By Archbishop Francesco Follo

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A – August 9, 2020

Roman rite

1 Kings 19.9a.11-13a; Ps 85; Rom 9.1-5; Mt 14.22-33

Ambrosian rite

9th Sunday after Pentecost

2Sam 12.1-13; Ps 31; 2Cor 4,5b-14; Mk 2: 1-12

Introduction:

On this Sunday, the center of today’s Gospel passage is “walking on the water” which is repeated four times, twice for Jesus and twice for Peter. Walking on the water is the fundamental desire of man, that is, not to be swallowed up by death and to overcome evil and death- waters represent the abyss, death -­. Faith is what allows you to walk on water.

The context of today’s story is very suggestive because it represents our situation after Easter. Jesus is absent, he has remained alone on the mountain to pray. None of us see him. He is absent, alone, on the mountain, by the Father. We are at night, on a boat, alone, rowing to complete the crossing that he has ordered us to do.

In fact, He is not absent; he is present in the bread multiplied and shared (see last Sunday). In fraternal concrete love and in the gift of the Spirit we have the very presence of God who makes us pass from death to life. But the Apostles believe that this bread is a ghost, a ritual to be celebrated but that has something to do with life.

In Matthew’s Gospel, we find three scenes on a boat. The boat is always a symbol of the Church and represents the Church in its three situations:

– in the first scene, in chapter 8, Jesus is together with the apostles, but he is asleep and awakens while it seems that they are sinking. This represents the first event of the Church that is on the same boat with Jesus sleeping and awakening, that is, with the risen Jesus. It is the first storm that the disciples had. Just in that first storm, Jesus “prepares” the bread, that is, he gives his life for us.

– In the second scene (that of today’s Gospel) He is no longer there: it is the history of the Church after the Resurrection and the Ascension. He is on the mountain, alone, praying. We here alone, facing the same difficulties, trying to walk on the water as he did. But how can we do it? This is our problem; this is the problem of the Church, this is the problem of faith.

– finally, the third scene, described in chapter 16, where Jesus is on the boat with the disciples who have no bread. Christ asks if they have some bread but the one without too much yeast because they have bread, but this bread is corrupted by the yeast of power and other bad yeasts.

The bread that Jesus gives us is to overcome the storms of life, and to always walk as He has walked. Like the bread of Elijah which served him to walk forty days and forty nights to Mount Oreb (cf. 1 Kings, 19).

As for the boat, let’s not forget that it is something very fragile, between the earth and the sky, suspended in the void, undermined by the abyss, and particularly frightening at night because it is enveloped in nothing, in uncertainty. If then we find ourselves with high waves and contrary wind, it is a difficult situation. This scene is a bit the figure of our life: we are all on the boat, the sea is rough, the wind is adverse, and the abyss is also adverse.

We are in difficulty, but difficulties are the touchstone that scratches away from us everything that is not gold. Faced with difficulty all that is not worthwhile falls. Even all our pious assumptions and our pious elevations fall before concrete reality. It is something else that resists: only the gold that is faith.

This is the reason why Paul boasts of tribulations (from the Latin tribulum= grinder) because tribulations grind the stone that is our heart; and in this grinding the heart is purified and only the hope that does not disappoint remains.

To conclude this introduction, I would also like to mention the fact that today the Gospel speaks of two loneliness, that of the disciples who are alone, or, better, isolated on the boat. Theirs is a solitude of isolation, of closure on oneself and each one tries to save himself. They are held together by fear.

Christ alone on the mountain to pray is not isolated because he is in communication with the Father through prayer. Loneliness is different from isolation when one is in communion with God and, in him, with the brothers. Therefore, it is important to imitate Jesus in prayer.

1) Prayer of Jesus, to be imitated.

Reading the Gospel passage that the liturgy offers today, our attention is drawn to the power of Jesus who walks on the water, and to His word that calms the storm of the lake.

I think that it is useful to mention also what immediately precedes and follows this miracle, which shows how Christ is the Lord who dominates nature and not only multiplies the loaves and fish[1]. In fact, at the beginning of this gospel, St. Matthew speaks of the solitary prayer of Jesus (” he went up the mountain, alone, to pray” – Mt 14:23) and, at the end, tells us about the profession of faith of the disciples “Really you are Son of God!” (Mt 14, 33).

In the intense rhythm of his days, Jesus always found time for prayer, either early in the morning or late in the evening after dismissing the crowd, as we read in this episode of the Gospel. It is certainly not possible for us to penetrate the whole secret of this solitary prayer, but we can at least get a little closer, keeping in mind that Jesus turns to God always invoking him with the name of Father. His prayer is above all filial and, precisely because filial, the prayer of Jesus is obedient. His prayer is at the same time the prayer of the Son and of the Servant of the Lord. In the word Father both dimensions are included: familiarity and obedience. Consciousness of one’s filiation and total dependence are the two poles of Jesus’ prayer, and are the essential structures of his person. Shouldn’t that be the case with every Christian? I would say yes.

