Homilies

19th Sunday in Ordinary Times
1 Kings 19:9.11-13; Rom. 9:1-5; Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33
The Fears of our Lives . . . Fear Not . . .

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, on 13 August 2017

In today’s Gospel event, we see how Jesus’ disciples were terrified when they saw Jesus walking on the lake towards them, as they thought Jesus was a ghost.  Then we see how Peter having great faith in Jesus, plucked up his courage and got out of the security of his boat and walked on the threatening waves towards Jesus in the midst of the raging storm.  Yet, the Gospel tells us that when a Peter “felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink.”  It was only when Jesus and Peter got onto the boat, and when the wind dropped, that the disciples bowed deeply before Jesus and said, “Truly, You are the Son of God.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the event of today’s Gospel, in many ways mirror the common patterns of the experiences of our faith in Jesus.  At one time in our lives, we would profess our deep faith in Him, but when we are threatened by the trials and crises of life, we like the disciples, would give in to our fears and even lose our faith in Jesus.  This happens when, if like Peter, we are to take our eyes away from our gaze of Jesus . . . if this is so, the inevitable happens; we begin to be overwhelmed by the threats of the storms of our lives and sink into the sea of our crises.  Then again we will find Jesus reaching out to us, and extending His hands to rescue us . . . We will only, like the disciples, recognise Jesus more clearly and worship Him with deeper reverence and gratitude, when the raging storm calms down.

Recently someone, let us call him David, came to me and confides in me, “Father, what am I to do?  I have a big loan to pay and I am desperate.  The banks are all after me.  Moreover, last week, I lost my job.  And to make things worse, my wife told me that she is leaving me.  What shall I do?” 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, when we hear of such sad stories and crises in a person’s life, what can we do?  Literally, we can do nothing except to ask the person to continue to pray and we too pray for the person, and give him the needed support.  Learning from today’s Gospel event, perhaps we could advise a person like David to continue to trust in the Lord, and like Peter, have the courage to get out of the false security of the boat and walk towards Jesus, even in the midst the raging storm that threatens to swallow him up.  We will also do well, if we advise David that, unlike Peter, he should try not to turn his gaze away from Jesus, because it is in keeping his gaze fixed on Jesus that he will stay afloat and not drown.  This is because in keeping his gaze on Jesus, his faith will continue to give him the strength he desperately needs, that come from Jesus, to overcome the crises that is threatening to drown him. 

My brothers and sister in Christ, professional Catholic psychotherapists tell us that fear keeps alcoholics drinking, addicts addicted, and wretched sinners stuck in sin like quicksand.  In fearing the darkness of the human psyche, on our own strength, it is virtually impossible to feel the True Joy of the real Light.  The Light of the Truth of Christ will illuminate the darkness of our pain, hurts and sorrows, of our lives that many of us would rather not probe or see again or open its wounds.  For to do so, is like asking David to recall what had led to his big outstanding loan and break-up of his relationship with his wife, that is now burdening him.  If David’s “darkness” of the loan and his wife leaving him is because he was feeding his gambling habits, or other vices, then the Light of Christ’s Truth that shines on such “darkness” of his past life would open the wounds of his heart.
 

And, so while it is good that David confronts and comes to terms with the reality of the “darkness and sins” of his life, we can also understand very well and feel compassion towards him, if he were to resist the Light of Jesus . . . However, if David were to turn away from his gaze and Light of Jesus, he would surely become even more threatened by the storms of the deep pain and hurts of his life, and will begin to drown under the crises of his life.  And, in such a sad and helpless situation, we can only pray that like Peter, David too would call out to Jesus and say, “Lord, Save me!” 

And when Jesus who would surely extend His hand to rescue David from drowning, then we would have to pray that, like Peter, David too would have the wisdom to accept the Saving Mercy and Love of Jesus, and not allow himself to be drown in his crises, and destroy his life and relationship with Jesus.

One of our fears in life is loosing the many comfortable illusions that we are not willing or are too fearful to let go.  And so, we resist and often refuse to change our ways so that we can face the truth and the pain of how we are living our lives . . . we get stuck in our old ways, and refuse to see the light that is beyond the pain, discouragements and darkness of our lives.

Raymond Lloyd Richmond, a psychotherapist, shared, “Before I started studying psychology, I worked as a woodcarver and cabinetmaker. One day I brought home a pile of dirty, mouldy pieces of wood.  My father looked at them and said, ‘If I were you, I would throw all these in the garbage.’ However, not being discouraged by his words, I patiently cleaned, sanded, filed, glued, refinished, assembled, and polished the different pieces of useless and worthless wood . . . little by little, day by day.  In the end I finally made a beautiful antique oak dining table out of the seeming garbage I collected.

In his reflection on this experience, he concluded that “No life, however dirty and broken, is beyond redemption or beyond hope.” 

I am very blessed; in that my father was a good man and he never abused me in any way.  And he never told me that I was garbage.  But, can we imagine how it feels for those children whose parents are abusive, critical, neglectful, and manipulative?  These parents not only break down their child into a pile of sticks.  Their child would stand covered in guilt and shame, and feel the trauma of their parents telling them, “Look at you! You’re just a piece of garbage.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, in Raymond’s reflection on the Gospels, he tells us that the one thing that Christ repeats over and over throughout the Gospels is, Do not be afraid.”  Christ doesn’t say this as if He were a humanistic psychologist telling us to stop whining and get on with life.  No.  When Christ tells us not to be afraid, He is assuring us, that we should not fear because He is always with us to protect us. 

When we reflect on our experiences in our lives, we realise that all human beings are weak, broken creatures, and we will always feel afraid of something.  Vulnerability is a fact of human existence; every day brings new challenges that loom in front of us.  And, because we cannot foretell the future, it’s simply impossible not to feel afraid of something.  Still, in spite of all the fear we feel, we don’t have to get caught in trying to protect ourselves with our own hands and our own wits.  We do not have to let fear possess us.  In other words, we don’t have to be afraid of life and the challenges it brings.

This is so because when Christ said, “Do not be afraid,” He did not mean that we should never feel afraid.  Instead, Christ is saying to us that, when we encounter frightening situations, we should trust in Him and, never to take matters into our own hands.  This is because we should look only to His Protective and Compassionate Love to care for our needs.  

I would like to conclude, by quoting the prayer that I was inspired to compose on the “Homeless Jesus”; the sculpture that we have in our Cathedral’s Garden of the Resurrection, which I believe captures in many ways, what we have been reflecting on in today’s Gospel; that regardless of the crises in our lives, we should never fear, as Jesus Our Lord is always there with us . . .

HOMELESS JESUS
Lord Jesus, I long for peace
but, alone I find none . . .
I long for love
but, I am pushed aside. . .
I hide under my cloak that my pain may be less . . .
but, the humiliation remains
I huddle in a corner
that the world may pass me by . . .
but, the darkness remains.

Lord Jesus, “How I long to be consoled
even if just for a fleeting moment . . .”

Then, the warmth of Your embrace . . .
The assurance of Your love . . .
The shield of Your presence . . .
gives me the strength to go on . . .
for I know You are here with me . . .

The cloak that wraps around me . . .
I now know is You being here for me . . .
Thank You Lord . . .
Give me the wisdom to love You more deeply
And feel Your presence in my life every day.

 

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

(cf. Adapted from: http://www.chastitysf.com/fear.htm; psychological healing in the Catholic Mystical Tradition.)

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