St. Augustine's Seminary of Toronto

Pastoral Work - Homily by Rev. A.R. Nusca

 

Tuesday, September 11th, 2001

The horror of today's events in the United States continues to unfold, and our thoughts and hearts are with the victims and their families for whom we offer this mass. And as I spoke with people today amid the shock and dismay the question 'why' arose again and again. And people will ask us, and have the right to ask us some version of the question of Job. How can we profess belief in a God who is all loving and all merciful but at the same time permits such tragedy in the world?

When I was a Seminarian, I had worked for a time in a church in downtown Toronto. One afternoon someone approached me and began to tell me all about the problems that they had been experiencing at that time: difficulties at work, at home, and in relationships. The nature and extent of the problems had led this person to the conclusion that: 'God doesn't exist, he doesn't care, or he is fast asleep.'

Tonight's Gospel leads us to consider other avenues of reflection. The Gospel speaks to us of a God, who far from abandoning us to in the midst of our difficulties is present to us especially during life's trials. He is present during the great storms of life, the personal and collective storms, the tragedies, the sickness and death of those near to us, as well as those not so near to us.

As we heard in today's Gospel, Jesus says to the disciples: let us cross over to the other side of the Lake. And surely the disciples must have been secure and confident in the fact that the Son of God was with them in their boat as they embarked. But the Lord's closest followers must have been not a little surprised, and even confused when the waves rose and began to threaten.

And we can only imagine how confusion gave way to fear, and fear to desperation, until finally the terrified disciples awakened Our Lord. And as Mark describes, immediately He arises, rebukes the wind, and the sea is calm once more.

Our Lord calls us to cross with Him over to the other side. While the Gospel speaks of the other side of the Sea of Galilee, we should always keep in mind our ultimate destination, which is none other than everlasting life. As Mark shows us, things can go wrong even when Jesus is in the boat. And when things go wrong, even terribly wrong, and the storms around us begin to rage, it may seem to us, or at least to others, that Jesus is fast asleep.

How are we to interpret this? Along with the commentators we should ask: is ours a God who is asleep to the needs of His people? Is God far from the sufferings and the cries of the just? Or when we see Jesus asleep in the boat should we see in it rather, an invitation to a simple and perfect trust in God? And herein lies the question of faith for all of us. Here is the question that each of us must answer for ourselves on our journey of faith.

For on the journey of faith Jesus calls each one of us by name to cross over with Him to the other side, from this world to the next…from suffering and darkness to consolation and everlasting light. It is a journey that begins in baptism where we cross over from original sin to being God's children. And it is a journey that we take- and too often refuse to take- many times throughout our life. Again, it is a choice we have to make, and then ratify over and over again, each day of our lives, in fact.

Crossing over to the other side- in the here and now- means moving from doubt to faith, from fear to calm, from 'brokenness' to wholeness, from mortality to immortality. And if the journey seems difficult, Jesus reminds us again and again throughout the Gospels that the reward is so great.

In fairness to those who would attribute indifference to God, our faith doesn't change the basic facts of this human existence: the fact that people suffer, even the innocent; the fact that disasters befall us; the fact that death eventually arrives for all of us even tragically and unexpectedly. Our faith doesn't change any of these facts of human existence.

But as the theologians tell us, our faith is capable of transforming the meaning of everything- the meaning of life, the meaning of suffering, the meaning of disaster, the meaning of chaos. In fact, it is precisely when we wake up the sleeping Jesus who is very close by, that He arises and restores peace and tranquility.

The saints and martyrs of the early church show the boldness and confidence that their faith gave them in the face of every manner of suffering and danger. St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, 1:21 for me to live is Christ, to die is gain. Paul understood that Jesus was always with him always no matter what situation he faced. For Paul, Jesus was always with him 'in the boat' so to speak.

According to the early Christians and martyrs of the Church, Christ is not only with us at the eye of the storm He is the eye of the hurricane. St. Cyprian, for instance, understood clearly that Jesus is not only with us 'in the boat,' He is in our very hearts struggling with us, struggling within us, and ready to calm the storms of time for all who awaken Him- and are awakened to His presence- through faith, through prayer and the spiritual life.

Cyprian writes:

"If the battle shall call you out, if the day of your contest shall come…engage bravely, fight with constancy, as knowing that your are fighting under the eyes of a present Lord, that your are attaining by the confession of His name to His own glory; who is not such a one as that He only looks on His servants, but He Himself also wrestles in us, Himself is engaged- Himself also in the struggles of our conflict not only crowns, but is crowned." to Martyrs and Confessors, Epistle VIII

As we continue to celebrate this mass and pray for the victims of today's violence, let us pray for the grace to awaken and to be ever awake to this Jesus who is always very close by. Let us pray that the Lord will strengthen us with the courage and boldness of St. Paul and the early martyrs when faced with difficulties, even with chaos and terror. Finally let us pray for the grace to be as Church the 'eye of the hurricane' in the midst of the storms of this passing world that people may always find in our midst calm, light, and peace.


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