” Another says, “Hold on just a little while longer, everything’s gonna be all right.” Another says, “Keep your hand on the plow; hold on!” Yet another says, “Lord, help me to hold out until my change comes.”

The Lord walks with Jairus and with us, summoning us to a faith that holds out. Scripture says, Weeping may endure for a night, but joy will come with the morning light (Ps 30:3).

III. TESTIMONY – Along the way, the Lord arranges a lesson in trust for Jairus through the example of a woman of strong faith. The text says, There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” But his disciples said to Jesus, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

Here is a woman of remarkable faith. She has come to a point in her life’s journey that she simply knows by faith that all she needs to do in order to be healed is to touch Jesus. Surely, she has come to this faith only through a long and painful journey, but she has come to this moment, and now she has the faith to be saved.

She touches Jesus.

Do not miss the significance of this touch; Jesus does not. Sensing the power of her faith, and that healing power has gone out from Him, He says, “Who touched me?” The disciples react with exasperation, in effect saying, “Lord, hundreds of people have been bumping up against you!” But Jesus did not ask who had brushed against Him; He asked, “Who touched me?” It is one thing to bump up against the Lord but quite another to touch Him in faith.

How many of us really touch God when we come to Mass? He speaks to us in the Liturgy of the Word, but do we really hear Him? He touches us in Holy Communion, but do we touch Him? Do we really expect healing when we go to Mass? Do we really expect a healing touch? Or are we only going to be a face in the crowd bumping up against Jesus accidentally?

Many people put more faith in Tylenol than they do in the Eucharist. When they take Tylenol, they expect something to happen. They expect their pain to go away; they expect to be healed. What do they expect when they receive Holy Communion? Often nothing.

What about you? Are you like the woman who touches Jesus expecting healing or like the crowd that just brushes past Him?

Jesus insists on stopping to meet this woman of faith. It may well be that He had Jairus in mind as He did so, as if to say, “Pay attention to this woman, Jairus. Do you see what her faith has gotten her? Do you believe, Jairus?” Into our own life, the Lord will often send those who can testify to us of faith and show us what faith can do.

Thus, on this journey, Jairus is given a witness to encourage his faith. Who are the witnesses in your life whom the Lord has sent?

IV. TEMPTATION – The text says, While [Jesus] was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”

During Jairus’ journey there is an encouraging testimony of what faith can do, but there are also temptations against faith and temptations to sink into despair and hopelessness.

What about us? We, too, must often confront a world that is largely negative.

Jairus is told by the negative ones that he should dismiss Jesus: “Why bother the teacher any more?” Yes, there are many in this world who not only have no hope themselves, but who also insist that we dismiss Jesus because they say He is irrelevant. Many secularists, themselves without hope, ridicule us who do and try to taunt us into dismissing the Lord from our journey.

This is a temptation that must be rejected.

V. TRUST – The text says, Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. So, he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out.

To those who are negative and who ridicule, Jesus has this reaction: Then he put them all out.

Turning to Jairus, Jesus then says, Do not be afraid; just have faith. The command that we have faith is not merely an order; it is a dynamic principle. The same God who said, “Let there be light” —and there was light—now says, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Trust and saving faith are possible for Jairus and for us.

One of the principal tasks for Jesus and His Holy Spirit is to grow faith within each of us. As this faith grows in us our victories become more and more evident. Scripture says,

      • For thus says the Lord God, the holy One of Israel, “By waiting and calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies …” (Is 30:15)
      • Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Is 40:30-31).
      • So, do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved (Heb 10:35-39).

The Lord Jesus commands faith in order to bring us reward.

VI. TRIUMPH – The text says, He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded. He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat.

Sure enough, Jairus’ journey with Jesus leads to victory—so will ours. It may not be the Lord’s will to raise every recently deceased relative, but He will surely give us the victory in every travail and difficulty. To those who die in Him, He will surely say, as He said to the little girl, “I say to you, arise!”

