(Fr. deLadurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia. This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
This week’s Gospel presents us with Peter and the other apostles together in a boat, crossing the Sea of Galilee, but “being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.” Thoroughly frightened by the storm, the apostles see Jesus walking towards them on the water.
To test whether it is Jesus, Peter cries out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water,” to which Jesus replies, “Come.” Once out of the boat, Peter begins to falter and sink, whereupon Jesus rescues him, calms the storm, and reproves the apostles for their weakness of faith. In turn, the apostles recognize Him for who He is, and they confess, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
There is a double focus presented in this week’s Gospel. First, St. Matthew wanted to stress the importance of faith in Jesus Christ — in His person and in His word. At the Lord’s command, Peter did something that defied rationality: none of us can walk on water, except if the Lord tells us to do so (which implies that His word gives us the power to do what He tells us). Thanks to his faith in the word of Christ, Peter was able to exceed the limits of what appears humanly possible. Faith allowed Peter to do, for a time, something that was beyond his natural powers and resources.
It is the same in our lives, too. Faith in Christ Jesus permits us to bear burdens that seem too much to bear, to endure difficulties that seem insuperable, to overcome hurdles that seem too high. Faith grants us the ability to be joyful in the midst of suffering, to find hope in the midst of discouragement, to know peace in the midst of anxiety. Faith allows us to recognize that the one who is with us always is the Son of God. For this reason, Jesus can truly say, to each of us as He said to the apostles, “Do not be afraid.” Faith gives us the courage to hold fast to Jesus Christ and to be His witnesses in an often stormy world.
But here is the second focus of the Gospel episode. Faith, though it is a personal act, is also an ecclesial act. It is true that no one else can believe for me, but it is likewise true that I do not believe alone. Each of us lives our Faith within the communion of believers we call the Church. Peter was not alone on the Sea of Galilee; he had companions in the boat. So too we have companions in the barque of Peter, the Church. The faith of our fellow believers can support and strengthen each of us, when at times we may falter and sink.
When Peter let his attention lapse from Christ, he began to be overwhelmed by the difficulties and dangers of his situation. But the Lord not only stretched forth His hand and saved him; He brought Peter back into the boat — back into the communion of the apostles, back into the Church. In the midst of that communion, Jesus stood revealed as truly the Son of God, the one who came to reassure His followers of His constant and saving presence among them.
The Church, in every age, has the task of prolonging Christ’s redemptive mission. As Jesus saved Peter when he called out to Him, so Jesus, acting through His Church, saves us in our moments of need. This is why we can “take courage,” as the Lord told His apostles, for He is with us. Through faith, we can know and respond to His living and active presence in the Church and find there, in the barque of Peter, safety, security and tranquility even in the storms of life.