HOMILY WEEK 03 06 – Year I

With Jesus in Our Boats:

Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas

(Heb 11:1-19; Lk 1; Mk 4:35-41)


The readings today challenge us with the question of how strong is our faith?

We are subsequently invited to pray for a faith like that of Abraham, famously known as our ancestral father in faith, and one that surpasses that of the apostles, who stumble with regard to their faith.

There is a certain uncompromising radicality to the faith of Abraham, who admittedly may be idealized by the scriptures. Abraham did not seem to question at all God’s command to set out from his homeland into the unknown – God would reveal to him where God wanted him to go, only when they were on their way.

And if that were not radical enough, Abraham did not seem to hesitate or question the command to offer his only son, through whom ancestors were promised, as a sacrifice. The fact that descendants for him would be possible only through the very son he freely offered to sacrifice, sears into our consciousness the depth and radical nature of his remarkable trust that God would provide ancestors even from the dead, if need be. What a powerful example and presaging of the faith of Jesus as the only Son of God, ready to accept death on the Cross, trusting that somehow God would transform that grim reality into new life, which God did through the resurrection.

Would that our faith could even faintly resemble that of Abraham, whereas in reality we are much more like the apostles who panic when a storm comes up, wake Jesus up and wonder why he does not seem to be concerned that they were about to drown!

I experienced this gospel during a retreat just before being ordained a bishop. I woke up the first morning of the retreat suddenly full of fear and anxiety. What was I getting myself into? I decided to pray with this passage because it fit my situation. That hour of prayer was like being in a spiritual boat tossed about by an emotional storm. When I thought of what lay ahead, waves of fear, anxiety and desolation would wash over me. Then I would read the passage and feel some peace, calm and confidence settling me down. Back and forth it went, waves of fear, anxiety and desolation battling with a rising tide of peace, calm and confidence. At the end of that hour, miraculously, there was only peace, calm and confidence – the fear, anxiety and desolation were all gone. Jesus was truly in my boat, had answered my prayers and calmed all my fears. That experience became one of the stories in my book, Drumming From Within, entitled “With Jesus in our Boat.”

Jesus is “asleep on a cushion.” He stands for the divine power that is “asleep” within all of us. He symbolizes that divine energy which remains unaffected by the fear-storms generated by the grasping ego. At a spiritual level, we see that this divine power successfully calms the waves: “He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’”

This beautiful narrative suggests that if we but awaken to the presence of Christ within us, then we can withstand even the most frightening storms. When, at the close of the story, Jesus asked the bewildered disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” he is wondering why they have not yet experienced the change of heart necessary for living in the kingdom of God.

There are three ways that God always answers our prayers: “Yes”, as he did for me above; “No”, because that is not in our best interests, or “Yes, but not yet” – later when things are right.

Virginia called me one day to claim she could no longer pray – she wasn’t getting anything out of her attempts to pray. Knowing the powerful spiritual journey she had been on, I suspected that was not her problem. I thought she was ready for a more mature kind of prayer, so I introduced her to Lectio Divina with its four stages: Lectio – reading a passage of scripture prayerfully; Metitatio – meditating and thinking about that passage, asking what God was saying to us through that word, and maybe reading a commentary on the passage; Oratio – an intimate conversation with Jesus about that word, and praying with that passage for our needs and the needs of the world, and finally, Contemplatio – putting all thoughts and feelings aside and just being in the presence of the Word, soaking up God’s love. That proved to be all she needed – she was off and running into a new depth of her relationship with God through this deeper, more mature form of prayer that is in itself an act of faith.

Another important way of praying is the prayer of the Anawim, a Hebrew word meaning the poor people who know they need God, who have no pretensions. This is the prayer Peter learned when he was walking on the water. His request to Jesus, “Lord, make me come to you on the water,” is a heady, proud kind of prayer. Peter had faith and walked on water. However, I suspect he got proud, took his eyes off Jesus, looked back to the boat to show off a bit, felt the wind, and started to sink. Now he was drowning, and his prayer changed to three words that came from his gut, “Lord, save me.” That is the prayer of the Anawim, those who know they need God.

Suddenly Jesus was there, lifting him up and asking why he had so little faith. What do you think Peter did next? Let go of Jesus and try on his own again, or hang on to Jesus and together with him, walk back to the boat? I suspect the latter, and that is what we have to learn to do each morning as we get up – turn to the Lord and pray this prayer of the Anawim, admitting our need and asking him to walk with us throughout that day, one day at a time. Step Eleven of the 12 Step program very appropriately calls this “conscious contact” with God.

Today the church honors St. Thomas Aquinas, who had one of the greatest minds in the history of the Church, as well as strong faith. He helped develop the theological Scholastic method which dominated Catholic teaching for centuries. A prodigious writer, his most famous work is the Summa Theologica, one of the greatest examples of theological thought ever composed. Many of his hymn texts, such as Pange lingua, Tantum ergo and Adore te devote, are still used today. A man of towering intellect, Thomas was also a humble mystic. He died in 1274, was canonized in 1323, and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1567. In 1880, he was proclaimed a patron saint of universities and schools.

The Eucharist is our greatest prayer in which we admit our need, listen to God’s Word, believe in the Real Presence and commune intimately with Jesus. May our celebration strengthen our faith in Jesus’ presence in our boats and storms, and appreciate more deeply the power of prayer.





Updated: January 28, 2023 — 3:41 am

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