Saturday, August 6, 2011

Coming to an End

This was probably my last Sunday Mass as celebrant here in Pymble.  The tertians will be on retreat from Friday night to Wednesday.  The end of retreat will be followed by a celebratory dinner.  The following morning we will wake up with the status “Awaiting final vows.”  Two weeks from now I’ll be in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) preparing for a three-day trip to the Mekong Delta. 

The readings for today were particularly rich.  Homily below.  Of course there are photos.  The trains into the city were down this weekend.  Three shuttle buses is three shuttle buses too many.  Given that the train takes 35 minutes to City Hall (following a 20 minute uphill walk) the bus was going to take forever.  So, with an unanticipated free afternoon and evening (I still have to go into the city tomorrow) it was time to edit photos.  I deleted around 2000 so far; duplicates, blurry, dumb, and a number of what-was-I-thinking? photos.  Thousands remain.  Probably still too many.  There is no particular reason for including these except that I like them. 

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a
Ps 85
Rom 9:1-5
Mt 14:22-33

“Lord let me see your kindness and grant me your salvation.”

These words from the responsorial psalm bring the two readings and the Gospel together.  Each reading is about faith fraying along the edges. Each of the speakers, Elijah, Paul, and Peter could have easily uttered the psalm response from his position of desperation, discouragement, or fear.  We can identify with all of those feelings and add a few of our own. 

In the reading from Kings, Elijah is about a low as he can go. He had fled the wrath of Jezebel who had sworn to have him killed.  While he was hiding in a cave an angel instructed him to eat and prepare for a journey.  But all Elijah wanted was to die.  He had given up hope.  He had little faith left.  He was despondent.  He only ate after the angel demanded that he do so a second time. He then set off on a journey of 40 days. 

The Jewish Study Bible notes that a man who was used to walking, traveling alone, and unburdened, could cover between 15 and 25 miles a day.  Multiplied by 40 days Elijah covered between 600 and 1000 miles on foot.  What went through his mind during that arduous trek?  What goes through our minds during the 40-day journeys we are forced to take during life?  Those journeys we take while undergoing chemotherapy or in the setting of chronic pain?  What of those journeys through loss in our lives?  Elijah wanted to give up.  But he didn’t.  We are confronted with the same choice. 

And then Elijah reached the end of his journey.  The encounter with God in a whisper rather than an earth-shaking event is one of the memorable images in the Old Testament.  Elijah had to be open to hearing that whisper.  He had to be attuned to it.  Similarly, we have to be prepared and willing to hear the voice of God in the whisper; in the brief moment of quiet that interrupts all the noise in our lives.  And we say: 

“Lord let me see your kindness and grant me your salvation.”

One can feel Paul’s discouragement dripping from the reading.  He is despondent because his people rejected Jesus.  He would be willing to have himself cut off from Christ if they would accept the great gift of salvation brought into this world by Jesus.  We all know Paul’s frustration.  We know the pain when no one will listen to us.  We know the frustration of being met with opposition by everyone in our lives: family, friends, co-workers and so on.  We know that feeling of radical loneliness.  We can only say, or perhaps scream,

“Lord let me see you kindness and grant me your salvation.” 

Today’s Gospel take place immediately after Jesus had fed the multitude with a few loaves and fish. The crowd had dispersed.  He sent his disciples away and went up the mountain alone to pray. 

While Jesus was praying the apostles were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee.  The Sea of Galilee was 4 ½ miles wide.  As the Gospel notes that they were already a few miles off shore; they weren’t in a position to swim if the boat capsized.  The fourth watch of the night was between the hours of 3 and 6 AM. Thus, they had been struggling to cross, and Jesus had been praying, for a long time.  We can understand their terror when they saw Jesus walking toward them on the water. 

And then Peter acted.

“Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.  But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened?” 

For Peter, as for many of us, fear results in loss of faith.  That begs the question, what is faith?
What is faith? What is the role of faith.  These are difficult questions.  Australian Trappist Michael Casey makes an important point: “Faith has to grapple constantly with the doubts we may experience when we hear the words of the poet Robert Browning ‘God is in his heaven—all’s right with the world.'  So often it doesn’t seem that way.” 

And many times in our lives it doesn’t seem that God is in his heaven
or that anything is right with the world.

Casey continues:  “Faith means letting go of our ambition to control, understand, or even cope with what happens. Faith means releasing our anxieties into God’s hands and seeing all that happens as coming from the hand of God. The fact that I cannot comprehend the logic of events means simply that my intellect is limited.  Our relationship with God is often undermined by fears about impending disaster”

It is terrifying to be wheeled into the operating room.  Or to hear an unfavorable diagnosis after surgery.  Or to face job loss.  Our faith wavers and, like Peter, we begin to sink.  Our faith may waver when we realize the seriousness of our situation.   We may suddenly find ourselves doubting as the river rises to flood stage in our lives.  As we see in Elijah, in Paul and in Peter, faith does not mean that life will go smoothly. 

Faith is not a shield from trauma.
Faith does not protect against pain.
Faith is not a talisman against the anguish of grieving
the death of a friend, a spouse, a parent, or a child.
Faith most certainly does not prevent illness or death. 

Faith is an umbrella over all of these. 

Peter’s faith was strong when he jumped out of the boat, perhaps because he was not thinking things through too much.  When he began to intellectualize, when he paid attention to the storm and his position, he tried to take control.  And his faith vanished.  His words are important.  “Lord.  Save me!” 

We oftentimes find ourselves trying to walk on the waters of a lake in pitch dark or In a storm.  Then we can only plead along with the psalmist:

‘Lord let me see you kindness and grant me your salvation.’
 It is not unusual to hear the word "Photoshopped" said with a sneer.  However, processing software allows for the transformation of a photograph.  This IHS is at the top of the archway leading to the cemetery in Sevenhill.  In the original it was supported by two thick equally weathered beams that obscured the side and bottom detail.  After about an hour of careful work they are gone and now it appears to be floating.  

The church is St. Mary Star of the Sea in Melbourne.  It isn't too far from the Victoria Market.  I simply wandered in there one day twenty minutes before Mass and stayed.  The walls really are a salmon pink.  No photoshop here.
This next is a shot through the window of the Anglican chapel at the University of Melbourne.  Abstract color.  Love it. 
This is the window of a travel agency near the Victoria Market in Melbourne that caught my eye.  
This next is a self-portrait from Taiwan in January.  There was a huge wreathe made of gold ornaments.   I cropped out the distracting elements and focused only on the ornaments. 
I thought I'd lost this file until yesterday when somehow it magically appeared.  I did lose some photos yesterday but that is another story.  These were both taken on the same Saturday on the beach in Warrnambool, one of the few days that I was off and it wasn't raining.  There were many of these shells on the beach.  The sunglasses simply caught my eye.  Wonder who lost them?  Have they been replaced?  

The last two are from the retreat at Sevenhill.  One is a detail in the stained glass door that led out to the veranda.  A tree trunk is visible in the middle of the flower.   The other is one of over a hundred I took of roses during the five days of rain.  The shots were at night with a flash giving the diamond effect. 

Tuesday is the memorial of the Carmelite nun St. Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta a Cruce).  It would be difficult to articulate the importance of her life for my vocation.  On Tuesday and Thursday the tertians have Mass among themselves.  I signed up three weeks ago.  Homily will appear. 
+Fr. Jack, S.J.

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