As With the Apostles, Jesus Sends Us All on Mission

Saints Peter and Paul: Models for Christian Life

Sharing In The Life God Offers

God Shows Us the Way to Life

Jesus Saves

The Eucharist Strengthens Us to Live the Life of Love

Msgr. Joseph Prior

The clouds were moving in on the Andrea Gail. The fishing ship was on the North Atlantic Ocean when three storms, coming from three different directions, converged into what Sebastian Junger titled in his book, and a later movie, “The Perfect Storm.” The ship went down with its six-person crew on October 28, 1991. The ship or crew has never been recovered. The phrase “perfect storm” seems to have or is being worked into our common parlance for times when we seem overwhelmed by different issues all coming together at the same time; similar to the older expression “when it rains, it pours.”

Many of us have been in situations where it seems like we were in “a perfect storm.” When we find ourselves in these situations, we might feel like we are being rocked violently in the boat or being hit by waves as they come over the ship; if it is really severe, we might feel like we have been thrown overboard sinking and looking for a hand to save us. What do we do when these situations arise? Where do we find help? Where do we find calm and peace in the midst of it? How do we find a way through?

Perhaps the readings for today’s liturgy can give us some insights. An important underlying reality that we as a people have come to know is that God is always and everywhere present. He is with us when the ship of life is sailing on calm and tranquil waters. He is present when the storms arise. He is always here. The Gospel passage for today’s liturgy recalls one of the incidents when Jesus and His disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee (also called Lake Tiberius or Sea of Genneseret). That body of water is notorious for violent storms to come up quickly and without warning. Such seems to be the case in this situation. Jesus was asleep on a cushion when the storm hits. Strikingly he remains sleeping while everyone else is awake and afraid. The image this presents is powerful. Jesus is not overcome by the storm. He remains at peace – so much so that He can sleep soundly in the midst of all the commotion. When the disciples wake him, they are clearly full of fear at the peril. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus gives a very simple but powerful command, “Quiet! Be still!” And as Saint Mark tells us, “The wind ceased and there was great calm.”

Next Jesus turns to the disciples and ask “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” This is an important question. I think the key to understanding the question is the word “yet.” The word points to the past. Jesus has invited them to put their faith in Him. He has also demonstrated great authority and ability. At this point in the Gospel, and in the public ministry, Jesus has done incredible things. He has healed the sick (Mark 1:31,34; 3:10), cured lepers (Mark 1:41), given the paralytic use of his limbs (Mark 2:11; cf. 3:5), forgiven sins (Mark 2:11). He has exorcised many demons (Mark 1:25). He has taught with authority (Mark 1:27, 2:27-28, 3:4). People, presumably including these disciples, were with Him when He did these things. So now His reaction to the disciples is surprise. If He has done all those things, of course He can deliver them from harm, He can calm the sea, and He does.

Now another important connection that comes through in these readings is between what Jesus is doing now and what God has done in the past. Calming the seas is something that God can do. The passage from Job in the first reading reminds us of this. You may recall the context of this passage. Job, the just man, is being tested by Satan. He is inflicted with tremendous suffering and loss, family, household, livestock, possessions along with physical, psychological, and spiritual torment. Quite the “perfect storm.” He is tempted by his friends to admit he must have done something wrong to deserve such treatment. He maintains his innocence. His friends are convinced that he must have something that displeased God which deserves punishment.

Such is the case when God interrupts the argument of Elihu, one of Job’s companions. He speaks to Job as the creator of the universe. The one who, among many things listed in the full speech, “shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands? When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door, and said: ‘Thus far shall you come but no father, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!’”

His point to Job and his friends is that man cannot possibly grasp the full understanding of who He is and what He does. He is God and His abilities are endless. Shortly after this, God delivers Job and restores Him to health, peace, and prosperity.

God’s power over creation is mirrored in Jesus. The same God who created the sea and storms is the one who can calm the winds and waters. Psalm 107 poetically tells of God delivering a people from a storm. The first stanza recalls the storm rising. The people’s “hearts melted away in their plight.”

The second stanza recalls their deliverance when they called upon the Lord – “He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze, and the billows of the sea were stilled.”

Finally, the third stanza recalls the people rejoicing and praising the Lord for His kindness. The God who saved in the past, now delivers His people through Jesus, His Son.

Life at times has its challenges. Sometimes they might seem to converge in a “perfect storm.” However, in the midst of all the turmoil, one thing that remains constant is God. He is there in the storms of life with us.

Jesus invites us once again to faith, to believe in Him. He is the One who will see us through the storm to a peaceful and tranquil place. He is the One who has the ability to calm the waves that hit us.

He is the One who with outstretched hand pulls us up. He is the One who can say “Quiet! Be still!” and have it happen.

***

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.

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