In every trial, if you are in the Lord and journeying with Him, I promise you complete victory in Jesus. In the face of every trial and distress, just say, “I’ll rise!”

In sufferings and sickness … “I’ll rise!”
In setbacks and sorrows … “I’ll rise!”
Tears in my eyes … “I’ll rise!”
Temptations against faith … “I’ll rise!”
No money in my pocket … “I’ll rise!”
Struggles with sin … “I’ll rise!”
On the rough side of the mountain … “I’ll rise!”
Though death is surely coming … “I’ll rise!”

Jairus has made a journey with Jesus, from trial to traveling with Him, through testimony and temptation to the empowering command to trust, and thereby unto triumph.

The journey of Jairus is our journey. His victory is ours if we journey with Jesus, as he did.

 

On The Passing of All things as Seen on T.V.

The Video below is a commercial that must have taken weeks to film. And whatever the intent of the commercial, (I think they are selling insurance), there is something of an admonition in both the video and the music that life and the things of life slip away.

While the music of the video set forth the theme: Don’t stop, thinking about tomorrow, Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here, every object in the home begins to get up and move away from the owners. And the owners themselves too begin to be swept away. By the end, all that was within, and all who were within, are swept outside and away.

And here is a paradigm for life. No thing, and no one in this world will endure the passage of time. All will be swept away, all will pass. Geologically, even lofty mountains were once on the sea floor, and to that floor they will erode and return.

Scripture says, For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come (Heb 13:14). And again, The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray (1 Peter 4:7) but adds later, But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).

And thus, this video is not morbid. Rather it is almost joyful. For indeed, though earthly glories fade, Scripture also says, “Trouble don’t last always.” (cf Psalm 30:5).

The video ends with a snapshot. And ultimately each moment in life is but a snapshot in time. But time itself and all things are moving downstream, and slipping away. But God alone remains forever and our only hope is to be anchored him him. He is our Rock, our firm Foundation, and his Kingdom is our lasting city. All else fails and slips away.

 

Letting Go of Our Obsession with Having the Perfect Body

Please permit  some musings on the obsession that many of us have with achieving the perfect body ourselves.

Let me start by saying (with all the good humor I can summon) that I do not have a perfect body. In fact, I have become increasingly dissatisfied with my appearance over the years as I gain weight, lose hair, and watch the gray eclipse the dark brown of what hair I do have left. Fatigue and sore joints are also increasingly my lot.

Yes, I am well aware that my body is far from perfect and is steadily “heading south.” Like many of you, I do my fair share of exercising, watching what I eat, etc. But I am not a 21-year-old with a 28-inch waist and dark rich hair. Trying to be this is  a losing battle. The fact is, I look just like my father, who looked just like his father. Genetics, body type, and age tend to win, and the energy required to try to overcome these is increasingly disproportionate to the results and to my other duties.

I do want to say that I love being 60. I would never want to be 25 again; I have learned too much in those 35 years. God has done important work in my spiritual life during that time—thank you, Lord! Spiritually, I am now younger, more confident, and stronger, even as my body ages—thank you, Lord. And Lord, please spare me from the obsession with having the perfect body.

Our culture’s obsession with the perfect body has terrible effects upon those who are younger as well. There are many young women today whom I regard as quite beautiful, who nevertheless struggle with low self-image; they are extremely anxious about any perceived imperfection in their hair, complexion, or body shape, no matter how minor. In our hyper-sexualized and visual culture, ordinary women often compare themselves unfavorably to famous women, many of whom look the way they do by spending thousands of dollars and countless hours on personal trainers, makeup specialists, and cosmetic surgery. And with the pervasiveness of photo-editing software, many women today are actually competing with the images of women who don’t even exist; they are “Photoshopped” (see video below).

