HOMILY WEEK 18 02 – Year II
Prayer of the Anawim:
Optional Memorial of St. Eusebius of Vercelli
(Jer 30:1-2,12-15; Ps 102; Mt 14:22-36)
Are you familiar with the prayer of the Anawim?
Today’s gospel challenges us to deepen our faith in Jesus and his power to work in our lives, especially when we are struggling with a particular challenge. We are also invited to live a slogan of A.A. – one day at a time.
In the first reading, the focus is on the attitude of our loving God. Here, God comes across as a rejected lover who uses Semitic hyperbole to communicate the depth of God’s hurt and disappointment in God’s beloved, unfaithful Israel. God portrays them as hopeless and almost beyond redemption.
Then, halfway through the reading, the tone changes completely. God takes on a stance that is totally opposite, and totally true to God’s nature as a faithful God true to God’s covenant and promises. God will have compassion on Israel, shower unconditional love upon her, and restore her to her former glory, even honoring her.
Slipped into the text is the promise of a prince who will be one of them, a ruler who shall come from their own midst. This ruler alone will be able to approach God, to be drawn near to God.
Psalm 102 continues that same thrust of unconditional love, proclaiming the Lord will build up Zion again. God will look down upon destitute and imprisoned Israel and transform them into God’s own people once again who will gather together to worship the Lord.
In the Gospel, we have that powerful passage of St. Peter walking on the water, and the implications for us in terms of our faith and the quality of our prayer.
It is significant that the disciples are alone, battered by waves, with the wind against them, and undoubtedly fearful for their lives and wondering where on earth Jesus could be. Then when he comes towards them walking on the water, they are terrified, thinking he was a ghost.
Once Jesus reassures them that it is he, Peter once again takes centre stage, and asks Jesus to bid him come to him on the water. Peter has faith, but it is a kind of superficial, proud kind of faith – wanting Jesus to help him to something special. To his credit, when Jesus says “come,” Peter steps out of the boat and begins walking on the water.
On a pilgrimage to the Holy Land some years ago, we celebrated the Eucharist on a boat at the Sea of Galilee, and I was struck by the fact that two centuries ago, Peter actually walked on that lake!
But what happened next is significant. I can picture it because I think I am much like Peter. He got proud, took his eyes off Jesus, looked back at the boat to show off a bit, felt the wind, and suddenly, fearfully, began to sink. Now his prayer changed – this time it came not from his head, but from his heart – just three words, “Lord, save me!”
That is the prayer of the Anawim, the poor people who know they need God, who have no pretensions, are not proud, and know they cannot live even one day the way God wants us to live it, without the help of God’s grace. That is the prayer that Peter learned and uttered when he began to sink, while relying on his own power.
Suddenly, Jesus was there, holding him up by the arms, with just a short comment – “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” So, what do you think Peter did next? Tell Jesus he could manage on his own again and let go of Jesus, or hang on for dear life and together with Jesus, walk back to the boat? I am convinced it was the latter – hang on for dear life, and walk back together with Jesus to the boat.
And that is the lesson and message for us today. If we are honest, we must admit that there is no way we can live even one day the way God wants us to live it, joyous and free, without the help of the Spirit of Jesus. Sure – anyone can get through a day if they are stubborn enough, or scared enough – such as an alcoholic who was told by their doctor, one more drink and they will die. But such a person tends to be a “dry drunk” – not practicing the addiction, but probably miserable and not free at all either.
So, as we begin each day, we are invited to be like Peter, and turn to God for the spiritual help we need just for that day, grabbing hold of Jesus, and walking with him throughout the day. As Step eleven of the 12 Step program puts it, we try “through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, seeking only the knowledge of God’s will for us, and the power to carry it out.”
Today the church has the option to honor St. Eusebius of Vercelli. Born on the island of Sardinia, Eusebius was brought up in Rome. He served as an ordained lector in Piedmont, where the people and clergy elected him bishop. In 355, a council was called at Milan in the hope of settling the dispute between Arians and Catholics (Arians claimed that Jesus was not divine). Summoned to the council by the emperor, Eusebius opposed the Arians, resulting in his banishment to Palestine. Following the death of the emperor in 361, he returned to his diocese and died there in 371. A manuscript copy of the Gospels said to be written in his hand can still be seen at the cathedral of Vercelli.
The Eucharist is our daily manna, making God’s self totally available to us, forgiving and healing us. May our celebration empower us to be the true and faithful people of God whose complete trust in Jesus’ power to work in our lives will manifest itself through the prayer of the Anawim.