Sunday, June 21, 2015

By The Stormy Sea


12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Picture: cc Lawrence OP

Sisters and brothers, do you remember the legend of St. Augustine and the boy by the sea? It is said that, while the saint was writing his book on the Holy Trinity, he found himself stuck. Unable to fully comprehend how God could be both one and three at the same time. So he took a break and went to the beach. Where he noticed a little boy doing a strange thing. He was running back and forth between the sand and the sea. Curious, the saint went to take a closer look. He saw that the boy had a seashell in one hand. Which he was filling with seawater. And then pouring the water into a hole he had dug in the sand.

What are you doing, little one? Augustine asked. Can’t you see? The boy replied. I’m emptying the ocean into this hole. At which the saint smiled, and said, But that’s impossible! The mighty ocean is far too large to be contained in this tiny hole. Yes, said the boy. But not more impossible than your own attempts at containing the greatness of God within the tiny confines of your puny mind. After saying this, the boy vanished.

The legend is obviously meant to teach us a lesson. But what exactly is this lesson? Some may think that it is this. That since we can never fully comprehend God, we should simply give up trying. If you can’t empty the ocean, then walk away from it. But, if this is true, then it would seem that Augustine never really learned his lesson. For, not only did he complete his book on the Trinity, he also became one of the greatest theologians in the history of the church. Whose many writings are still read and studied even today. Why bother to speak and to write so much about something that you can’t completely understand?

I’m not sure, sisters and brothers. But I think that the true lesson of the legend is something different. The proper human response to the Mighty Ocean of God’s Mystery is not to try to empty it into the tiny confines of our mind. Neither is it to walk away from it in frustration and despair. The proper human response to the Ocean of Mystery is to walk courageously into it. To allow ourselves to be carried along by its currents. Even if we do not fully understand where it will take us. Trusting that wherever it does take us is exactly where we are meant to be. Where we find true and lasting joy and peace.

I mention this because I think that, like Augustine, we too find ourselves standing before an Ocean of Mystery today. If not exactly the Mystery of the Trinity, then the mystery of human suffering. As you know it’s only about a fortnight ago that a sudden earthquake in Sabah took the lives of 18 people. Including 7 children from Singapore. Between the ages of 12 and 13. Then, just two days ago, we heard of yet another shooting in the United States. In Charleston, South Carolina, 9 people were killed in a church, where they had gathered to worship God. And these are only two tiny drops in a vast ocean of global suffering.

Sisters and brothers, how do these reports affect you? Perhaps a single all but irresistible question arises in at least some of our minds. The question why or how. Why did or how could God allow all this to happen? A question that is no easier to answer than the question how can God be both one and three at the same time? It is ultimately a Mystery. A vast ocean, impossible for our tiny minds to comprehend.

And, faced with this stormy sea, we may be tempted to do one of two things. Either to offer pat answers like: It’s God’s will. Or: God is punishing us for our evil ways. Or to give in to the temptation to despair. Unable to reconcile our belief in an all-powerful and all-loving God with the reality of suffering in our world, we may decide either to close our eyes to the suffering, or to deny the existence of God altogether. In either case, we choose to walk away from the Mystery.

But how can we avoid these two extremes? Neither trying to empty the ocean nor walking away from it. But, instead, immersing ourselves more deeply in it’s dark waters. And what does this even mean? What does it look like to wade into the Ocean of Mystery? These, my dear sisters and brothers, are the questions that our Mass readings help us to ponder today.

In both the first reading and the gospel, we find a stormy sea. In the gospel, the storm is a literal one. A very violent one. One that threatens to capsize the disciples’ boat. And to drown everyone on board. In the first reading, the storm is also a figurative one. As you know, although Job is an upright and God-fearing man, he experiences terrible suffering. In a string of disasters, he loses first his wealth, then his children, and even his health.

These external storms provoke great interior turmoil. Both in the disciples and in Job. Turmoil expressed in that poignant question that the disciples pose to Jesus with such urgency: Master, do you not care? Which is not much different from the question that we may find ourselves asking as well. Lord, why did you let this happen? People are suffering. Your people. Suffering for no apparent reason. In some cases, suffering precisely because they have chosen to follow you. Master, do you not care?

What is God’s response to this heartfelt plea? In the first reading, instead of providing an answer, God helps Job to reframe the question. From why? to who? Who pent up the sea...? Or who is this God whom you are presuming to question in this way? In the gospel too, we find a reframing of the question. After Jesus calms the storm at sea, the disciples are moved to ask, who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him. Quite strikingly, our Mass readings begin and end with the question who?