Men are not immune to this either. Most men care more about their appearance than they will admit. I remember being obsessed for years with the gap between my two front teeth. It made it awkward for me to smile and I was very self-conscious about it. And yet when I asked people about it or admitted my embarrassment, most told me that they hadn’t even noticed it. Weight gain is now my primary irritant. My slash-and-burn diets merit only a little weight loss, which which fights to quickly return plus five more pounds. A few extra laps around the park just doesn’t seem to do the trick anymore.

At the end of the day, the older body just seems designed to carry extra weight. We should ask the Lord for the proper balance in order to legitimately moderate our caloric intake and to watch our health without the preoccupation with the perfect body.

Part of the obsession for the perfect body is a result of our culture’s preoccupation with youth. Healthier cultures esteem the wisdom of age and look to elders for answers, but ours disdains its older members as “old,” “out-of-touch,” and with little to offer. Meanwhile, the young are considered “hip” and “relevant,” and are presented as the ones who really know what is going on and whose views are both glamorous and cutting edge. Young = good, old = bad.

Thus, younger bodies have become the image of perfection. And even when we leave youth behind, we are still obsessed with looking young. If we don’t, we are perceived as having “lost our edge.” Never mind that we may have reached the peak of our life intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, professionally, etc. If you don’t look young, you’re no good; you’re washed up. This is a foolish preoccupation with mere externals that dismisses the hoary crown of wisdom. Older bodies are rounder, grayer, and less agile. But perhaps God intends this, as we hopefully become more graceful, wise, and mindful in our walk, and as our personality becomes more “well-rounded.”

I have often mused that God built in a certain protection for us as we grow older: as we age and become “less attractive,” our eyesight worsens so that we don’t notice it so much! But then we go ahead and cancel that out by putting on glasses J. With corrective lenses, our artificially “young” eyes can’t bear the sight of our actually older bodies.

These are just some of my thoughts on today’s obsession with having the perfect body.

Help us, Lord! Keep us grateful for what you are doing in our souls even if our bodies are “heading south.” Help us to remember that every passing day here puts us one day closer to being with you. Keep us faithful so that we do not fear aging or the reminder of approaching death it may bring. One day, Lord, we will be in your presence, forever young before you, the Ancient of Days.

In this video a young lady who already has a lot of natural beauty is made over through cosmetics and photoshop. The resulting picture of beauty is of a woman who doesn’t even exist. No wonder our notions of beauty are distorted and impossible.

Oh Well, try the direct link:   https://youtu.be/iYhCn0jf46U

Here’s another video with interesting insights:

 

My Soul Looks Back and Wonders How I Got Over – A Homily for the 12th Sunday of the Year

Lightening Storm
The gospel today is something of a storm journal, a kind of picture of the Christian life as we journey through a stormy world against winds contrary to the gospel. There are distinctive stages, beginning with the call of Jesus to cross to the other shore. But as we cross there are surely storms and difficulties that assail us. No matter, the charge to have and keep making the crossing remains the same. Let’s look in more detail at the stages of this gospel and see how the disciples get over to the other shore with Jesus.
I. It begins with the CALL of Jesus: Let us go across to the other side. This is not merely a call to cross an ancient lake 2,000 years ago. This summons echoes down to us individually today, as the call to journey to the other shore, to Heaven.
Such crossings are not uncommon in the Scriptures. The Jewish nation crossed the Red Sea, which God parted for them. They set out as pursued slaves, crossed over, and reached the other shore to enjoy the glorious freedom of the Children of God.  And then, too, they crossed the River Jordan to enter the promised land, which is a symbol of entering Heaven. Having made that crossing, they received their inheritance.
A lot of the old spirituals contain references to crossing to the other side as symbolic of the journey to Heaven:

Michael, row the boat a-shore Hallelujah!
Then you’ll hear the trumpet blow Hallelujah!

Jordan’s river is deep and wide,
Meet my mother on the other side.

Jordan’s river is chilly and cold.
Chills the body, but not the soul.

