NINETEENTH SUNDAY 2020
Homily Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Pro-Cathedral, 9th August 2020
“After the great miracle of the nourishing of the crowd through the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, in today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples to go ahead of him to the other side of the Lake of Galilee. He himself remains to take his leave of the crowd.
We know that Jesus was always attentive to the needs of people. He is also clear that he needs other moments in which he can turn to his Father with great love and trust. As on many other occasions, after seeing the crowds away, Jesus goes up into the hills to be alone with the Father and to pray.
As the evening progressed, Jesus is aware that a storm is brewing up. The boat carrying the disciples was facing heavy winds and the disciples were getting afraid. Jesus comes down to the lake shore to meet them. They see him coming towards them walking in the lake. However, they do not recognise him and they think he is a ghost. They become even more afraid.
Peter is the one who first recognises Jesus and he with his classic enthusiasm asks Jesus to allow him to come to meet him also walking on the water.
Peter’s enthusiasm and trust however breakdown as the force of the wind distracts him. He cries out to Jesus to save him. Jesus stretches his hand out and holds Peter into safety.
Jesus says to Peter “Do not be afraid. Have courage “it is I”. “It is I” recalls, the name with which God had revealed himself to Moses. Jesus now reveals that God is the One who conquers fear and who reaches out to hold us in safety.
“Do not be afraid” is a phrase that Jesus uses on many occasions. We think in particular of how he used that phrase as he greeted the women after the Resurrection and when he appeared to the gathered disciples after the resurrection. Jesus resurrection is the sign of the victory over fear, a victory of love over death, the cause of peace.
Jesus rebukes Peter and the other disciples because they had allowed fear to annihilate their faith. They had given in to fear of the storm. They had failed to recognise that it is precisely in moments of crisis that Jesus is the one who is there – reaching out to us, to give us courage, strength and hope.
In every generation, faith encounters the challenge of fear and timidity. Believers become distracted by the events, the challenges and tragedies of the day and fail to witness to the one way of overcoming these tragedies: having faith in God and recognising as Jesus did in his life that that love can conquer. The challenge for faith in every generation is not to allow fear and self-centredness to take over our lives but to be convinced of the power of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ.
We live at a time when our trust in many things is being put to the test. Most of us have never experienced or even thought we might experience a global pandemic. Probably we had simply put such a catastrophic possibility out of our imagination. We felt that the progress of modern science and culture would quickly be able to respond to any global health crisis by rapidly producing a cure or a vaccine that would resolve the question and allow us to continue in the way we lived. .
Now we realise that a pandemic can emerge and spread and indeed reappear. We also have realised that in public health terms, medicine, cures and vaccines, actions from somewhere in society cannot alone resolve our problems. We have learned that responsible human behaviour is just as important as sophisticated medicine.
Fear will only be overcome by something greater than progress. In the long term, it is love that opens us up to a safe future. Our Church is challenged by the contemporary cultural climate. The post-pandemic Church will be very different to what we have experienced in the past. This is not something that is the fruit of the pandemic alone. Indeed in many ways we have responded well to the pandemic. It should have been obvious to us for some time that in today’s culture more and more of our brothers and sisters find it difficult to find God and more and more find it difficult to find God through our Church.
The community of believers in Jesus Christ must be one where we draw strength and witness to the strength that comes from the presence of Jesus in our midst. Jesus is present not as some distant figure who does not care and not in a simplistic presence that allows us to run away from the harshness of reality into the false securities and a craving for a past that may never have existed.
Faith must be adult faith. Faith must enrich the search for our future by a view of a God who cares and who inspires us to use our earthly talents to ponder the deeper questions and witness by the way we live to the care of God. Faith and science and human progress belong together. Faith reminds us that evil can only be overcome by the good; self-centredness, passive lack of interest and divisiveness can only be overcome by love that is concrete.
In the months and years to come we will have to face and live with the challenges that the pandemic has brought and will leave us with. People will be insecure. Jobs will be lost at all levels in society. Precariousness will affect so many of the things that in the past gave us a sense of security.
In that difficult scenario, the Church of Jesus Christ must find ways of witnessing to the fact that society needs care and love. We must show our awareness that every human life must be valued not through words and polemics but being alongside those who feel that their personal value is shunned and may even be tempted by despair and emptiness.
“It is I” says the Lord as he reveals to us who God is, that God who cares and reaches out, and who challenges us to be like him in the way we live and construct our future. People will find God today only when we, his believers, reflect who God is: the one who cares, protects and challenges us to show what love means for us today.