Sunday, August 7, 2011

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a / Romans 9:1-5 / Matthew 14:22-33

We often find ourselves confused when we see and otherwise familiar face in a very different and unaccustomed setting. A child, for example, can be easily startled to see her teacher at the movie theater or her priest buying groceries. For her, teachers ought to be only in schools, priests only at church. Adults, too, can fall prey to the same phenomenon. We can see the face of the same janitor from work day after day, the same barista who serves us our morning coffee, but put those same faces in the park, or at the beach, or in a city far from home, and we find ourselves struggling to remember where and how we know them, even to recall their names.

What is true of our human relationships can also be true of the spiritual life. In our Gospel today, we hear of Jesus Christ walking across the storm-tossed sea. His disciples, who have been with him daily for quite some time in his ministry in Galilee, and had just experienced his miraculous feeding of the five thousand, nonetheless cannot recognize him. In this strange and unaccustomed place at this dark and unaccustomed hour, the disciples do not expect Jesus to be there, so they cannot believe that it is he. Even Peter can only act out of caution and doubt — "Lord, if it is you ..." — and not even the Lord's generous invitation to come to him is enough to keep him from sinking.

How very different the experience of the prophet Elijah on Horeb. Elijah, even more than the disciples on the stormy sea, was experiencing dark and terrible days. While he had seen God send fire from heaven, still he feared that he was the last faithful prophet in Israel, and he believed his life would meet a painful and terrible end at the hands of the wicked queen, Jezebel. Likewise, Horeb, although the accustomed place for God's appearing, had nonetheless in the past only witnessed revelations in cloud, fire, and thunder, full of majesty and awe. Yet, despite all this, despite his own fears and God's unlikely presence in a tiny whispering sound, a still, small voice, Elijah recognizes God all the same, hiding his face to honor the Lord's passing by.

What did Elijah know that Peter and the disciples did not? How can we learn to see as Elijah saw and recognize God where we are not accustomed to find him, greeting him with honor and joy rather than with a lack of faith?

The fact is that what works in recognizing familiar faces in human life works also in recognizing God's presence. When we are not merely around someone daily, but rather when we come to know the rich depth of their lives, coming to know them as persons with their own loves and fears, hobbies and deep commitments, then we find it no real surprise when they turn up in our lives outside the normal routine. So also is it with God. The more we allow ourselves to know the fulness of the divine mystery as he has revealed to us through Jesus Christ, the more we grow in what God has spoken in the Scriptures as taught faithfully by Tradition and the pastors of the Church, the less we will will be surprised to find God in unaccustomed places and persons. We will know to look for God not only in church, but also at work or school, in prisons and in soup kitchens. We will learn to seek him not only in our priests, our family, and the friendly faces in the pews, but also in the homeless, in migrants and refugees, in those broken in body and mind, in convicted felons and in those who work the streets.

Brothers and sisters, God is always present to us, and through the Scriptures, through the sacraments, and through the life of the Church, he enriches us with an abundance of ways to know him better. Are we ready today, as we receive our Lord at the altar, to open our eyes just a little more, and be ready to find him in the still, small voices, the tiny whispering sounds where we did not expect him to be?

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