Allow this call of Jesus, Let us go across to the other side, to be your summons to follow Him to Heaven. The disciples boarded a wooden boat to get to the other side. We cross to Heaven by the wood of the cross.

Listen to Jesus’ call and then set out! Heaven lies ahead, just over on the other shore!

II. Then comes the COMMENCEMENT: And leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he wasIt is one thing to be called by Jesus to cross to the other shore. It is another thing to respond and set out with Him. And thus the second stage of this gospel depicts the required response: that one set out, or commence the journey.
Note three things that are said here about the commencement of the journey: they renounce, they receive and they respect.
A.  They Renounce – The text says they “leave the crowd.” We are called to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil. In our Baptism we renounced the devil and by extension the world, of which he is prince. Scripture says, You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:3-4). Jesus says, No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (Mat 6:24). And yet again, I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:19).
Therefore the text says that they “leave the crowd.” They forsake the wide, popular road that leads to destruction and go out on the narrow way of the cross that leads to the other shore. You cannot have both Jesus and the world; you must choose. You cannot have the crowd and its values. Jesus warns, Woe to you when all speak well of you (Lk 6:26). We must be ready to leave the crowd, forsake popular ideas, and embrace the “foolishness” of the cross.
B. They Receive – The text says that they “took Jesus with them in the boat.” That is, they receive Jesus into the “boat” that is their life. They agree to journey with Him, not the world. They let Him pilot their ship. In the baptismal liturgy not only do we renounce Satan and the pomps of the world, we also accept Christ and profess our belief in God—Father, Son, and Spirit—and in the Church, which is Christ’s Body. Now Jesus enters the “boat” of our life and leads us in the crossing to the other shore. Jesus’ command is simple, “Follow me” (Jn 12:26; Lk 9:59; Mk 2:14; Mat 9:9; et alibi).
C. They respect – The text says that they “took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was.” Even in the Greek, this text is a bit complex. What does it mean that they took Jesus in the boat “just as he was”? Many think that the text is trying to indicate that Jesus was in fact already in the boat. Thus a possible understanding is that they took Jesus with them in the boat because in fact he was already aboard.
Perhaps, but for our purposes here, let’s take the text less literally: to accept Jesus into our life just as He is means to place no conditions on His admittance. It is to accept the real Jesus, not some fake or refashioned Jesus. The real Jesus is complex. He sets impossible demands but then forgives the worst of sinners, He is kind and understanding one moment, but stern and refusing of any excuses the next. He consoles and challenges, affirms and unsettles.
Many today have attempted to remake Jesus into a kind of “harmless hippie” who told pleasant stories and went around blessing everyone. And while it is true that He blessed many, He was a stumbling block for others. Jesus was a master preacher and storyteller but He also warned in those stories that some were sheep and some were goats, some were wise and some were foolish, some were at the feast and others were cast out into the darkness, some heard “Come blessed of my Father” and others heard “I know you not, depart from me you evildoers.” And elsewhere Jesus warned, Unless you come to believe that I AM, you will die in your sins (Jn 8:24). So Jesus is complex and we must learn to accept Him into our lives “just as he is.” St. Paul lamented, For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached … you put up with it well enough (2 Cor 11:4). Learn of the real Jesus and accept Him just as He is.
So having taken Jesus into the boat, they commence the journey to the other shore. But the journey is not always smooth, for the waters of this world are choppy and the winds are contrary.
III. For indeed, next comes the CONCERN: And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. Here they are, the inevitable storms of life that will test and purify our faith. Such aspects of life often trouble us greatly.
Why does God permit such things? Why do they last so long? Why does God, who could instantly solve all things, allow trouble to go on?
He has His reasons, most of which are mysterious. However we can surely understand some of the ways in which trouble helps to purify and strengthen us. When we are in trouble we discover gifts we didn’t know we had; we gain wisdom; we learn detachment and humility. In living our questions we deepen our search and grow to appreciate the answers and the truth more. Trouble often brings maturity and helps us to hone our skills. No tension, no change. Trouble is also tied up in the freedom God allows His children. Some abuse their freedom and cause harm.
