Jumping Overboard into the Ocean of God’s Mercy, 18th Tuesday (II), August 2, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
800th Anniversary of the Pardon of Assisi
Votive Mass of Our Lady Queen and Mother of Mercy
August 2, 2016
Jer 30:1-2.12-15.18-22, Ps 102, Mt 14:22-36

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today we celebrate the 800th anniversary of a very important event in the life of St. Francis of Assisi that has lessons for all of us in this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. 800 years ago, St. Francis and the first Franciscans had gathered to pray in the Portiuncula — “the little piece,” a Benedictine Chapel they rent for a bucket of fish each year and dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels. When St. Francis was immersed in prayer, the tiny Church was filled with a radiant light. Above the altar Francis saw Christ clothed in light with his mother on his right and surrounded by the choirs of angels. As Francis fell to the ground in adoration, Jesus asked him what he desired for the salvation of souls. Francis responded immediately, “Even though I’m a poor sinner, I pray that all who come to this church, repented for their sins and having confessed them, may receive a bountiful and generous pardon, with the full remission of all faults.” According to Francis’ earliest biographers, Jesus replied, “Your request is great, O Brother Francis, but of greater things you are worthy and greater things you will receive. I therefore grant you your prayer, but only under the condition that you ask my vicar on earth this indulgence.” St. Francis went to see Pope Honorius III, described the vision and received approval for the indulgence, saying he was not asking for it for a certain length of time, but that he was desiring a great multitude of souls. A few days later, having returned to Assisi, he announced to the Franciscans, to the Bishops of Umbria and to the people of the region gathered around the Church of Our Lady of the Angels, “My brothers and sisters, I want to send everyone to Heaven!”
  • An indulgence at the time was very rare, given for pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago de Compostela, participation in a crusade and other extraordinary actions. To have it given for visiting and praying in a Church was an extraordinary concession, but Francis wanted everyone to experience the joy of conversion like he had, leaving his life behind and having a totally fresh start. During this Jubilee of Mercy, the entire Church prays for this grace. Pope Francis will be going to Assisi on Thursday to pray in the Portiuncula, no doubt thanking God for the indulgence and repeating St. Francis’ petition for everyone to receive God’s mercy and be readmitted to the path that leads to heaven.
  • The other readings today focus on God’s mercy and the trust we need to have in it to ask for it boldly and to come to receive it.
  • In today’s first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah, we see a dramatic shift from what we have heard in the previous week. At the time when God had made Jeremiah’s calling to be a prophet to the nations clear, he had told him that he would “root up” and “plant,” that he would “tear down” and “build.” After relentlessly prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah due to the people’s infidelities, that their wounds were “incurable” and bruises “grievous,” today we see the shift to the planting and building that would come. God announces through Jeremiah that he would “restore the tents of Jacob,” that there would “resound songs of praise,” that their leader “shall be one of [Jacob’s] own and his rulers shall come from his kin,” and ultimately that “you shall be my people and I will be your God.” Those words would receive a partial fulfillment at the merciful end of the Babylonian exile but they will be brought to total completion at the end of the exile from sin when God himself would take on the flesh of one of their own, when God himself would pitch his tent among us, when God himself would lead us in songs of praise and make us not only his people but his sons and daughters. This was an act of indulgence restoring people to their full relationship with him in God’s holy dwelling place.
  • God always seeks to do that with us and in a special way he desires it in this Jubilee of Mercy, but we need to trust in it enough to throw ourselves, as Jesus told us through the Diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, into the abyss of the ocean of his mercy. In today’s Gospel, we see how Jesus helped the apostles, especially St. Peter, to overcome their primal fears and how he seeks to help us, too, go from fear to faith, to overcome our terror of failure, abandonment, struggle, sickness, pain, the past, the future, death, the possibility of hell and anything and everything else, too, and trust in his mercy.
  • Let’s put ourselves first in this dramatic scene whose main elements are recapitulated in some way or another in the life of every disciple. Since Jesus in yesterday’s Gospel had had everyone sit down on the green grass, we know that it must have been mid-March to mid-April in the Holy Land, because the grass begins to get scorched by the sun by the end of April. That would mean sunset would have happened about 6 pm, which is the time the apostles got into the boat to begin the journey across the top of the Sea of Galilee, which would have been about a 5-6 mile journey that should have taken a few hours. The storm began to rage, St. Matthew tells us, when they were in the middle of the Sea, so about an hour or two along their trek. Jesus came to them in the “fourth watch of the night” — the period stretching from 3-6 am — which meant that by that point, they had been in the boat 9-12 hours, battling a ferocious storm, fatigued, soaking wet and fearing for their life. Jesus was placidly praying on the mountain as they were struggling for hours not to drown to death. Why did Jesus wait so long as his friends were in peril? It brings us back to the other time that they were afraid for their life on the Sea, when Jesus was asleep in the bow of the boat as they thought they were about to perish. In both cases, it was to increase their faith. Jesus was introducing them to a central truth of the spiritual life: that in order to be able to abandon ourselves to God, we must first feel what appears to be total abandonment by God. That’s when we’re able to make the leap, when all human means are exhausted, when even God even seems to be absent, that we make the act of faith to believe in him even when we can’t see or hear him.
