“We are not guaranteed a smooth passage; only a safe port at the last.” John
Cardinal Newman wrote those words in one of his sermons about being part of a
struggling and besieged Church. Cardinal Newman lived in a time not unlike our
own and not unlike the gospel scene today. As a convert from Anglicanism during
a time when Catholicism was being ridiculed from the great university lecture halls
and pulpits of England, his character and integrity were attacked by former fellow
Anglican ministers after his conversion. He weathered many a storm, and even
some leaders of Catholic Church doubted his sincerity. Still he kept writing,
preaching, and loving his enemies.
“We are not guaranteed a smooth passage; only a safe harbor at the last.” Surely
these are gospel words.
In the gospel today we see the apostles in a boat. They are being stretched to the
breaking point in faith. Jesus has told them to go ahead of him to the other side of
the lake at night while he prays. He will catch up to them. It is risky to be on the
lake of Genneseret at night for evening can bring sudden treacherous storms. Still,
at Jesus’ command they set out. No matter what else they do in this story we have
to at least credit them for doing what Jesus tells them to do. Would we?
The wee hours of the morning find them still struggling to get across the lake; the
worst case scenario has taken shape in a fierce storm. Their panic turns to sheer
terror as they see a form moving across the water towards them. Now they know
it’s all over. An evil spirit, a lost soul, an angry ghost of some drowned fisherman
has come to bring them all to a watery ruin. They begin to scream in fright. How
often in the difficulties of our life have we imagined that someone is out to get us?
That the universe itself is conspiring to bring us down?
And suddenly they hear a familiar voice. “Get hold of yourself. It is I.”
“It is I.” At the very moment when fear threatens to cripple the apostles, Jesus
speaks the ancient and sacred words that Moses heard from the burning bush.
“Ego eimi. It is I.” They are words of comfort and words of challenge. Words of
assurance and words of exhortation. “Do not be afraid. I am with you. You are
safe.” How difficult it is to hear those words and believe them when we feel like
we’re going down for the last time.
But suddenly Jesus is there in the boat with the disciples…and us. And there is
space to breath, to choose, to act. The storm still may blow but the wind and
waves have lost their power to paralyze us because we know we are not alone. We
still may have a hard passage; our arms and backs may be tired from rowing
against the tide, but with Christ in our company we know we can make it across.
He sailed the waters of death and came back so that we might never fear them
We began this reflection on the gospel with the story of a saint. Let’s end with
one. Frances Xavier Cabrini was the first United States citizen to become a saint.
Her life was anything but a smooth passage. She was refused admission to the
religious order that trained her to be a teacher. The bishop closed the orphanage at
which she worked and sent her, not east to China where she wanted to go as a
missionary, but west to America. She was promised, upon reaching New York
City, that she would have a house where she could open up another orphanage but
when she got there the bishop told her it wasn’t available. He advised her to go
back home to Italy. She didn’t’. She stayed and founded 67 institutions dedicated
to serving the poor. In her ministry she cross the ocean more than thirty times.
Interesting, because as child she had nightmares about drowning.
We do not live charmed lives as Christians. We suffer sickness, setbacks in our
dreams, failure in our relationships, doubts in faith, and storms of all kinds. The
sea is wide and our boat is small and yet through it all Christ, the master of wind
and sea is minding the till. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but we know
who holds us and truly he is the Son of God. “We are not guaranteed a smooth
passage, only a safe port at the last,” because we sail with Jesus.