So we can get a small glimpse of why God permits trouble. Yet much is still mysterious.
Some people even notice that storms in their life increase rather than decrease after they begin to follow Christ! Well, take that as a compliment. Maybe there was a time in your life when you were traveling in a similar direction to Satan and so barely noticed him on the periphery. And then you turned around and ran right into him. Do not despair; you are still going in the right direction and Satan doesn’t like it.
Indeed another reason that those who set out on a voyage to cross the sea often encounter more storms than the “land-lovers” who stay back in mediocrity is that, frankly, there are more storms at sea.  The “sea” here is a symbol of the way of the cross as opposed to the wide road that leads to destruction (cf Mat 7:13). The way of the cross is bound to have special troubles, but the cross, though not comfortable, is necessary. Jesus says, If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. But since you are not of the world, for I have called you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:19). So again, take storms like these as a compliment, a sign you have set out with Christ across the deeper waters.
And thus this storm at sea is a picture of our life in this storm-tossed world. An old hymn says,
When the storms of live are raging stand by me.
When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.
IV. But note the CALM of Jesus that brings peace to the others: But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
In life it seldom helps to be in a panic. If you want to bring peace, you have to be at peace. Jesus is not unaware of the storm, but He is not alarmed by it. He is able to sleep through it just fine. In life, two people can be involved in the same incident and yet have very different experiences.
Some years ago I was out walking with a friend when a large dog, a Golden Labrador, came lumbering toward us. I had grown up with dogs and thus could tell the difference between a dog moving aggressively and one approaching benignly seeking merely to establish contact. But my friend had not grown up with dogs and in fact had been bitten by one as a youngster. Each of us looked at the dog approaching us. We saw the same scene but reacted to it very differently. My friend was afraid, while I was delighted. He reacted angrily and defensively. I put my hand out and greeted the dog, patting it on the head and letting it smell my hand. With my experience, I was able to bring peace to the situation. An agitated reaction might well have provoked the dog to turn aggressive.
And so we see something similar here in the boat. Jesus is able to sleep peacefully in the storm, but the disciples are panicked. Jesus knows His Father; He also knows the end of the story. Do you? Have you not read that for those who love and trust in the Lord all things work together for good? (cf Rom 8:28) Why are we so afraid? Storms will come and storms will go, but if we love God we will be saved, even if we die to this world.
If you have this peace, you too will calm storms. Peaceful people have an effect on others around them. We cannot give what we do not have. Ask the Lord for a heart that is at peace, not just for your own sake but for that of others. Because He is at peace, Jesus can rebuke the storm. How about you?
V. Finally, note the CHARGE:  “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”
And thus it is that the Lord charges them to grow in faith so as to be at peace and to bring peace to others. How do we lay hold of this peace? By growing in our experience and in our wonder and awe at what the Lord can do, and by learning to trust that God is bigger than our storms and concerns. We also learn that some of the storms are actually to our benefit; they help to strengthen us, even speeding our journey along.
Faith is a way of knowing. And thus we who grow in it are less terrified of storms. We have come to experience how God delivers us and strengthens us, often in paradoxical ways, and that none of the things of this world can destroy us if we have faith.
In my own life I have made this part of the journey to greater faith. I used to be very anxious about many things. Today I am seldom anxious because I have learned by faith and experience that God is working His purposes out. Most of the things I was anxious about in the past turned out fine, or at the very least OK. And even the stunning blows contained secret gifts, hidden at the time, only to be revealed later. This is the knowing of faith, that brings calm in the storms of life.
So our charge is to have faith.
Here, then, is a quick sketch of our life as disciples. We hear the CALL of the Lord to set out. We COMMENCE our journey with Him. Whatever the CONCERNs or storms, we learn the CALM of Jesus and let it reach us by the CHARGE of faith.