The Presence That Casts Out Fear

User’s Guide to Sunday, Aug. 9

Jesus Walks on the Water (1888)
Jesus Walks on the Water (1888) (photo: Ivan Aivazovsky, public domain)

Sunday, Aug. 9, is the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: 1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalm 85: 9, 10, 11-14; Romans 9: 1-5; Matthew 14:22-33.

What is worse than being in a situation of sure and certain danger? Facing the danger alone. In today’s Gospel the disciples are at sea when the storm winds start battering their boat. All they can see is the danger, and then they think they see a ghost — no true helper at all. As the disciples on that boat were to discover, fear has a way of making us feel very vulnerable and of obscuring our vision of the very helper who might be at hand.

In the midst of this feeling of isolation and vulnerability, it is the Lord himself who draws near to the disciples. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27), he assures them — and us. In the storms of our own fears, just when we think no one is there, the Lord reaches out, often in mysterious ways, to assure us of his abiding presence.

In Peter we can see what happens to many of us, even if we sense that the Lord has drawn near. At first, we let his presence reassure us. We step out of the boat and walk on the waters with our gaze confidently fixed on the Lord. Then something falters within us. We suddenly take our eyes off Jesus, and we focus on the many problems of life or our own weaknesses. Then we sink and cry out. The Lord reaches out to uplift us, just as he did Peter. We, like Peter, often falter in our faith.

What can help us remain steadfast in faith? Today’s first reading offers a much-needed reminder that God is ever present, but perhaps obscured in our lives when we seek him in the dramatic and the sensational. The prophet Elijah was called by God to the mountain, a key place of divine encounter, and he was asked to seek the Lord as he was passing by. The Lord was not in the turmoil of the wind, nor in the power of the earthquake, nor in the intensity of the fire. The Lord was in the whispering wind, the small, the quiet, the simple.

Perhaps the storms so torment our souls because we have forgotten to seek the Lord in silence and simplicity. It is so easy to get caught in the tumultuous, dramatic intensity of the latest newsfeeds. When we are immersed in the winds and waves of current events, we can fail to see and hear the Lord. St. Catherine of Siena was one of the most dynamic and politically involved women of her time, but she knew that she could be a channel of healing to the broken world only if she encountered God in silence and simplicity. She lived and taught others to live in the “cell of self-knowledge in Christ.” She entered the place in her soul where she encountered God and learned from him how to be loved and to love.

When we know that we are not alone, then dangers are far less frightening. When we know that the One who is always present to us is the Master of the wind and the waves, then the storms no longer terrify us. With Elijah, may we discover the still, small voice in the whispering wind. Then, rather than being overwhelmed by fear, we can be overflowing with faith. This faith will help us go wherever the Lord calls, even if that call is to walk on water.

Sister Mary Madeline Todd is a Dominican Sister of the St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville. She received her

doctorate in sacred theology from the Angelicum in Rome and currently

teaches religion and philosophy at Mount de Sales Academy in Baltimore.