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My Dear Family,

As I write this, rain and wind from Hurricane Isaías pound the roof and windows. Yes, it is Tuesday. A hurricane watch is in effect. While dry and comfortable at my desk, the new member of my family, a dog Lilli whom I am in the process of adopting, is less comfy. She whines and paces with the noise of driving rain. These moments help us to imagine what it might have been like in the storms at sea.

Today in the Gospel , a continuation from last week, Jesus sends his disciples off in a boat and then dismisses the crowds. Perhaps he wanted the crowds to see him send them off alone onto the Sea of Galilee? Then when alone, he goes up the mountain to pray.

Jesus had wanted to retreat and mourn at the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, but pastoral zeal and generosity led him to delay. Instead he taught, healed, and finally blessed and multiplied the loaves in a great foreshadowing of the eucharistic meal. Christ took what the disciples provided and transformed it into an overabundance! May Jesus bless and multiply the offering of our lives that we place at his feet. Another great lesson of discipleship.

Now as if to teach both the crowds and disciples, Jesus takes the training wheels off by leaving his chosen band alone in the boat until just before dawn. A squall had kicked up and they were making little progress without him. We can all picture ourselves in this moment, at sea - wet and cold in the darkness - as some figure approaches on the water. What would your reaction be? I certainly would not test the identity of the visitor with a trial of water-walking! Peter is so bold. He leaps before he looks! Despite his age (by tradition at least two decades older than our Lord), Peter still shows the youthfulness of a pup! But he also proves to be of “little faith.” What does that mean?

It could mean - like the seed in the rocky ground - that his faith is present but short-lived. Once the trial sets in, faith withers. Peter’s faith is found wanting, burnt up in the sun, or sunk in the lake’s depths. It could also mean that while his doubts were not exposed on solid land, or even while in the boat in the midst of the storm - Peter was a fisherman after all - they were revealed when all the alternate moorings of life had fallen away and there remained just Jesus. Crisis exposes true colors. With assurances and comforts stripped away, only one remains on whom Peter can rely. And that one is the only One on whom we must all rely, the Son of God. The other disciples in the boat “did him homage,” Matthew tells us. Homage here means bowed or even prostrated before Jesus. They knelt down and worshipped. Witnessing this moment proved faith-building. The disciples deepened their faith. And although Peter ended up soaking wet, I am confident that his faith grew as well.

The storms of life are a test. When life proceeds swimmingly, it is easy to say, “Oh yes, I believe in Jesus.” Cheap faith. But faith is not faith until it is tested. Yep… virtue is not virtue until it is tested, an old and deep truth. Virtues, faith among them, are like muscles we must develop, with God’s help and grace.

Life is full of storms. The storm of COVID 19 has been a great opportunity to grow in faith. Are we faith-filled disciples? For disciples to stay the course, their faith must be strong and tested. So we should prepare for storms and fix our gaze firmly on Christ our Lord.

In His Holy Name,
Fr. Joel

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