Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore on 21 June 2015
In this Gospel event of the “Storm” where the lives of Jesus’ disciples’ were threatened, they were all terrified. Jesus on the other hand was sound asleep, in Peter’s boat in the midst of the raging storm. Jesus must have been totally exhausted from his long day’s work of preaching and attending to the needs of the great crowds of people and He must also have been such a sound sleeper that nothing seems to wake him up.
Do some of us here also sleep like a log? When tired, I too have often fallen asleep while sitting, standing and kneeling, and even while driving. Once, I even fell asleep while my dentist was drilling my tooth! If there were cars and dentists during Jesus’ time, I am sure we too could imagine Jesus, when exhausted, also falling asleep while He is driving or at a dentist like me. Why not, since He could still continue to sleep while being tossed about in a boat during a raging storm!
What does this scene of the “storm” mean? On one hand, we see the fullness of Jesus humanity; the human Jesus who could feel the tiredness of a long day’s work, and on the other hand we also see the divinity of Jesus beginning to unveil itself to His disciples. In this scene, we see how Jesus’ divinity remains infinitely more powerful and as such Jesus is at Peace in the midst of a raging storm.
In Biblical literature, the standard image of a “storm”, of “water being out of control” is also the symbol of the power of demonic forces threatening our lives. However, as in the Gospel event, the storm can only threaten and cause fear in our lives, but it cannot prevail because there is the infinite and divine power of God’s presence that will never fail to protect and will surely prevail over all forces of evil around us and in the world. Let us next reflect on the truth of the divine power of Jesus in the “storms of our lives.”
Several months ago, one of our parishioner James, very suddenly discovered that he had some pains in his stomach and this turned out to be cancerous. Being shocked by the discovery, and being a medical doctor himself, James availed himself of all medical treatment. Moreover, being a very fervent Catholic he and his dear wife prayed very hard for a cure. I gave James the Sacrament of the Sick. James continued to come for his usual daily Masses, until he could not walk. James was increasingly getting weaker; within months, James knew that he was dying; yet, he and his wife were hopeful for a miraculous cure; so was I. But, this did not happen. James passed away peacefully about a month ago.
About a week before James died, I had the privilege of visiting him where I gave him Holy Communion and the anointing of the Sick. James spoke to me privately and said that he was not really in pain. He was also at peace with himself and his family. His only deep pain was to have to leave his dear wife behind, as they have been together for so many years of married life, and when he is gone she would be on her own. On deeper reflection on the situation, James was consoled that his children will take care of their mother; more importantly his faith assured him that God too will take his dear wife.
The Late Dr James Tan and his wife Marianne
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when we are facing the storms of life, regardless of what they may be, one of the lessons that we must learn from today’s Gospel is that Jesus is always present to us. Jesus may not necessarily calm the storm, but because He is present to us, the storm which may threaten us, can never destroy us. As in the James’ true story. Jesus neither calmed the storm of his illness nor cured him. However, because Jesus was present in his heart and because James’ love for Jesus was personal and deep, he remained at peace even as the cancer was eating up his life. What gave James strength, peace and consolation even as he feels the deep sorrow and pain of having to leave his dear wife behind was that he was able to entrust her and all his loved ones to God’s Compassionate Care, Love and Providence.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, in today’s Gospel account of the “storm”, we can learn much about how Jesus relates to us when we are experiencing the “storms of our lives.” First, Jesus would continue sleeping while the storms of our lives are threatening us. Second, Jesus could get up and calm the storms of our lives. Of the two options, all of us would humanly prefer that Jesus calm the storms of our lives, instead of continuing to sleep through our storms. This is the natural desires of our hearts, because none of us want pain.
However, we too can learn from the life of James that if our love for Jesus is deep and personal, then even in the midst of the raging storms of our lives that threaten to swallow us up, whether it is a terminal illness we have to battle with, or a marital relationship that is on the verge of divorce, or a priesthood or religious life vocation that is on the verge of collapse, or be it a financial crises or the crises in our homes because of our children, or the deep hurts of injustices that pierce of our hearts by the very people who are closest to us and the like, as this list can be endless, we as believers, and like the disciples of Jesus on the boat, must be assured that with Jesus in our lives, nothing and no evil powers of this world can prevail. God will triumph and victory is assured, even though evil may seem to have the upper hand; even though cancer seem to be winning the battle, even though the pain and injustices of life seem threaten to overpower us.
When Jesus was suffering the excruciating pain of His Passion that eventually killed Him through the Crucifixion, His Father was present to Him but He did not intervene to wipe out the evils of the Chief Priest, Scribe, Pharisees, Roman Soldiers and the crowd that clamoured for His Son’s Death. They were seemingly having the upper hand and overpowering the power of God’s protection over His Son. In the Father’s Will and Providence, He allowed His Son to die, in order that He will Rise again, so that death and Sin in the world be conquered, and that the gates of eternal life to heaven can be opened.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when the disciples were frantically scooping water out of their boat, they felt that they were too weak to battle the raging winds and the threatening waves. So, they woke Jesus and said, “Master, do you not care? We are going down!” In the context of Mark’s Gospel the disciples woke Jesus because they wanted Him to help them, like scooping water out of the boat, and not so much as to perform the miracle to calm the storm. At that time, they were still not clear about who Jesus was.
So, when Jesus woke up, He “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Quiet now! Be calm! And the wind dropped, and the sea was calm again. Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?” They were then filled with awe and said to one another, “Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey Him.”
This means that in the storms of our lives, Jesus may either calm the storm through performing a miracle of curing our illness and the like, or He may be present in the midst of the storm and seemingly not be doing anything to calm it.
Our true story of James, our parishioner shows us clearly that the “calming of the storms of our lives” event is not merely expecting Jesus to wipe away all the problems and pains of our lives, but to give us the deep Peace of His Compassionate Presence that assures us that everything that is raging around us and threatening us will never destroy our faith and salvation. It is this Truth and the personal love of Jesus that James our parishioner was able to entrust his beloved wife in God’s Compassionate Love, Care and Providence.
To conclude, let us remind ourselves, that without God, we can merely be frantically scooping the water of the drowning boat of our lives amidst the raging storms that continue to threaten us. But, with Jesus’ Presence, even though He is seemingly, asleep, we can be assured that our boat in stormy waters, which also is a symbol of the Church in stormy seas, will eventually reach the safety of the land of our deepest desires; our eternal home with one another and with God in heaven.
Thousands holy people like James, the saints and martyrs of the Church have died for their faith in following the Passion of Jesus that leads to eternal life and Salvation. And so, for those of us who are going through the storms of our lives, we are specially called by God today to renew of faith in Him who never fails; but, will we fail Him?
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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