09 Aug 2020

St. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney, 9 August 2020

Most of Jesus’ miracles addressed people’s particular needs. Last Sunday He multiplied loaves and fishes to satisfy the hunger of the multitude.[1] The haul of fish and the changing of wine into water were on a similarly extravagant scale.[2] You might wonder if anyone really needed so much wine as He made for them at Cana, but if you watch the crowd-funded TV series, The Chosen, you’ll pick up the emotions, tension and potential humiliation around that wedding reception, and why the wine mattered so much. If people were hungry or thirsty, physically or spiritually, Jesus was there for them.

Then there were the sick. To many, Jesus restored life[3] or limb.[4] He gave sight to the blind,[5] healed lepers,[6] cast out demons and repaired the mentally ill.[7] He cured fever,[8] paralysis[9] and deafness,[10] haemorrhage, sclerosis and dropsy,[11] a withered hand and a severed ear.[12] He stilled life-threatening storms[13] as well as illnesses.[14] He forgave sins and restored the excommunicate to the community.[15] Whatever the physical, psychological, moral or spiritual ailment, Jesus was there to cure and care.

Just occasionally though, Jesus’ miracles seem to have been for His own benefit or for future generations, rather than any present need. At His birth there were a star and angels, at His baptism a heavenly voice, before His passion transfiguration, at His death darkness and earth-quake. On one occasion a fish delivered the temple tax and on another a fig tree withered with shame.[16] Perhaps His most Harry Potteresque trick was this morning’s one, when He walked on water and cajoled someone else to join Him (Mt 14:22-33).

So, is Jesus just showing off this morning? No, if we look more closely, we find a sign pregnant with meaning. First, there’s the dialogue between Jesus and the men. It’s during the fourth watch, that is in the hours before dawn. There’s a storm and the boat is taking on water. Just when they need Jesus most, He’s gone walkabout. Literally walking about, but on the water. They cry out in fear. “Oh my God! It’s a ghost! Help!” Jesus responds, “Coraggio! It’s Me! Be not afraid!” As soon as He returns to the boat, all is calm. In the dialogue between Fear and Courage, Jesus calms not only stormy seas but turbulent hearts as well.

There’s a second calling backwards and forwards today. Jesus calls to Simon: Elthe Ἐλθέ, Come. He immediately jumps out of the boat and starts walking towards Jesus. It’s anyone’s guess what was on his mind. But after Fear and Courage have conversed, it’s the turn of God and man to have the dialogue of Faith. I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. If He’s the one calling me, then walk on water I will. But Peter’s faith is only fleeting: as soon as he faces a headwind, he loses confidence and falters, loses faith and falls. Now he’s the one crying out “God help me!” And Jesus saves him. In the dialogue between Fear and Faith, Jesus raises us up, even out of the sea of death, to new life.

It’s no accident that Peter is the best supporting actor today. After all, he is the most faith-filled, spontaneous and responsive of the disciples. He’s the one confidently to heed Jesus’ call to come water-walking – and then to find himself sinking… More importantly, he’s the one designated by the Lord to be fisher of men, rock-solid foundation of the Church, shepherd of the whole flock. In due course, Peter’s boat will be the symbol of the Church.

Pope Paul VI and bishops guiding the barque of Peter ...

Tossed to and fro on the waves of history, the disciples in Peter’s boat hear Jesus’ call and cry out to Him. Today’s miracle is not intended for the needy of Jesus’ day or for His own ego: it’s a promise to us, that when we feel powerless, Christ hears our cries and by His power enables us to do super-human things. When Peter is moved by great faith, nothing can come between Him and Christ – not even the laws of physics! He discovers great reserves within himself and God making possible the humanly impossible. But when that link to God we call faith wavers, amidst the storms of the day or terrors of the night, human weakness is all too evident. We start to sink.

The great Danish philosopher-poet, Søren Kierkegaard, said “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”[17] It is certainly a common human experience. Some anxiety is perfectly healthy: if you are not anxious as you sink beneath the waves, you probably don’t appreciate what’s happening to you! Our COVID-19 pandemic has certainly ramped up anxiety levels for many and understandably so. But some anxiety is exaggerated or debilitating. Some shades into mental illness, which effects one in five Australians each year.[18] Young people feature disproportionately amongst those suffering anxiety, but it’s not uncommon in all age groups, sexes, ethnicities, professions and beliefs.[19]

In recognition of this challenge, the Australian Bishops have just released the social justice statement for 2020, To Live Life to the Full: Mental Health in Australia Today, and I commend it to your attention. Having faith doesn’t inoculate you to fear. But it might well give you some important resources to face your fears. When Jesus encountered a demoniac who was self-harming, He brought him such peace that people “saw the man dressed and in his right mind” (Mk 5:1-20; Lk 8:26-39). Many experience their relationship with Christ as an antidote to maladies of heart and mind.

