And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save, Lord; we are perishing.” –Mt 8:23-24
We are perishing. We’ve made it through the year 2015. But we are perishing. Every. Last. One. Of. Us. Good year or bad year for you, 2015 brought you closer to death. Perhaps this seems to overly gloomy and doomy for a Holiday post. Once upon a time when I was but a boy, a guitar wielding, motorcycle riding, charismatic priest that I know and love was the first to drive home to me the fact that we are all dying, dissolving back into dust at this very moment. But let’s hope that we are only perishing bodily. The Lord is trying to save our souls for eternal life through his Church.
Despite the fact that you and I are bodily perishing, how was your 2015 otherwise? In this fallen world, I won’t venture to guess that you endured unscathed. I certainly didn’t. 2015 featured sins and shortcomings aplenty for me. And once again, I look back and marvel. As we come to the shores of 2016 from the storms of 2015, only to set out again into the storms that 2016 will bring, I realize I’m still afloat because of my God-given Catholic Faith. Where would I be without Christ Jesus in the Sacraments? How would I be doing without the intercession of Mary, Joseph and all the Saints? How chaotic would be my soul without the walls of our churches that bring us a place to quietly rest our weary hearts in the Bosom of our Eucharistic Lord as did Saint John at the Last Supper? I needed the Ship of Holy Mother Church to make it through 2015. 2016 will be the same. How wonderful is our Faith. Really though, Keeping in mind this passage from Matthew 8, have you ever thought how very much life in Christ is like being in a boat or on a ship, and most visibly, when we are worshipping in our churches themselves? It’s particularly easy to picture if you’ve been in Europe before with its plentitude of beautiful churches.
Rising above the European landscape, across the pastures and meadows and woods that viewed from above in the breeze move forth like waves, we glimpse the great Gothic Cathedrals of the Middle Ages. They tower for miles around, some located in settings on hills, others in the heart of Major Metropolitan areas, like the glorious Stefansdom in Vienna which pulses as the very heart of that cherished Austrian city. These remarkable churches, in many ways the triumphant pinnacle of Human Art and Architecture, masterpieces of stained glass, sculpture and geometric orderliness that intentionally raise the body, mind, and soul heavenward, have very appropriately been compared to ships at sea. And, for many a century, their towering spires made them the highest constructed monoliths, dwarfing everything and everyone around them for many miles.
But the analogy is more than just one of a relative superficial comparison to a great ship rising above the swelling ocean expanse. Cathedrals and all Catholic churches are in a very real way the ships that keep us afloat on the stormy seas of life.
We Christians on Earth are often appropriately termed pilgrims, travelers in the foreign land that is this world, journeying through our lives, running the race, by the grace of God striving to keep the Faith so as to come to the distant shore of life Everlasting. And it is above all in the security of the walls of the Church, at the Mass, and then in visits to Christ really present in the Blessed Sacrament, that we find safe passage over the watery grave of this passing World.
Our Catholic churches are where Christ dwells body, blood, soul, and divinity day and night, a fact that should astonish, excite, and captivate us with wonder and awe. And in the Eucharist, he is so quiet, he seems to be sleeping just like in the boat with the disciples. We think to ourselves, forgetting that he’s always got the upper hand, “How can he be sleeping right now when the World seems to be spinning out of control?”
We can see that on a material level of outward appearances, Catholic churches are like ships, keeping those on board safe. Visible for the masses of aching hearts that for miles around can see them in the middle of the confused, chaotic, busy, distracted life of the cities, the seeking find within them Christ, the Light of Life. Tabernacle candles burn telling us that Christ is present nearby, their warm glow thereby acting as lighthouses, confirming that God himself, the safe distant shore that we seek, is already here with us under the veiled appearances of white hosts. And in this ship, The Lord of Lords himself acts as the compass of our hearts dwelling among us as the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar and pointing us Home.
Are we following the Lord to the other side of the sea in the boat of his Catholic Church in 2016? When Our Lord declared that he was going to the other side of the sea, his disciples followed him. Immediately upon setting out what happened? A great storm arose. More than a thunderstorm was this maelstrom as the word used is “seismos”, conveying an earthquake. Hell rages against Heaven. When we set out to follow our Lord, to be with him, storms often arise, and it can sometimes seem like he is not with us, it can appear that He is asleep and unaware of the seemingly desperate straits that we find ourselves in. Meanwhile, He has actually been in control the whole time. He is God afterall! As one of my professors in Grad school reminded us, We must remember that deep in our souls Jesus rests in us as in a boat. When we turn to him in Faith, he, the Creator of Creation in his almighty power can calm the tempest that rages around us. He rebukes the storm just as he rebukes the demons. And of course, he also rebukes the disciples for their little Faith. So let us be on our way forward into the New Year with hope, joy, and the expectation that our God is a God of wonderful surprises, trusting him to guide our footsteps, and asking him to help us move our feet when the sea is rising and falling around us.
Our inner Peace that emanates from Christ within us should never be disturbed by the storms that 2016 or any other year bring. Jesus sleeps in the quiet recesses of our heart. He rides the tumultuous waves of this life together with us, for he is always with us to the end of Time as he himself promised, the same Loving God always and forever. He reposes hidden in the power and glory of the Blessed Sacrament, and is present in all the tabernacles the World over. Find in the ships of our churches the compass and lighthouse that is our Lord, who waits silently for you. In 2016, Let our prayer be a borrowing of the words of the Apostles, “Save Lord we are perishing.” Then be still, and know that Jesus is God, and that He is in control.
And as Jesus tells us in John 16:33 “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Happy New Year!