And the second reading follows up the question who? with the question what? Presuming that we all know who Jesus really is. The Son of God himself. The reading invites us to recall also what this same Jesus has done for us. For you and for me. We know the answer to this question. With great love, Christ has given his life for us on the Cross. And to remember the immense love of Christ, as we are doing at this Mass, is to be overwhelmed by it. To be encouraged and empowered by it. Given the strength not only to bear our own sufferings. But also to reach out in mercy to others who suffer. And even to those who cause suffering. Much like how the family members of the victims of the Charleston Shooting have taken the trouble to meet the shooter. And to tell him that they have forgiven him.

To live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for us. To see the world no longer according to the standards of the flesh, but of the Spirit. To allow ourselves to become a new creation. No longer trying to contain or to deny God. But happy simply to follow Christ wherever he leads. And so to enter more fully into God’s love. For us and for the world.

Sisters and brothers, what must we do to immerse ourselves more deeply in the vast Ocean of God’s love today?

3 comments:

  1. O Lord of the Oceans, Skies and Seas,

    Over the past few weeks, I was led into a stormy sea together with my family - without any warning - the waves of the stormy seas almost swept us away.. if not for YOU who remained with us in the fiercest of storms with its rolling waves that came to threaten us most unexpectedly; it was really a storm - a nightmare which threw us off our feet, an experience which is beyond human comprehension..

    It was a sudden storm and its coming heralded much fears, anxieties and restlessness....

    O Lord, It's now more than 3 weeks since Lady Storm came to visit us on that fateful Thursday morning ...

    As I recalled the many close-shave moments and how I could have lost my footing and fell into the whirlpool & become history forever...I still find myself shuddering with fear...

    Yet , Lord, as I look back with the eyes of faith - as i could see that YOU had led me through this storm and how You had calmed not only the ferocious waves of the seas, but also my chicken-heart (full of fears, uncertainties, restlessness and anxieties 24/7 for more than a week or two) -

    O Lord, I can only heave a big big sigh of relief and with a deep gratitude in my heart, this is my prayer: -

    "I thank You, O Lord of Heaven, Earth, Sky and Sea -
    I thank You, O Omnipotent Father God whose might is above and beyond all of nature -
    O God of Majesty, Power and Might, You who Rule and Reign over all of Your Creation;
    I thank You, O Spirit of God, whose Power, Strength and Grace hovers over all of the seas, oceans, rivers and all of the entire universe.

    Thank You O God, for BEING with me as You had sailed through the stormy waves and saw me through the fiercest of storms and led me to safety in You....

    Thank You for Your Powerful, Peaceful & Prayerful Presence within my tiny boat, as it was being swept along with the cruel and cold waves, struggling to survive at every twist and turn of the changing tides, with danger lurking around at every corner...

    Thank You, O Lord of All -

    Thank You for being ASLEEP in my heart and in my boat,

    Thank You for Your calming of the storms in my heart, my mind and within my entire being.

    Thank You for restoring the Peace and Tranquility within my restless soul, so that I can now rejoice and thank You with all my heart for Your SAVING GRACE AND YOUR POWER OVER me and all that threatened to draw me away from YOU.

    O Lord, the storms and the accompanying threats was REAL; likewise, YOUR POWERFUL, EVER-ABIDING PEACEFUL & PRAYERFUL PRESENCE was just as REAL.

    Thank You, Lord of All, for OVERWHELMING me in Your Love.

    Thank You for keeping me safe and most of all, for Your Redemptive Love and Divine Protection over me and my family.

    Thank You for leading us from panic to peace,
    from the deepest darkness into Your Wonderful LIFE, LIGHT, PEACE and JOY.

    Thank You, Lord, for leading us into this storm, so that Your Glory, Your Light and Your Divine Power can be seen, felt and experienced to the full!

    Deo Gratias!

    Mille Grazie, O Signore.

    Sih Ying
    22 June 2015

    ReplyDelete
  2. The proper human response .. immersing ourselves more deeply in it’s dark waters…
    to remember the immense love of Christ.. so very hard..

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yet it is only by ENTERING into the STORMS of our lives, and by facing our FEARS & our pains squarely in their faces - only then, can we encounter Our GOD - WHO IS WITH US IN THE STORMS -

    Ours is a God who never abandons us, during our challenging moments, in times of our (dire) needs...

    Ours is a God who feels our pains and who suffers our sorrows, He is a God who cries with us, who wipes our tears away and who comforts us in our sorrows & despair....

    This, let us never forget as we forge ahead courageously to ENTER into the storms and the pains of our lives - for it is only here that we will ENCOUNTER GOD.

    In our sufferings and pains, let us cling on to GOD who IS A MYSTERY to be experienced & lived; He is not a problem to be solved.

    GOD IS MOST PRESENT in my weakest and most vulnerable moments....

    May we continue to seek God's grace and courage to dare to keep on TRUSTING Him in our deepest darkness , when all seems hopeless and helpless; & let us walk on with God by our side, as He leads us from our pains and darkness into His Wonderful LIGHT, LOVE, JOY & PEACE. Amen.

    Seeing IS Believing
    22 June 2015

    ReplyDelete

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