Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Last Sunday we celebrated the Transfiguration. Jesus’ divinity was witnessed by Peter, James and John. They see Jesus in all his glory. The encounter is transformative for them. The transformation take place over time. We are reminded of the journey of transformation and the ever important, ever developing response to this encounter which is called faith.

The episode recalled in today’s gospel happens before the Transfiguration, however, it serves as a call to faith. The event occurs following the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Jesus goes off alone to spend time in prayer telling the disciples to precede him to the other shore by boat. During the night a storm rises on the sea. The disciples are overcome with fear. In the midst of the storm, Jesus approaches, walking on the water. The disciples think he is a ghost. As he nears the boat he says: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.”

The encounter may remind us that when we face storms in life, and we inevitably do, Jesus is never far from us. He comes into the storm. He is with us. He speaks to us as he did to those first disciples – “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.”

We may well relate to the next thing that happens. Peter is not sure so he tests Jesus. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus tells him to come. He does so.

Now Peter is doing the impossible. He is walking on water with Jesus. The storm is still there but he is focused on Jesus. Jesus will see him safely through. But then something happens. Peter notices the wind.

In other words, he takes his focus off Jesus and directs it to the storm. We know what happens next. He begins to sink and cries out: “Lord, save me.” He seems to realize what has happened, he turns back to Jesus and asks for help. Jesus says “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” and then takes Peter by the hand and leads him safely to the boat. The wind dies down and those in the boat fall prostrate at Jesus saying: “Truly, you are the Son of God.” They believe.

Sometimes when we face the storms of life we may be like Peter. We believe but may get distracted. The encounter reminds us that Jesus is still there, calling us back, lifting us up and will lead us to safety. The great miracle of Jesus walking on the sea takes place not only that we might know the power of Christ but that we might know His compassion, His loving concern. God knows when we are in danger. He is not distant from it, he comes into it with us to lead us through. He does this through the abiding presence of the Spirit who dwells in and among us. His presence and continual “coming” is regular and ongoing. Perhaps Elijah’s encounter with God will help us grow in our awareness of this.

The first reading recalls Elijah’s battle with fear. We might not realize that from the passage in the liturgy, it picks up mid-stream of a larger story. Elijah is on the run. He has confronted and destroyed the prophets of Baal (pagan god) and incurred the wrath of the unfaithful king Ahab and his wicked queen Jezebel. She is looking to kill Elijah. Elijah flees.

After spending forty days and nights on the run, he finds himself on Mount Horeb. He is in a cave seeking shelter. He hears the Lord tell him: “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.” He does so. A series of great natural manifestations of power occur: a “strong and heavy wind” passes by crushing rocks; then there was a great earthquake, then there was a fire but the Lord was not in any of these. Finally, that soft “tiny whispering sound” passed by and Elijah knew it was the Lord.

Perhaps this is the more regular way that God enters into our struggles. Jesus promised to remain with us.

He does so through the Spirit. It is in the quiet that he speaks to us, in the depths of our hearts and minds.

This place of solitude can be anywhere we are, in any kind of situation, good or bad.

He comes to us and speaks to us. He will give us courage and fortitude. And like Jesus did for Peter, he will do for us, lead us to safety. And so, he calls us to faith: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.”


Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.