for Sunday, June 21, 2009
Last week our cycle of liturgical
readings returned to what is termed Ordinary Time during which we
look at the parables, miracles and teaching of Jesus and the
events of his ministry; we do so this year through the eyes of St
Of course, in reality the time is
anything but "ordinary". The period covered in the Gospel was
a blessed time—the days on which the Son of God walked this
earth and graced us with his presence.
I don’t know about you but I
often wonder what it must have been like to live in those times
and to have listened to Jesus' teaching and witnessed his
miracles. Mind you I'm slightly nervous in case I would have
found myself among those who did not take Jesus seriously enough
or among those who simply failed to see the point of his message.
And the time that we are living in
now can hardly be called ordinary either. For this is redeemed
time. We live in the age in which the Kingdom of God is gradually
becoming a reality. God's plan has been revealed, Christ has
brought us salvation and now we await the final days - the
culmination of his mighty work.
And during these present days God
continues to work in us and on us. We experience each day his
mercy and love. We who are awake and sensitive to the working of
God in the world see his hand all around us.
This is a Lord who stills the wind
and the waves. And not only on the Lake of Galilee but he also
calms the wind and waves in our own lives and in the lives of
those around us. This is indeed a blessed age, at least for those
with eyes to see and ears to hear.
The People of Israel were not a
seafaring nation and only once or twice in the Old Testament are
there references to sea-going ships and then they utilised them to
little effect. They were a desert people and for them the sea was
hostile and dangerous, it was a place of storms and monsters—just
think of the story of Jonah.
In the extract from the Book of Job
in our first reading God stresses that it is he who has ultimate
control over the forces of nature and the sea in particular. God
is in charge and he has set the parameters of the forces of nature
and everything else for that matter.
This is reflected in the incident
on the Lake of Galilee. When Jesus calms the storm the apostles
are in awe of his power - a power attributable only to God. We are
here still quite early in Christ's public ministry and they are
still not absolutely sure who he is. This display of his
extraordinary authority over the elements, which goes far beyond
what any mere healer can do, makes them wonder more than ever.
The Gospel stories always deserve
close examination. We are so used to them that the tendency is
only to see the obvious and to miss the important details. And
there is something that is easily overlooked in today's text.
Like many people I easily get
seasick. I only once slept overnight in a boat and, although I did
eventually go to sleep, it took me ages to adjust to the rocking
of the ship and the movement of the waves.
But here having a nap is no trouble
at all to Jesus - there he is up in the stern with his head down
on a leather cushion sound asleep. And this is no ordinary calm
voyage for, as we are told, they are in the middle of a storm with
a gale blowing and waves coming over the side so that the boat was
Anyone else would have wakened long
before, but not Jesus. For he is Lord of the wind and the waves,
he is Lord of all. He is serene in the face of the storm. All
around are petrified that the boat will sink but not Jesus. He is
a picture of peace and tranquillity amidst all the panic of the
apostles and tumult of the storm.
Jesus rebukes the storm but he also
rebukes the apostles and this is more surprising since their fear
is all too understandable. He accuses them of being afraid and
lacking faith which seems a little unfair.
But faith and the lack of it is one
of Mark's constant themes and what he wants us to understand is
that although the disciples were privileged to be close to Jesus
they still had to make a personal act of faith in him, just the
same as we do.
This story of the calming of the
storm was very important for the early Church because it was a
Church under attack from all quarters - it was a persecuted
Church. Its people endured many storms and frequently its members
were faced with the stark choice of martyrdom or apostasy.
They must have taken great heart
from this wonderful story and it surely helped them to realise
that Christ was with them too, and that he would not permit their
little ship of faith to be overwhelmed.
The Church today may not seem to be
attacked openly in the same way as the Church of the first
apostles. But it is subject to a more subtle and insidious attack.
And Christianity, particularly in Western Europe, has as a result
suffered an extraordinary decline in numbers in recent years.
We are not being actively
persecuted but we are being ignored and marginalised. We might not
be attacked in the street but we are ridiculed for our beliefs - even
if only behind our backs.
I recently had a visit from a class
from a local non-Catholic primary school. One of the boys put up
his hand and said, ‘Who is that bloke in the corner standing
on a box?' I tried to hide my incredulity and told him that
it was a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and calmly gave him
Such ignorance is commonplace
today; it is the direct result of an active policy of
secularisation by the media and many others. Ordinary people don't
know even the most basic things about Christianity. Things that we
used to take for granted such as that everyone would know the Lord's
Prayer are now largely gone.
As children we were told that we
needed to know our catechism in case we met a Protestant and had
to defend our faith to them. Nowadays we don't see Protestants
as enemies to be defended against, in this more ecumenical age we
regard them more as allies in a common cause.
The real enemy is the widespread
ignorance of anything connected to religion in our society. In the
face of this we can put our head in the sand and ignore what is
going on around us. Or we could react and condemn society and its
rejection of God. Or instead we could be proactive and engage with
society and the people around us.
The first two choices are negative
and we won't waste our time on them. But being proactive and
engaging with society is very difficult and would require a great
deal of effort on our behalf and it might be counterproductive and
lead to people dismissing us as some sort of moral crusader.
There is however another option
which is to deepen our own faith, to ensure that our beliefs
change us and to simply let that be our witness to Christ in the
world. Perhaps this is the most authentically Christian response
to the widespread apathy towards the things of God.
Actually the Gospel message today
is one of real hope. We might feel embattled as Christians and
feel that we are fighting a loosing battle, and we may feel at
times vulnerable because of our faith. But at a deep level we know
that the struggle with the forces of evil is already won.
These are not "ordinary times";
these are extraordinary times. We must remember that the time in
which we live is redeemed time. Christ has won the victory and we
are his standard bearers in the world today. The indifference and
occasional ridicule that we experience does not affect us, in
fact, it makes us feel sorry for those who do not possess the gift
We may from time to time experience
panic but, like the apostles, our lasting feeling is one of awe
and wonder that we have such a powerful redeemer.
Readings of the day:
Reflections are available for the following Sundays: