Sunday Sermon for August 9, 2020, 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 today, we are given insight into the life of prayer. Elijah goes to Mount Horeb, which is also Mount Sinai, and there he experiences a number of powerful and even terrifying events: wind, earthquake, and fire. The Lord had told Elijah that He would be passing by, so Elijah had to wait for Him. It was on this same mountain that the people of Israel experienced the power of God after coming out of Egypt. God revealed Himself to them in some of the same signs revealed to Elijah, but in Elijah’s time, God was no longer to be found in these external and extraordinary signs.
It is amazing that Elijah continued to stand on the mountain when all these things were happening around him. It demonstrates the Prophet’s trust in the Lord. It also shows us that Elijah was very attentive to the voice of the Lord. Not recognizing God’s voice in any of the extraordinary events that took place on the mountain, Elijah recognized the voice of the Lord in the tiny, still whisper.
When the people came out of Egypt, most of them did not know the Lord. For this reason, the Lord had to reveal Himself in extraordinary ways. The same happens with most people in the spiritual life. God gives them many consolations and reveals Himself in large and unmistakable ways. But as we continue in the spiritual life, the Lord purifies us and brings us deeper into union with Himself. The better we know the Lord, the easier it is to recognize Him in what might seem to be very small and hidden ways. This is certainly true for us in any human relationship; it is also true of our relationship with the Lord.
In a world like ours where we are surrounded constantly by noise and chaos, it is necessary to enter into the depths of our own hearts and there, in the silence and darkness within, come to hear the voice of the Lord. The problem for most people is learning to remain near the cave of our hearts while the chaos swirls around us. St. Peter serves as an example of how things work in this way. When he begins to walk on the water, Peter keeps his focus on Jesus and walks across the water with no problem. When his attention is taken from Jesus because of the wind, he sinks.
The world, the flesh, and the devil all seem to conspire against us when we try to pray. We just get settled and move within ourselves when suddenly something jolts us out of the quiet. It may be a phone, someone calling us, an unexpected noise, or even some kind of distracting thought. If we get accustomed to focusing on our Lord, we no longer get startled by the things around us. This comes only with many years of practice.
We do not know if Peter ever walked on water again, but I suspect he learned an important lesson about what can be done when we are united with our Lord versus what we can do by ourselves. We recall the healing of the man at the Beautiful Gate when Peter and John testified it was done by the power of the Lord. We recall the miraculous way Peter was set free from prison by the power of God. Above all, we can recall Peter’s death which glorified God because Peter kept his focus on the Lord, even when crucified upside down!
As things continue to move in the wrong direction, it will be incumbent on us to exert greater effort in ignoring the chaos and focusing on our Lord. Many internal struggles confront us: why does God allow these things, what about my children, how do I know what God wants of me, and a thousand other worries. In the second reading, St. Paul speaks about the great sorrow and constant anguish he experienced because of his desire for the salvation of the Jewish people. He recounts the great blessings God bestowed on His people and St. Paul, whom God sent to the Gentiles, longs to preach the Gospel to his own people, the Jews.
I think we can be assured that St. Paul prayed fervently for his own people to accept the Lord, but then he had to leave the rest to God. We, too, have many things that weigh on our hearts and minds. While nothing is inherently wrong with this, we must be careful not to take our focus off God. Entrust your cares to the Lord, but then seek Him. Enter into the quiet of your heart, keep your attention on the Lord, and listen to His voice as He speaks to you in the silence within.
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 www.thewandererpress.com.