Have you ever experienced the overpowering force of nature? Was it a hurricane, a thunder storm, or perhaps a blizzard? Years ago, a surprise summer storm with thunder, severe lightning, and driving rain caught me off guard. I was with my four young children in a wooded area with peaceful walking paths when the rumble of thunder and flash of lightning appeared suddenly and forcefully. Little did I know that a clear blue sky could darken within minutes. I remember praying for protection as the conditions deteriorated and I navigated us out of the woods. How grateful I was to safely reach the shelter of our car.
My experience comes to mind when I read today’s Gospel of St. Mark. “Let us cross to the other side.” These words uttered by Jesus were not unusual, particularly to those Apostles who were fishermen. Yet those words led to a harrowing and transforming experience. Now, choppy waters, fog, and unforeseen squalls have always been part of a fisherman’s life, but the storm to come was far from average. This was what some may call a “perfect storm”, one of such ferocity and magnitude that even seasoned fishermen feared for their lives. It was catastrophic, with driving winds and water filling their boat.
We have heard the expression, “Leave it to the professionals.” Well, this boat was in the hands of professionals, and it wasn’t going well at all. Can you imagine the fright of the Apostles who were not fishermen?
One detail that I had not previously observed was the mention of other boats being with Jesus. In addition to their own plight, the Apostles were viewing other vessels in distress. Seeing other boats tossed about like toys would surely drive home the gravity of the storm. Witnessing others in peril can have a way of distracting and even paralyzing one from action. They lost sight of the fact that they had Jesus, the Son of Man, on board. Overcome by fear, they awakened Jesus.
We, as believers, may be critical of the Apostles for their panic. After all, they had witnessed Jesus healing the sick and driving demons from souls. This occurrence was different, however, because their own lives were in jeopardy. In their distress, they questioned Jesus’ concern for them. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” In response, Jesus, by His very word, rebuked the wind and calmed the sea. He then asked His Apostles, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Did their personal crisis blind them to who Jesus was?
The Apostles hadn’t just witnessed a miracle. Their lives were spared by it. “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” St. Mark notes that the Apostles were filled with “great awe.” They were dealing with the Divine, God Almighty, who has dominion over all.
When I ponder the Apostles’ experience, I can only imagine their quandary. Jesus was divine, capable of controlling the forces of nature. Their experience reflected Job’s writing of God’s power over nature. “Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!” Today’s psalm (107) is parallel to their ordeal. “They cried to the LORD in their distress; from their straits he rescued them, He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze, and the billows of the sea were stilled. “This storm allowed the Apostles to experience the wondrous power of God, and yet, He knew them by name.
We too can be in awe of this reality. God the Almighty, Creator of all, brought each of us into being and knows each of us by name. There is something humbling about that. The forces of nature remind us of our tiny place in an immense universe, yet God placed us here, loves us beyond measure, and knows us intimately. Through the suffering of Christ, we may have eternal life. As St. Paul says in the second reading, “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor 5:17)
I love this Gospel because it seems to be an allegory for us all. Throughout our lives, Jesus invites us, like the Apostles, to “cross to the other side.” We do not know what may be ahead. We may not be fishermen, but we have our chosen vocations and specialties. We may know the waters of our professions, our politics, and our families. We may feel prepared and in control, yet storms arise that can bring us to our knees. We may humbly recognize that we do not have dominion over all. This revelation may lead some to fear and despair. Do we realize that Jesus is in our boat? We are not alone. Do we persevere in prayer, trusting that God hears us, loves us, and is in control? Do we trust in God’s will? Are we living what we profess to believe? Some storms may be God’s way of challenging us to assess our priorities and our relationship to Him.
I remember a time in my life when I was entering a storm. My mother, who was advanced in age, came down with a fever and shortness of breath, and she was hospitalized for evaluation. I recall standing in a hospital corridor when a resident emerged from an examining room and briefed me on my mother’s condition. My mother was in respiratory failure and was far more ill than we had recognized. The doctor was preparing me for what may occur. As we spoke, I felt like a weight had fallen on my shoulders. What was to come? While I was deep in thought, I turned to see a Catholic priest approaching me. He introduced himself as one of the hospital chaplains. He simply said that he had observed my conversation with the doctor, and he sensed that I had received bad news. I confirmed that his assessment was quite accurate. I identified myself as a Catholic and asked for his prayers. He assured me of his prayers and support for my mom and our family. I remember that he advised me to trust – in the medical staff, in my family, and most especially, in God. He assured me that I would not be alone in what was to come. His words were so comforting at that moment and in the coming weeks. My chaplain was ever-present, visiting my mom and anointing her before she passed away. I really feel that God had intervened in this storm through the ministry of this dedicated chaplain.
What a comfort it is to ponder that God who created the universe with its majesty, beauty, and force is also the God who created each of us. He calls us by name and wants us to trust in His provision. Storms will arise in our lives, but we must remember that God loves us and is all powerful. Sometimes He calms the storm. Other times, He sustains us as we encounter and deal with the storm around us and within us.
The true test of faith is ultimately how we respond to the storm. Do we take on our challenges as if we alone control our fate? Do we despair, convinced that we are powerless and at the mercy of others? Either of the above will lead us to a negative outcome. In times of trial, I believe that Jesus is calling us to a deep trust that God is in our midst always. As St. Paul says, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phillippians, 4: 6-7).
God is in our midst always, in the darkness and in the light. He is in the storm and in the calm. We are called to trust when we must cross to the other side.
Have you ever faced a storm that tested your faith? Did you recognize God’s presence in the storm?