NOVEMBER 18, 2000, DEDICATION OF CHURCHES OF PETER AND PAUL: MT 14:22-33
HOW LITTLE FAITH YOU HAVE. WHY DID YOU FALTER? The evangelists made it abundantly evident that Jesus placed stringent demands on his chosen disciples. Here he expected Peter to remain confident even as he realized his was in danger of drowning in a stormy sea. The Lord clearly was training his disciples for the severe testing that he predicted would come upon them when his own time for suffering arrived and when they too would be victims of persecution. Judged by the standard of faith Jesus sets here I doubt that any one of us could feel complaisant at the strength of faith found in the heart. Confident trust, nonetheless, is the very foundation of Christian life. The Catholic Church offers many helps to salvation in the sacraments, the intercession of the saints, the services of devoted ministers and dedicated religious. But, contrary to the claims of Luther and other Reformers, none of these is considered a substitute for trusting faith; rather, they are expressions of such faith, without which no one can please God. Faith is necessary for salvation.
For one thing, faith is a form of obedience. St Paul states this clearly: “ we have received grace and apostleship in view of the obedience of faith” (Rom 1.5) We cannot know God and his ways in any other way than by faith, he goes on to affirm: “We are not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for the salvation to all who believe… by it the justice of God is revealed, from faith to faith, as it is written ‘the just man will live by faith.’”(Rom 1:16, 17). This faith is directed to the person of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh. That is the very point the Lord makes in today’s Gospel. He emphasizes that faith is a source of salvation, of safety in the midst of threatening storms; faith is living and so imparts confidence stronger than anything that nature of humans can bring to bear on us.
The storm on the Sea of Galilee typifies the heavy testings that confronted the early Church. The apostles and their converts were but a small and seemingly powerless community exposed to a confident society, with a sophisticated system of law whose effectiveness has rarely if ever been matched. The literature and philosophy that ruled the minds and sentiments of the Roman world created an educated class that felt superior to foreign ideas and movements. We know their attitude to the Church’s faith in the Incarnation from the criticisms of Celsus, one of their more eloquent spokesmen, He states that a spiritual being cannot be subject to the limitations of terrestrial life, it would cause havoc. “If you changed any one quite insignificant thing on earth:, he wrote, you would upset and destroy everything.” Such a stand reveals a profound view of the laws that govern nature, but it also discloses the limits of the knowledge of God and of His wisdom and power. Jesus reveals something of that power by walking on the water and calming the storm at his word. But he also submitted in humbling obedience to the ways of this world even to the point of suffering death on a cross. St Paul comments on these matters with all desirable forcefulness and clarity of expression: “ The word of the cross to those who are perishing is foolishness but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God, for it is written, ‘I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and the knowledge of the intellectual I shall bring to naught.’ … Christ has become for us, wisdom from God, and justice and sanctification and deliverance.” (Rom 1:18, 19, 30)
Our monastic fathers based their lives and fortunes on this belief. They grasped firmly the hand that Jesus reached out to them as he did to Peter on the sea, and by trusting in him they passed through the storms that threatened their survival. As St. Benedict states in his Rule, we are to live our daily life according to faith, seeking in all we do remain united with the Lord in the steady ”obedience of faith”. Our Lord himself taught by example that such obedience to his word is proof of love- of His love for us as well as of our love for him. May he who offers himself for us in this Eucharist, sustain us day by day, as we live our faith with confident fidelity to his word.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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