  • After hours of struggling for their lives, Jesus comes walking along the white caps of the churning sea. Their first reaction was to think they were seeing a ghost — after all, no one had ever seen a man walk on water before, not to mention surf waves without a surfboard. There was also a superstition that there were monsters at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee and likely that played into their alarm as well. But Jesus said to them across the howling winds, “Take courage! I am (here)! Do not be afraid!” Jesus used those words, “Ego eimi” in Greek, “I am,” which God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, that Jesus would use against to say before Abraham was, “I am.” They were words of confidence. They were words that could help assuage their fears and give them courage. We see the first fruit of that in Peter. “Lord, if it is you,” he said, “Bid me to come to you across the water.” He first refers to the walking “ghost” as “Lord,” but then he qualifies it by saying, “if it is you.” He was hovering between belief and unbelief. But at the word of Jesus, “Come!,” he did what he had precisely been trying to avoid or the previous 7-10 hours or more: he went overboard. The time fearing for his life made him that much more desirous of being with the Lord Jesus. He wanted to get to him as soon as he possibly could. The whole scene in some way summarizes the mystery of the Incarnation, as Jesus comes into the stormy seas of our world walking toward us and we’re all called to get up from where we are, to overcome our fears and insecurities, and head out to meet him. Peter did.
  • Lifted up temporarily by faith, Peter’s density in a sense changed. He was lighter than water and capable of walking above it. But then something happened. St. Matthew tells us that he took account of the winds. He took his eyes off of Jesus. He began to focus on the human impossibility of what he and Jesus were both doing and then the downward force of gravity, corresponding to the downward glance of his heart, overcame him. He began to sink in the waves. Though an expert on that sea and a good swimmer (as we see in Jn 21), he began to fear for his life. The words from Psalm 69 began to take on new meaning: “Do not let me sink. Rescue me from … the watery depths. Do not let the floodwaters overwhelm me, nor the deep swallow me” (Ps 69). In response to Peter’s cry for help, the Lord reaches out to save him. The word is he gripped him in his arms. The storm was still raging. The winds were blowing. The waves were swirling all around. The Sea was still 140 feet deep. But he was safe. Jesus had saved him. We call Jesus Savior not out of piety because it’s a nice title to give him. We call him Savior because he has in fact us from the depths of sin just like he saved Peter from the depth of water.
  • Jesus’ words to Peter are highly significant. He said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” The verb translated “to doubt” here really means “to be of two minds.” Peter was divided. Part of him believed, part of him doubted. Part of him trusted in Jesus, part of him attributed more power to the wind and the waves. But we can’t really “half-trust” in God. That’s what this whole exercise of faith on the Sea of Galilee was meant to train Peter and the others to grasp. Peter would be of two minds elsewhere as well. He would confess Jesus to be the Messiah and Son of God but then would forbid him to suffer in order to fulfill his mission. He would swear during the Last Supper that he would never betray the Lord even if he should have to die for him, but then he would swear an oath denying him three times in the high priest’s courtyard. The Lord was trying to help him to become of one mind, one heart, one soul in faith.
  • The last part of this scene happens when Jesus, still carrying Peter, enters the boat. That’s when the storm dies down, when Peter and Jesus are back in the boat that symbolizes the Church as a whole. And it’s there that they worshipped Jesus and called him not just the Messiah but “The Son of God.” The whole episode was a mystagogy of growth in faith. It was a difficult lesson for them to learn, but one communicated in a way they — and the Church with them! — have never been able to forget. Likewise, Jesus has created us not to drown in fears and anxieties, not to be inundated by the toxic sewer of our sinfulness, but to live by faith, to immerse ourselves in the depths of his mercy, to adore him on land and on sea, to be strengthen by him and know that we’ve got nothing to fear because he is with us, even if we’re in the midst of ferocious storms.
  • Today as we come forward to Mass, we go overboard from our pews, into the arms of the One who granted St. Francis the Portiuncula Indulgence so that we would have a foretaste, even now 800 years later, of his plan to rescue us, grasp us, and save us, so that together with others, we may enter fully into the boat of mercy he has given us in Peter, the apostles and their successors, and arrive safely in his arms in the new Jerusalem at the eternal shore.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 JER 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22