Jesus is not only the son of David and royal messianic descendant, or the Servant with whom God is pleased, but he is also the only-begotten son, the beloved, similar to Isaac, whom God the Father gives for the salvation of the world. At the moment when, through prayer, Jesus is living deeply his own sonship and the experience of the fatherhood of God (cf. Lk 3,22b), comes the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 3,22a) that guides him in his mission and whom He will pour out after having been raised on the cross (cf. Jn 1,32-34; 7,37-39) to illuminate the work of the Church.

Let us look at Jesus and at his prayer that runs through his whole life (and not only in today’s episode) as a secret channel that irrigates existence, relationships, gestures and guides him to total self-giving, according to the project of love for men of God the Father.

In our prayer we must learn to enter more and more into the prayer of Jesus and renew our personal decision before God to open ourselves to his will, to ask him for the strength to conform our will to his, throughout our lives, in obedience to his plan of love for us.

2) An invocation to be made every day.

Let us come to the central part of today’s Gospel narrative: the boat tossed by the sea, the fear of the disciples, the words of Jesus, and the cry of fear of Peter. The first of the Apostles offers his fear to the One he loves and cries out “Lord, save me”. The important thing is to have faith and pray like Peter. Note the dialogue between this Apostle and Jesus. Peter walks on the water like Jesus, but not by his own power. His possibility depends solely on the word of the Lord (“come!”) and his strength lies entirely in faith. This is a great lesson for everyone. Clinging to faith, the disciple can repeat the same miracles of the Lord. But if faith breaks down (“man of little faith, why have you doubted?”), then the disciple returns to being easy prey to the forces of evil. The doubt we are talking about is not the intellectual doubt about the truths of faith, but the lack of trust in the face of life’s difficulties, the lack of faith in the Love that created us.

St. Peter is afraid when he looks only at himself, at the force of the wind, and not at Jesus’ loving presence. Thus, fear kills courage and makes the encounter with the Lord fragile.

However, Saint Peter was able to ask Jesus to exercise his authority for the benefit of his relationship with him. The request of the Apostle, not without some degree of recklessness, expresses a true faith in the Lord and a sincere affection towards him.

Without thinking about the danger and ignited with spiritual fervor in the presence of the Savior, Peter leaves the boat. But by loving with little constancy and less wisdom, he becomes afraid of sudden gusts of wind and so it is up to Jesus to take him by the hand, as he had done for his sick mother-in-law. It is the hand of the Lord that saves him.

Sometimes we endure heavy trials with a strong heart and then let ourselves be overcome by lighter sufferings. The “sailor”, who until then had fought with the sea, is frightened by the wind.

It was not the impetus of the waves stirred by the wind that changed, it was the disposition of mind that changed. Fear, however, does not create love. It brings out the love that constitutes us and to which it is reasonable to cry out: “Lord, save me”. To this man who screamed his request not to die, Jesus immediately stretched out his hand and said to him: “Man of little faith, why did you doubt?”. That outstretched hand and that sweet reproach strengthen, in those present, their faith more than Jesus walking on the water. He always answers the question of faith and when faith awakens, the Lord does not need to give orders to the wind “As soon as they got on the boat, the wind stopped”. And “those who were on the boat prostrated themselves before him, saying: ‘You really are the Son of God’” (Mt 14:33).

3) Jesus does not extend only his hand.

The response to the cry of fear is an embrace of brotherly love. The Lord Jesus reaches us, at the center of our weak faith. He reaches us and does not point his finger to accuse us but extends his hand to grasp ours and eliminates fear with a hug. Jesus is the splendor of a hug, which he humanly learned from his Mother. Mary is the humble, great woman who was “a virgin humble of heart who placed all her hope in the prayer of the poor” (cf. St. Ambrose, De virginibus II, 2).

This creature, by her fullness of grace, the same fullness of grace with which she had been filled from the first moment of her existence, lived as a virgin, that is, as a person conscious of being always loved by God. Virginity is that gratuitousness that being loved donates to life. She lived as virgin. Of humble heart because she had been always loved. She had not given herself this always being loved. One cannot give oneself being loved: one can only receive it. She was of humble heart and so placed all her hope, all the hope of her life in the prayer of the poor, in asking that this love be renewed in every moment, that this fullness of grace be renewed continuously.

St. Thomas Aquinas says that charity, as an attraction, for a man wounded by sin is more powerful, as an intensity of attraction and delight, than any natural attraction (Summa theologiae II-II q. 23 a. 2). Charity is incomparable, as a compelling attraction, to the natural attraction of man towards woman.

Virginity lived by consecrated persons in the world is love that arises from the happiness of being loved by God, does not arise from a lack, and is no less than conjugal love. Indeed, it is fullness.

These consecrated virgins show with their lives what St. Augustine said about the beauty of Jesus: “For us therefore who recognize Him, may the Word of God come towards us in every beautiful occasion ( pulcher Deus, Verbum apud Deum) beautiful as God, Word with God, (pulcher in utero virginis,) beautiful in the womb of the Virgin, where He did not abandon divinity and took on humanity, beautiful the newly born child; because, even while He was a child who sucked milk and while he was a babe in arms, the skies spoke of Him, the angels praised the small child He was, a star led the Magi to him, He was adored in the manger, food of the meek. Beautiful therefore in heaven, beautiful on earth; beautiful in the womb of Mary, beautiful held in his parents’ arms (Mary and Joseph), beautiful in the miracles, beautiful also in the scourging[2]. Beautiful when He invited people to follow Him, beautiful when He did not disdain death, beautiful when He died, beautiful when He rose again ( pulcher in ligno, pulcher in sepulcro, pulcher in coelo) “(Saint Augustine, Enarrationes in psalmos, 44, 3).

The Virgins consecrated themselves happily to this beauty as the solemn prayer of consecration also indicates: “Happy are those who consecrate their lives to Christ and recognize him as the source and raison d’etre of virginity. They have chosen to love the one who is the Bridegroom of the Church and the Son of the Virgin Mary “(Consecration Rite of the Virgins, n 24)

Patristic Reading

St John Chrysostom

Hom. on Mt 49 -50

For what purpose doth He go up into the mountain? To teach us, that loneliness and retirement is good, when we are to pray to God. With this view, you see, He is continually withdrawing into the wilderness, and there often spends the whole night in prayer, teaching us earnestly to seek such quietness in our prayers, as the time and place may confer. For the wilderness is the mother of quiet; it is a calm and a harbor, delivering us from all turmoils.

He Himself then went up thither with this object, but the disciples are tossed with the waves again, and undergo a storm, equal even to the former. But whereas before they had Him in the ship when this befell them, now they were alone by themselves. Thus gently and by degrees He excites and urges them on for the better, even to the bearing all nobly. Accordingly we see, that when they were first near that danger, He was present, though asleep, so as readily to give them relief; but now leading them to a greater degree of endurance, He doth not even this, but departs, and in mid sea permits the storm to arise, so that they might not so much as look for a hope of preservation from any quarter; and He lets them be tempest-tost all the night, thoroughly to awaken, as I suppose, their hardened heart.

For such is the nature of the fear, which the time concurs with the rough weather in producing. And together with the compunction, He cast them also into a greater longing for Himself, and a continual remembrance of Him.

Accordingly, neither did He present Himself to them at once. For, “in the fourth watch,” so it is said, “of the night, He went unto them, walking upon the sea;”2 instructing them not hastily to seek for deliverance; from their pressing dangers, but to bear all occurrences manfully. At all events, when they looked to be delivered, then was their fear again heightened.

For,“When the disciples,” it is said, “saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit: and they cried out for fear.”3

Yea, and He constantly doth so; when He is on the point of removing our terrors, He brings upon us other worse things, and more alarming: which we see took place then also. For together with the storm, the sight too troubled them, no less than the storm. Therefore neither did He remove the darkness, nor straightway make Himself manifest, training them, as I said, by the continuance of these fears, and instructing them to be ready to endure. This He did in the case of Job also; for when He was on the point of removing the terror and the temptation, then He suffered the end to grow more grievous; I mean not for his children’s death, or the words of his wife, but because of the reproaches, both of his servants and of his friends. And when He was about to rescue Jacob from his affliction in the strange land, He allowed his trouble to be awakened and aggravated: in that his father-in-law first overtook him and threatened death, and then his brother coming immediately after, suspended over him the extremest danger.

For since one cannot be tempted both for a long time and severely; when the righteous are on the point of coming to an end of their conflicts, He, willing them to gain the more, enhances their struggles. Which He did in the case of Abraham too, appointing for his last conflict that about his child. For thus even things intolerable will be tolerable, when they are so brought upon us, as to have their removal near, at the very doors.

So did Christ at that time also, and did not discover Himself before they cried out. For the more intense their alarm, the more did they welcome His coming. Afterward when they had exclaimed, it is said,

“Straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid.”4

This word removed their fear, and caused them to take confidence. For as they knew Him not by sight, because of His marvellous kind of motion, and because of the time, He makes Himself manifest by His voice.

What then saith Peter, everywhere ardent, and ever starting forward before the rest?

“ Lord, if it be Thou,” saith he, “bid me come unto Thee on the water.”5

He said not, “Pray and entreat,” but, “bid.” Seest thou how great his ardor, how great his faith? Yet surely he is hereby often m danger, by seeking things beyond his measure. For so here too he required an exceedingly great thing, for love only, not for display. For neither did he say, “Bid me walk on the water,” but what? “Bid me come unto Thee.” For none so loved Jesus.

This he did also after the resurrection; he endured not to come with the others, but leapt forward.6 And not love only, but faith also doth he display. For he not only believed that He was able Himself to walk on the sea, but that He could lead upon it others also; and he longs to be quickly near Him.

“And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, and came7 to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous,8 he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him, and saith unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”9

This is more wonderful than the former. Therefore this is done after that. For when He had shown that He rules the sea, then He carries on the sign to what is yet more marvellous. Then He rebuked the winds only; but now He both walks Himself, and permits another to do so; which thing if He had required to be done at the beginning, Peter would not have so well received it, because he had not yet acquired so great faith.

Wherefore then did Christ permit him? Why, if He had said, “thou canst not,” Peter being ardent would have contradicted Him again. Wherefore by the facts He convinces him, that for the future he may be sobered.

But not even so doth he endure. Therefore having come down, he becomes dizzy; for he was afraid. And this the surf caused, but his fear was wrought by the wind.

But John saith, that “they willingly received Him into the ship; and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went,”10 relating this same circumstance. So that when they were on the point of arriving at the land, He entered the ship.

Peter then having come down from the ship went unto Him, not rejoicing so much in walking on the water, as in coming unto Him. And when he had prevailed over the greater, he was on the point of suffering evil from the less, from the violence of the wind, I mean, not of the sea. For such a thing is human nature; not seldom effecting great things, it exposes itself in the less; as Elias felt toward Jezebel, as Moses toward the Egyptian, as David toward Bathsheba. Even so then this man also; while their fear was yet at the height, he took courage to walk upon the water, but against the assault of the wind he was no longer able to stand; and this, being near Christ. So absolutely nothing doth it avail to be near Christ, not being near Him by faith.

And this also showed the difference between the Master and the disciple, and allayed the feelings of the others. For if in the case of the two brethren they had indignation, much more here; for they had not yet the Spirit vouchsafed unto them.

But afterwards they were not like this. On every occasion, for example, they give up the first honors to Peter, and put him forward in their addresses to the people, although of a rougher vein than any of them.11

And wherefore did He not command the winds to cease, but Himself stretched forth His hand and took hold of him? Because in him faith was required. For when our part is wanting, then God’s part also is at a stand.

Signifying therefore that not the assault of the wind, but his want of faith had wrought his overthrow, He saith, “Wherefore didst thou doubt, O thou of little faith?” So that if his faith had not been weak, he would have stood easily against the wind also. And for this reason, you see, even when He had caught hold of Him, He suffers the wind to blow, showing that no hurt comes thereby, when faith is steadfast.

And as when a nestling has come out of the nest before the time, and is on the point of falling, its mother bears it on her wings, and brings it back to the nest; even so did Christ.

“And when they were come into the ship, then the wind ceased.”12

1 [R. V., “distressed by the waves.”]

2 Mt 14,25.

3 Mt 14,26. [R. V., “It is an apparition,” but Chrysostom has the indirect form, “saying that it is an apparition. ”The Greek term, is favntasma, not pneu`ma.—R.]

4 Mt 14,27.

5 Mt 14,28.

6 Jn 21,7.

7 [So R. V. margin. The rec. text has ejlqei`n.—R.]

8 [R. V. text, with a few of the oldest authorities, omits “boisterous,”, ijsCor.ovn, which Chrysostom accepts.—R.]

9 .

10 Jn 6,21. [R.V., “They were willing to receive him into tho boat: and straightway the boat was at the land whither they were going.”]

11 Compare Ac 4,13.

12 Mt 14,32.

[1] See the Gospel of last Sunday, 18th in Ordinary time, Year A

[2] Yes, even in the scourging because – Augustine says – in the scourging, when He was all disfigured, if you consider why He had become so, why He had let himself be struck by the scourge in that way, if you consider the mercy with which for you, for your love, He let himself be so reduced, He is beautiful also in the scourge. When Mary took Him in her arms dead below the cross when she took Him in her arms, there was nothing more beautiful than that son of hers, than that disfigured son of hers. Therefore when the good thief said to Him: “Jesus, remember me when you are in Paradise” (Luke 23, 42), he had never encountered in all his life anything as beautiful as in that moment, in the moment of death, when he heard said to him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23, 43)

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