Walking on Water

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A); First Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalms 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

Christ Walking on Water by Aivazovsky

One of the most famous stories of the New Testament is the one about Jesus walking on the water.  If there is any gospel story we never tire of hearing, this is it.

The lake is rough. Though several of the apostles spent most of their life in a boat, they’re still worried.  But when they see a phantom walking towards them on the whitecaps, they get really scared.  Then the figure speaks and they recognize a familiar voice–it is the Lord!

Remember the old saying “fools rush in where angels fear to tred?”  Well here goes Peter: “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you across the water.”  The Lord takes him up on it.  “Come!” he says.  So Peter gives it a try.  The first few steps go great and he’s pumped.  But funny thing–when the Lord told him to come, he neglected to calm the wind and the waves.  And as Peter, far from the security of the boat and the company of his buddies, finds himself buffeted by strong gusts and swirling waves, fear gets the best of him.  He begins to sink.  Remembering that Jesus is not too far off, he has the sense to cry out “Lord save me!”

The Lord fishes him out and then gently rebukes him.  Jesus doesn’t say that Peter has no faith.  After all, he had more faith than the other eleven—at least he stepped out of the boat.  But Jesus’ statement is telling: “how little faith you have!  Why did you falter?”

I think we love this story because we can so easily relate to it.  In various moments of pious enthusiasm, we surrender our lives, our will, and our future to God.  “Just tell me Lord, what you want me to do and I’ll obey.”  And then He surprises us a bit by taking us up on our offer.  Undaunted, we respond to the call.  It could be to the sacrament of matrimony which entails lifelong fidelity and generous openness to children.  It could be to priesthood and religious life which involve celibacy and obedience to a superior.  Or it could be to a degree program, or a tour of duty in the armed forces.  We often embark on our journey amidst fanfare and congratulations.  Then the harsh reality of the everyday grind sets in.  Next come unexpected road hazards.  No sooner is a child born with serious medical problems then you lose your job.  A model child turns into a rebellious teen who rejects all of your values, including your faith.

If we are honest, most of us notice butterflies flying inside our stomachs amidst such circumstances.

Does trust mean immunity from feelings of fear and discouragement?  No.  Jesus himself experienced anguish and dread in the Garden of Gethsemani.  But notice that he was not deterred by it.  He did not hesitate or falter as Peter did and as we usually do.

“Little” faith means immature faith.  Faith, to be mature, must be tempered with courage, also known as fortitude.  Courage only is manifested in the face of danger.  If there is no danger, no threat, no trial, then there is no possibility of courage.  Mature faith means believing more in what you can’t see than in the terrifying things you can see.  It means keeping the eyes of your heart fixed on the master of the wind and waves even as you feel the spray in your face.

The most frequently repeated phrase in the gospels is “Do not be afraid!”  The Lord is not speaking to our emotions here, since you can’t command emotions.  He is speaking to our will.  We must make a conscious decision not to allow fear to paralyze us.  Peter sank because he stopped walking.  Faith means to keep walking even when your knees are knocking.


Acknowledgement

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources or info on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor as a reflection on the Mass readings 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A). It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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