Today’s gospel is a familiar one: Jesus telling the apostles to get into a boat and cross the lake while he intends to take some time for prayer. A storm arises, the boat is floundering and the apostles become afraid, shouting to Jesus for help. As he approaches them, seeming to walk on water, Jesus calls out to them, “Don’t be afraid. It’s me!” Peter tests Jesus “If it’s you, bid me come to you.” Jesus did so but Peter, again, became frightened and called out for help. Jesus immediately held out his hand to comfort Peter yet, at the same time, reprimanded him for his lack of faith. Thus, another story of the valiant Peter!
What causes fear in us? How do we handle it? In today’s gospel we hear clearly the encouraging words of Jesus: don’t be afraid. It’s me! Remembering John Talbot’s song we also hear the familiar comforting words: “Be not afraid, I go before you always. Follow me and I will give you rest.”
In U.S. history FDR’s words echo long after he reassured the country: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Why? Because fear paralyzes us. We don’t have control. We feel helpless. On the other hand, hope activates us. Peace liberates us.
Once Peter and Jesus climbed into the boat, the wind died down. In the midst of the fierce storm, with Jesus, the disciples, calmer now, recognized his authority and knew they were safe. The gospels are full of moments like this. Fear, doubt, recognition of a loving presence results in not only outer but inner peace. God is with us; God is within us. This is true, is it not, when circumstances change, and at times we wonder can we ever overcome the unexpected challenges in our lives. Whether it’s losing a job, worrying about health care, getting a serious illness, the sudden death of a loved one, going off to college, relocating to another city or country, losing a good friend, worrying about drug addiction of a family member – add your concerns to this list.
We know our lives also exist within a broader context - that of our country and of the world!
Today this context is filled with new challenges, different fears: a possible nuclear exchange, terrorism on a global scale, climate change, a president who is unpredictable in both his words and actions, the rise and expansion of theocratic beliefs threatening our democracy, increased poverty and homelessness overshadowed by an unprecedented refugee crisis, casualties of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Congo. Again, the list goes on. . .
Some of you might remember the poem, “Desiderata.” At one point we read: “Be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be. In the noisy confusion of life keep peace within your soul.”
When we are at peace, hope emerges, when we are hopeful, we become agents of change. Agents of change believe in and work for a better tomorrow. Our God is a God of yesterday and today. Our God is also a God of tomorrow, of the future. “Be not afraid. I go before you. Be still and know that I am God.”
Louise Akers, SC
Louise Akers, S.C., D. Min., has presented numerous workshops, courses and reflection days on justice related issues. Her past ministries include justice education & advocacy in formal classroom teaching on both the high school and university levels, parish coordinator in the Archdiocesan Social Action Office of Cincinnati, founder & coordinator of Cincinnati’s Intercommunity Justice & Peace Center, social concerns director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and coordinator of the Sisters of the Sisters of Charity Office of Peace, Justice & Integrity of Creation. In 1974 her master’s thesis in theology focused on the “Prophecy of Martin L. King, Jr.”, in 1996 she completed her Doctor of Ministry with a project entitled “Patriarchal Power and the Pauperization of Women”. Ministry opportunities include working with migrant farm workers, involvement with the civil rights & women’s movements along with international experiences in Malawi-Africa, Nicaragua; El Salvador; Mexico; Czechoslovakia; East/West Germany; Italy; Mondragon, Spain; Beijing, China; Paris, France; Canada.