Sunday Sermon for August 13, 2023, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33

In the first reading, we hear about the Prophet Elijah going to the mountain of God, Horeb, which is the same as Mount Sinai.  When the Israelites first came out of Egypt, the Lord revealed Himself to them in a variety of extraordinary ways.  They needed to know He is the all-powerful God and that He was completely unlike the gods of the Egyptians. 

Now Elijah comes to this same mountain after witnessing the power of God in a variety of extraordinary ways.  Recall that Elijah called down fire on three occasions, he prayed and the rains were stopped for three and a half years, he was fed each day by ravens who brought him bread and meat during this drought, and then he ate for a year with the widow from Zarephath and her son when her flour and oil were miraculously replenished for them to eat. He had seen God work in glorious ways.

But now God was showing Elijah that He was present not only in the extraordinary moments, but in the most ordinary as well.  The events that took place on Mount Sinai were well known to the Israelites: there was fire, there were trumpet blasts that shook the earth, there was the voice of God which terrified the people.  Elijah experienced some of these same events on this mountain, but God was not in any of them.  Rather, it was only in the tiny whispering sound that Elijah recognized the presence of God.

When he recognized God’s presence in the tiny sound, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and stood at the entrance of the cave.  This was not because he was terrified as the ancient Israelites had been, but because he knew he was in the presence of the Holy One of Israel.  One could call this a reverential fear. 

In the Gospel reading, we see something similar.  The Apostles were in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee with the wind and the waves against them.  Jesus came near them in the early hours of the morning walking on the water.  Peter, to prove it was really Jesus, asks the Lord to order him to walk on the water.  Jesus complies and Peter begins walking on the water.  When Peter takes note of the wind and the waves, he loses his peace and begins to sink. 

After Jesus fishes Peter out of the water, the two of them join the rest of the Apostles who were all in the boat.  We are told that they all did Jesus homage and proclaimed Him to be the Son of God.  Of course, that point of doing homage actually says they worshipped Him.  Once again, there was a reverential fear in the presence of the Lord. 

In all of our lives, our Lord has worked in wonderful and mysterious ways.  We experience these extraordinary things and we may be touched deeply by them, but the extraordinary goes away and it is replaced by the more quiet, ordinary events of our daily lives.  It is relatively easy to believe when we see something amazing, but our faith must grow deeper and this can only happen in the more mundane times. 

The extraordinary things are like being at a pep rally: they are exciting, they can charge the emotions, and there is a temporary kind of high.  When this happens, there is no solid foundation of faith, but only a fleeting experience that we may remember, but will not of itself be sufficient for an unshakable faith.  We even see this in the Gospel where Peter begins walking on the water, then entertains doubts, becomes fearful, and starts to sink.

In the second reading St. Paul talks about the Jewish people who would not accept Jesus as the Christ.  The Jewish people struggled for years before their faith in God was unwavering and they were not being drawn to false gods.  When their long-awaited Messiah finally arrived, the majority would not accept Him because they would have needed to change their expectations and understanding of Scripture.  St. Paul, fired by profound faith and charity, was willing to do anything to bring about the salvation of his own people.

We are living in extraordinary times and we will probably be witnessing some very extraordinary events.  Some of these events might cause us to praise the Lord, others might cause us to fear like St. Peter in the Gospel reading.  When you recognize God’s presence in the ordinary events of life and have a solid faith based on a deep life of prayer, you neither need the extraordinary things to believe, nor will the extraordinary events shake your faith.  So, pray, trust, have faith, and remain at peace united with God.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit