When Jesus Sleeps

Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?

One of the most powerful moments of Francis’ pontificate was his Urbi et Orbi address on March 27, 2021. It was a stunning, dramatic scene: the Pope alone in a dark, looming piazza of St. Peter’s with the rain falling. It was an almost-theatrical manifestation of the feelings that lay heavy in our hearts. “For weeks now it has been evening…” 

I periodically return to the Pope’s address that evening, and this weekend is a perfect opportunity to read or re-read it. This Sunday’s Gospel is the same passage on which he meditated that Friday evening: the storm on the Sea of Galilee, found in Mark 4:35-41.

In his meditation, the Pope beautifully connects our situation of confusion and fear in the unexpected storm of the pandemic with the Apostles’ feelings that evening. He admits, “It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude.”

It is the only place in the Gospels, the Pope notes, where we see Jesus sleeping. Why does he sleep when the storm surrounds them? Because He trusts the Father.

Jesus calls the disciples to that same trust. Reproaching them, he asks them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” The Apostles had doubted in Jesus’ love. They had asked, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” 

He is the one who cares the most. And while He wants us to shake Him awake, we should do so with trust, knowing that He is never not in control. How often we ask the Lord the same question as the Apostles. When we face adversity in our lives, when our crosses seem too heavy, when we feel abandoned even by our family and friends, we turn to the Lord and question His love. Do you not see what is happening? Do you not care?

Throughout his meditation, the Pope repeats the words of Christ. Why are you afraid? Have you no faith? It is constant examination of conscience of us. How do I face the trials of each day? Do I have faith that the Lord is in control, even when it seems He is sleeping?

It is easy to have faith in the Lord when it is sunny. I can trust the Lord when I’m on dry ground. One of the lessons of the last year is that we become complacent when it is sunny. Our faith needs the test of the storm, or else we can trick ourselves into self-righteously believing we have faith and trust. But when that faith and trust is actually required, it is lacking.

The poignant reminder of the Pope still pierces my conscience, “We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick.” We shut our eyes to evil, injustice, and the suffering of others. We were content and complacent because we were in control. We could assert to be Christian because we were never challenged. But when the storm came, where was our faith? Our trust? Our charity?  

The last year gave us the opportunity grow in trust. But did we? Or do we persist in fear and doubt? Perhaps there are still storms raging around you in your life. Have you called on the Lord? It may seem like He is sleeping. Perhaps He wants you to shout louder.

“Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we flounder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

If it seems that Jesus is sleeping, it is because He wants you to trust Him. You can wake Him up, but do so in faith. “You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: ‘Do not be afraid’ (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, ‘cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us’ (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).”

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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College, and the Diocese of Nashville. She is currently a full-time Catholic speaker and writer. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her nine nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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