National Catholic Register

Sunday Guides

Who God Is

User's Guide to Sunday

BY The Editors

July 31-August 13, 2011 Issue | Posted 7/22/11 at 12:05 PM


Sunday, Aug. 7, is the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time.


Don’t miss the Aug. 8 feast of St. Dominic, who founded the Dominicans. Say a Rosary today for the faith. Said Pope John Paul II: “The history of the Rosary shows how this prayer was used in particular by the Dominicans at a difficult time for the Church due to the spread of heresy. Today we are facing new challenges. Why should we not once more have recourse to the Rosary with the same faith as those who have gone before us? The Rosary retains all its power and continues to be a valuable pastoral resource for every good evangelizer.”


1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalms 85:9-14; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

Today’s readings are all about what God is not.

It’s very important to know what God is not. When St. Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa Theologiae, he devoted hundreds of pages to what God is not before he ever tried to explain what God is. The reason for that is simple: God is too great, and we are too small, for us to understand him completely. No human analogy can properly capture all of who he is. But by cataloguing what he is not, we can start to learn valuable lessons about who he is.

The first reading tells us: God is not “a strong and heavy wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks.” In other words, God is not an irresistible force pushing us to go where he wants.

God “is not in the earthquake.” God does not normally open the earth in front of us to get our attention.

God “is not in the fire.” Moses had his burning bush, and St. Paul speaks of God in heaven being an “inapproachable fire,” but while he clearly has fire at his disposal, God does not employ fire and brimstone in the ordinary course of our lives.

Elijah learned to hear the subtle sound of God’s presence: “After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.”

But does that mean that God is timid? Paul learns the hard way that God is not an accommodating, acquiescent God.

In the second reading, Paul has to face the fact that his beloved Jewish brothers and sisters are not going to accept Christ — and that God is not going to change his plans for them.

Paul’s new faith estranges him from his people. “I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart,” he says. It is so strong that “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people.”

Paul might wish God would crush rocks, shake the ground or speak from a fire to convince Israel. God will not. He will only whisper. And a whisper is awfully hard to hear for those not paying attention — or unwilling to hear.

In the Gospel, we learn more lessons about what God is and is not by watching Jesus.

Jesus does not collapse from exhaustion after spending a busy day with crowds. While his apostles escape in a boat, he goes about his routine, praying.

But Jesus is not unaware of the apostles’ troubles, even when he seems to be away from them. While he is praying, they are being tossed in the waves. Jesus is not bound by the laws that we are bound by, either in what he does for us or what he expects from us. He walks across the water and tells Peter to do so too.

The lesson for us? Jesus teaches us that God is constant, God is attentive, and God is the master of whatever situation we find ourselves in. He is always there to help us because that’s who he is.

Tom and April Hoopes

write from Atchison, Kansas,

where Tom is writer

in residence at

Benedictine College.