19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

August 7, 2011

Today is a day very close to my heart. The readings refer to “strong winds,” “crushing rocks,” “earthquake,” “fire,” “cave” and “darkness.” And all this comes only from the first reading. From St. Paul, we hear words like “sorrow” and “anguish,” being “accursed” and being “cut-off.”

The Gospel has more. After the impromptu catering service, courtesy of the good Lord, out on the grassy meadows, when they went to a far away place, out to sea, they were tossed by waves … in the darkness, mind you.

Rightly then, does the Gospel refer to the disciples as “terrified.”

Terror … the dark … sorrow and anguish bring out the best – and the worst – in us.

For one, they make us complain. They make us angry. The Israelites are notorious for this. Out of Egypt, delivered from slavery, in no time, they found the gall to complain to the Lord for allowing Moses to get them out. They complained about most everything … food, accommodations, leadership. They were just about ready to throw anything and everything at Moses, including the proverbial kitchen sink!

They also make us hide our heads in the sand, sort of. Well … not quite. Elijah just hid his face in his cloak. Terrified by the heavy wind, the earthquake, and the fire, he refused to look at what was coming next.

I, too, must confess to my readers that I love to hide in times of adversity. Being an introvert to start with, I hide from people unknown to me. I run away from crowds as far as is possible. I shy away from potential pain. I shun individuals who make me suffer. I refuse to have anything to do with people who make life miserable for me in many little and big ways. As Principal of a small school right now, I would do anything so as not to engage intractable parents who tell us what to do, and how to run a school, and how to educate their kids. And they, of course, sound like they are always right! Or at least they think they are!

Elijah is not alone in this. We are all in it together. You and I and Paul, and Elijah, and the Lord himself! We pass through caves, and tunnels, and dark alleys, and we experience torrential rains that won’t go away … We pass through terrifying moments of collective pain, as when earthquakes create not just death and destruction on a massive scale, but worse so, tsunamis that flatten entire cities and wipe away tens of thousands of lives, all in a few terror-filled hours! We pass through sorrow and anguish, “sweat and care and cumber; sorrows passing number …”

Everyone of us can relate to Elijah.

We want the certainty of noise and news. We want to feel alive kept abreast by a never-ending flow of events that we seek to know in real time, care of Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. Com. Cable TV is, for the most part, “on” all our waking and even sleeping hours. The internet keeps us “wired” (wirelessly, of course) 24/7. We feel better with it humming to life all the time. We feel lost in silence. We feel confused by lack of activity and we feel dead without the usual buzz and whirr of everything electronic.

You would think that those who were fed the loaves last Sunday would have learned that single most precious lesson – that the Lord feeds those whose eyes look up to Him. But no!

In fact, not even the disciples learned it that fast. When they began to be tossed about by the winds, they were terrified. Like Elijah, they lost sight of what was coming. Instead of seeing the Lord walking on the water, they saw a “ghost.” Instead of Elijah seeing a manifestation of the Lord, he hid his head in his cloak and simply refused to see. There’s the case, too, elsewhere in the gospels, of Mary Magdalene, who could not recognize the risen Lord, on account of her tears.

I see Good News cropping up here. I see hope rising behind the sorrow and anguish of Paul. I see God’s presence behind – and despite – the silence of the very God we want to see, feel, and touch!

And this, my friends, is the good news for today. Our plea “Lord, let us see your kindness and grant us your salvation,” does not go unheeded. God is coming. God is already here. With us. For us. In spite of us! He is with us in our pain. He is alongside us in moments of darkness, as we navigate through the labyrinthine ways of life that sometimes gives us more than our fair share of darkness, fires, earthquakes, and strong typhoons and hurricanes!

I cry as I write. A crybaby ever since I was, well … a baby, I cry for so many things. I cry for a corrupt ridden government in my country, then – and now! I cry for Holy Mother Church, battered and barraged by the waves of organized bashing, principally from mainstream media, which love to use double standards. I cry for the ghosts of my past sins and grievous mistakes in life. I cry for the ghosts of so many people who lost their lives unnecessarily and who still pine for justice. I cry, too, for God seems to be absent and silent in all this. Whilst we thrash about in pain and helplessness as the wanton destruction of the earth that is our only home goes unabated, God plays possum, and hides, sort of, in the majesty of His dwelling up in the Heavens!

But no. As my tears subside … as my anger wears off … as my disappointment settles down, I see glimmers of hope around me. I see it in Elijah, who, though terrified, remained in front of the cave, to see God in the silence. I see it in Paul, who, despite the anguish, found it in his heart to praise “the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever.” I see it in the terrified disciples who listened and believed in the reassuring words of the Lord: “Courage! It is I.”

I see it in the thousands (and millions!) all over the country and the world, who, despite everything, still find it in their heart to come to quiet, come to attention, and see God in the silence of the Roman Catholic liturgy at Mass, Sunday in and Sunday out!

God’s presence is here. In our midst. Behind the silence … despite His silence. All we need to do is come to quiet ourselves. Stay. Still. Though stung to the quick by pain and sorrow, we come to stillness and declare: “I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for His word.”