LOOKING UP TO GOD FROM THIS WORLD OF UNCERTAINTY
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time -
Year B June 21, 2009
More than just uncertainty fills the air heavy with reports of new and developing terror cells all over the world, with one prominent world leader even speaking of possible nuke warfare all over again. Fear and trepidation can grip the hearts of people who live along notorious geological “fault lines” that can snap any minute, and send miles and miles of land to a screeching, grating, and gyrating swath of destruction. Recent earthquakes in Pakistan, in Indonesia, in China, Italy, and elsewhere around the world send shivers of anxiety down the spine of countless people who live in the so-called “ring of fire.” Volcanoes acting up, “sleeper cells” of terrorists awakening to a potential scenario of more destructive and violent acts, and the restless world churning up new and more frightening possibilities ought to be enough to make of our presence here today in Church, more than just relevant and meaningful.
I will be direct with you. The Liturgy today goes right to the point when it starts with a plaintive prayer: “God of the universe … From this world of uncertainty we look to your covenant. Keep us one in your peace, and secure in your love” (Alternative Opening Prayer).
There is something about celebrating Eucharist together that is eminently real, existential, and totally attuned to our human condition. If liturgy is an encounter between God and humanity, then it must be an encounter that takes place between a real, personal God, and equally real, and existential human beings like us, who are situated, “thrown into” a world mired in complexity, confusion, and – yes – a whole lot of uncertainty! Liturgy was never, and is never, meant to be an encounter between two phonies, between two fakes who continually wear masks and who live in splendid denial, and stale – if Pollyannish – wishful thinking.
Liturgy is all about sinful, erring, violence-prone, and selfish human beings reaching out, and being reached out to by a God who saves, a God of life and love, a God who offers “peace” and “security” in love (Opening Prayer).
Today’s liturgy precisely recounts that story of a saving God who stills the raging seas (First Reading). In the heels of a storm-tossed experience, both real and figurative, Job is confronted with a searing personal question: “Who else but God?” Who else but God can be relied on to do His wonders? Who else but God can be counted on to come to the rescue of suffering humanity? Who else but God can love us despite the many “uncertainties” we cause upon ourselves and bring down on others?
This is the same God we encounter here and now. This is the same God to whom we utter this stirring response: “Give thanks to the Lord, his love is everlasting.”
Setting aside, or bracketing apart all the growing uncertainties that dot the radar screen of our busy and complicated lives, there are, indeed, reasons to gather and give thanks in today’s Eucharistic celebration.
St. Paul sums up all these reasons into one foundational truth. “[Jesus] died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was buried.” (2nd Reading) On account of his death, “new things have come” for us all.
I would like to suggest that among these “new things” counts the newness and freshness of Christian hope, a hope that thrives in the midst of decay, a hope that flourishes even in the midst of darkness, a hope that grows even in the midst of so much uncertainty.
The Church, the world, our individual and communal lives are exactly like what today’s Gospel passage from Mark describes – a boat pummeled and pulled hither and thither by towering waves. If there is any picture of uncertainty, it is this … a boat in distress with the captain fast asleep … seemingly uncaring … seemingly oblivious to the danger … to all appearances unaware of the clear and present danger all of us wayfarers are subjected to right now.
There is uncertainty in the Church, at least from the external viewpoint … young people are drifting away in many senses. Pastors who ought to be leaders of the flock are themselves posing as problems to their bishops, even to the Pope. There is corruption and sordid love of material gain both in and out of the Church that we love. There is politics. There is this endless jockeying for positions and favors from the powers-that-be. And to top it all off, there seem to be no easy solutions to the big problems we heap upon ourselves and on each other.
There is uncertainty, too, outside the Church. The same “griefs, anxieties, and fears” that Gaudium et Spes spoke of 44 years ago, are still the same issues we find everywhere. The disciples’ pleading then, could as well remain our own pleading here and now: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Master, do you not care that there is so much confusion and uncertainty in our times? Master, wake up and do something!
The Lord did wake up then. He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Quiet!” He took charge. He stilled the winds and the sea. But the story doesn’t end there. He did not just take charge. He charged his disciples. He charges us now and calls us to task. He turns the tables on us, as it were, and tells us to do what we so pleadingly ask for. He calls us to take part. And like in the story of Job, he questions us, this time, not with a “who-else-but-God” type of question, but one that sears and cuts to the quick, one that hits home, one that strikes at the core of our issues and complaints: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
The Lord has been awake, and has been up and about “his Father’s business” all along –then in that little, frail boat – and now, in the big, complex, and complicated boat of life in the Church and in the world. He was busy in the person of Pope John Paul II, Pope for all of 26 years. He envisioned and dreamed about a “springtime of evangelization” and worked toward the attainment of that dream, till his last breath. He is still awake and busy in the person of the present Pope Benedict XVI. For years, he foresaw and foretold certain elements of all this “uncertainty” in the Church and the world – the deepening opposition to God and his truth, the worsening moral relativism that envelops humanity’s attitudes and values-systems. One was optimistic … and gave flesh and blood to his optimism. He spent all his energy making his dream come closer to reality. The other seems less optimistic, but no less involved in combating this all-out opposition to the cause of God and his Church. At the end, it really is not a matter of optics. At the end, it is not a matter of being either optimistic or pessimistic. It is all about being present, being awake, being in charge, and being leader in a storm-tossed boat of life here, there, and everywhere.
At the end, it is all about being what Christ is, and was, to us and his temporarily frightened disciples. It is all about being leader, being pastor, being Master and Lord of all the elements that could beset and befall his flock. It is all about that one important message that we need now to hear loud and clear: “Be not afraid. Be not afraid. Be not afraid.”
Let us pray once more … “God of the universe, we worship you as Lord. God, ever close to us, we rejoice to call you Father. From this world’s uncertainty we look to your covenant. Keep us one in your peace, secure in your love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”