Confessors, penitents and others recognise that the psychological and spiritual dimensions of the person are linked (CCC 1500-5); that identity, direction and community are important for both; that knowing one is infinitely loved by God and receiving moral and spiritual formation can ground a certain resilience to stress; that the Church can provide ‘cure of souls’, as well as mental health services, that bring healing; and that the Christian community can instantiate and model communion with the mentally ill. Our sacrament of the sick unites the cure of bodies, minds and souls (Jas 5:14-15; CCC 1499-1523). And every Mass is a prayer in the face of anxiety.

Speech Bubble: Oval: Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Prayer - Wikipedia

Immediately before Holy Communion we pray: “Deliver us, Lord we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress.” Like the apostles feeling abandoned in the storm or Peter sinking beneath the waves, we cry out to God in the Holy Eucharist, cry out to God that He may hear us. And we experience His hand taking ours and lifting us into the safety of the Barque of Peter and steering us to safe harbour.


Before Genuflecting

Because current circumstances continue to impede attendance at Mass and reception of Holy Communion, I invite those who are joining us by live-streaming to ask God that by spiritual communion they might receive the grace of sacramental communion. Offer this Mass for your loved ones, for yourselves and for all our world.

[1]     Mt 14:13-21; cf. Mt 15:32-9; Mk 6:30-44; 8:1-13; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1-15.

[2]     Lk 5:1-11; Jn 2:1-11; 21:1-14.

[3]     Mt 9:18,23-26; Mk 5:21-24,35-43; Lk 7:11-18; 8:40-42,49-56; Jn 11:1-46.

[4]     Mt 8:16-17; 12:10-13; 14:34-36; Mk 1:29-31; 6:53-56; Lk 4:40-41; 7:1-10; Jn 5:1-15.

[5]     Mt 9:27-31; 12:22-23; 20:29-34; Mk 8:22-26; 10:46-52; 11:14-23; Lk 18:35-43; Jn 9:1-38.

[6]     Mt 8:1-4; Mk 1:40-5; Lk 5:12-14; 17:11-19.

[7]     Mt 8:28-34; 12:22-23; 15:21-8,32-39; 17:14-21; Mk 1:21-8; 5:1-20; 7:24-30; 9:14-29; Lk 4:31-36; 8:26-39; 9:37-43; 11:14-23; 13:10-17.

[8]     Mt 8:14-15; Mk 1:29-31; Lk 4:38-39; Jn 4:43-64.

[9]     Mt 8:5-13; 9:1-8; Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26; 7:1-10; 13:10-17; Jn 5:1-9.

[10]    Mt 12:22-23; Mk 7:31-7; 9:32-3; Lk 13:10-17.

[11]    Mt 9:20-22; Mk 5:25-34; Lk 8:42-48; 13:10-17; 14:1-6.

[12]    Mt 12:9-14; Mk 3:1-6; Lk 6:6-11; 22:50-51

[13]    Mt 8:23-27; 14:22-23; Mk 4:35-41; Lk 8:22-25.

[14]    E.g. Jn 4:46-47.

[15]    E.g. Mt 8:1-4; 9:1-8; Mk 1:40-5; 2:1-12; Lk 5:12-14; 7:36-39; 17:11-19; Jn 8:1-11.

[16]    Mt 17:24-27; 21:18,22; Mk 11:12-14.

[17] Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin (1844).

[18] Lauren Cook, “Mental Health in Australia: A Quick Guide”, Research Paper Series 2018-19, 14 February 2019.

[19] In the past year 6.9% of young Australians experienced an anxiety disorder: D. Lawrence et al,  The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents: Report on the Second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (Canberra: Department of Health, 2015). Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute, Can We Talk? Seven Year Youth Mental Health Report 2012-18; Olivia Willis, “Mental health concerns increasingly common among young Australians,” ABC Health & Wellbeing 23 October 2019; Michaela Pascoe, “Nearly half of Australian school kids are stressed,” SMH 28 January 2018.

Welcome to St Mary’s Basilica in Sydney, for the Solemn Mass of the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time. We pray at this time for the people of Beirut suffering after the explosion and so much that has gone before; for those who have died or are grieving them, including many Lebanese-Australians; the injured and those whose homes or businesses have been destroyed; and for all who depend upon the port of Beirut. Across the Archdiocese we will be conducting an appeal to assist the victims this weekend.

Some have gathered at this cathedral and many more are joining us by live-streaming because of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. I ask you once again to join me in praying for those who have died from the virus this week past, especially in the state of Victoria, the sick and those caring for them, the anxious and at-risk, and those who are suffering economically, researching a cure or leading us through this time.

To everyone present, physically or virtually, a very warm welcome to you all.