Wind & Waves

Homily for August 13, 2017 (19th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a; Psalm 85; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

I still occasionally see those “No Fear” window decals—usually on the back window of a pick-up or SUV.  Whenever I do, my reaction is basically the same as when they first appeared years ago.  I chuckle and remember another saying, “No brain, no pain.”

I can also understand why some people want or need to avoid fear:  it’s uncomfortable, and for some who suffer from things like chronic anxiety or panic attacks, fear can be debilitating.  It’s nothing to play around with but it need not overwhelm us, either.  In fact, fear is not only a natural part of life; it’s also a helpful part of life.  It’s a critical response to danger, real or perceived.  Whether we’re fleeing from something big and hairy with fangs and claws or “pulling an all-nighter” to prepare for an exam or finish a term paper, fear helps us to survive.  At the same time, our ability to overcome or work through fear is necessary for us to thrive and be the people God created us to be.

Fear drove Elijah to Mt. Horeb.  He had been faithful to his mission as the sole remaining prophet of the LORD in a land that had been led into idolatry by its King and Queen, Ahab and Jezebel.   After Elijah demonstrated God’s power the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel, Jezebel was determined to have him killed.  He fled, journeyed for 40 days, and arrived at Mt. Horeb. It was there he encountered God—not in a strong wind, an earthquake or fire but in “a tiny whispering sound”--and was given the strength to return to his prophetic mission.

FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, drives many people today to their mobile phones and tablets.  A different kind of FOMO—one focused not on himself but others—drove St. Paul to feel anguish in his heart for his fellow Jews who had refused to accept Jesus as the Christ.  His reflection in our second reading reminds us of how their faith—the Torah, the writings and the prophets—remains the foundation for our own.

After succumbing to his characteristic impulsiveness, fear of being overcome by the wind and waves led St. Peter to cry out and reach out for Jesus.   Wind and waves come to us in many forms:  illness or the death of a loved one, loss of a job or some other financial reversal, a difficult exam, or complicated relationship.  Sometimes those experiences can feel overwhelming.  Like Peter, we can feel initially in control of a situation only to find ourselves about to drown.  We can also know that when we cry out and reach out to the Lord, he will be there for us.

We don’t have to pretend we have “no fear.”  Rather, we are called to know our fears in faith and to know the one who has the power to help us to overcome it.  +