The following message came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel:
Write all the words I have spoken to you in a book.For thus says the LORD:
Incurable is your wound,
grievous your bruise;
There is none to plead your cause,
no remedy for your running sore,
no healing for you.
All your lovers have forgotten you,
they do not seek you.
I struck you as an enemy would strike,
punished you cruelly;
Why cry out over your wound?
your pain is without relief.
Because of your great guilt,
your numerous sins,
I have done this to you.

Thus says the LORD:
See! I will restore the tents of Jacob,
his dwellings I will pity;
City shall be rebuilt upon hill,
and palace restored as it was.
From them will resound songs of praise,
the laughter of happy men.
I will make them not few, but many;
they will not be tiny, for I will glorify them.
His sons shall be as of old,
his assembly before me shall stand firm;
I will punish all his oppressors.
His leader shall be one of his own,
and his rulers shall come from his kin.
When I summon him, he shall approach me;
how else should one take the deadly risk
of approaching me? says the LORD.
You shall be my people,
and I will be your God.

Responsorial Psalm PS 102:16-18, 19-21, 29 AND 22-23

R. (17) The Lord will build up Zion again, and appear in all his glory.
The nations shall revere your name, O LORD,
and all the kings of the earth your glory,
When the LORD has rebuilt Zion
and appeared in his glory;
When he has regarded the prayer of the destitute,
and not despised their prayer.
R. The Lord will build up Zion again, and appear in all his glory.
Let this be written for the generation to come,
and let his future creatures praise the LORD:
“The LORD looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.”
R. The Lord will build up Zion again, and appear in all his glory.
The children of your servants shall abide,
and their posterity shall continue in your presence,
That the name of the LORD may be declared on Zion;
and his praise, in Jerusalem,
When the peoples gather together
and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD.
R. The Lord will build up Zion again, and appear in all his glory.

Alleluia JN 1:49B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Rabbi, you are the Son of God;
you are the King of Israel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 14:22-36

Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side of the sea,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down.
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

After making the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret.
When the men of that place recognized him,
they sent word to all the surrounding country.
People brought to him all those who were sick
and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak,
and as many as touched it were healed.

 

St Francis contemplates apparition of Jesus and Virgin (1393), altarpiece by Prete Iliario, Portiuncula, Basilica of St Mary of Angels, Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi (UNESCO World Heritage List, 2000), Umbria, Italy