For much of 2020, it has felt like we’ve been living in a suspended animation.  Seemingly everything has been upended by the viral pandemic.  Even as things quote/unquote “return to normal” it still doesn’t feel that way, does it?  It’s not as stark or as severe as in March when there were curfews, few stores remained open, and we were told not even to be surrounded by friends or family but to “shelter in place” – lest you or the people you were returning to might be carrying the virus and it would spread to them.  Back in March, students from Montclair were spending their Spring Break on a Mission Trip to Albania and one of the initial worries was that perhaps they would be forced to quarantine for 2 weeks upon their return.  Just that possibility was so foreign and evoked images – of people in Hazmat suits with our students isolated in hospitals or some cold institutional setting.

Hi everyone here’s my talk for the opening of our 40 Hour Devotion at RedHawkCatholic.  To join us for this devotion, or to see videos of talks, go to https://www.40hoursnj.com/home  Thanks so much for stopping by to read this and even more for sharing it on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and everywhere else people share social media posts and your feedback and comments! For the audio version you can get them at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. Thanks again… I hope you and yours experience all of God’s blessings today and always! In Christ – Father Jim

Some 7 months later, all of these things have seeped into our consciousness and become almost a part of our lives and routines.  Great numbers of people who’ve had to “quarantine” for 14 days, that it’s not treated with the same sense of terror and without images of being locked in some medical facility but more of an incredible annoyance…  The sight of people wearing masks in seemingly every situation imaginable, something unthinkable a year ago, has become accepted and in fact more expected then the sight of being without them.

But as much as we’ve adapted – all of this has really added a major dose of fear into our collective conciousness.  Most therapists, psychological experts would have told you that the pre-pandemic world wasn’t exactly navigating stress, anxiety really well.  Now just routine, ordinary things are difficult.  Even with all of these great modern conveniences and technological advances – 20 years ago there wasn’t skype (which I realize even that I’m dating myself as one of my former students said to me, dripping with condescension “Father, you’re the only one I know who still uses Skype” – Sorry I guess I missed a memo somewhere…)  But seriously, live streaming, tele-communications, social media for all of their drawbacks (and there’s a lot of them) it’s doubtful we’d be as productive, or connected as we are right now in this less than ideal time without all of them.  That being said, for all the pluses, the newer stresses and frustrations that people have had to contend with are taxing.  A friend told of her son in second grade who when his zoom froze, he just had this melt-down that turned into a tantrum that reminded her of when he was a 2 year old. The “new” normal, the “new” everyday has gotten so much harder for everyone…

All of those unprecedented experiences, kind of displace the normal, the everyday fears, worries, stresses that people had to contend with. At least initially.  But those fears of failure… sickness… death… The litany of questions people ask us or we ask ourselves in no particular order – What am I doing with my life?  Where am I going?  How do people perceive me?  How can I afford to take care of myself, my loved ones?  Why is my loved one sick? They never really go away even if we’re preoccupied by the latest shut-down orders or mask mandates.

Not to add another layer of despair – but to be honest, those questions are ongoing throughout each of our lives.  At every age and stage of our lives, with each transition we find ourselves in, those fears, anxieties and worries seem to accompany each of them… The High School graduate, the college graduate, the professional transferring to a new job all has to contend with meeting new people and worrying about friendships, relationships – will the old ones last, what will the new ones be, look like…  The anxiety over what school to go to, will manifest itself once again over what major to study, what career path to take, where to work, where to live…  And we’re never going to be immune to the possibility of illness – whether in ourselves or those closest to us.  And nothing can alleviate the pains experienced with the loss of someone we love.

One of the dangers all of these realities causes is the turning inward we can do almost as an impulse.  When we experience fears, doubts, anxieties – those questions all cause us to have a self focus… What am I supposed to do?  What will happen to me?  What’s wrong with me?

Another truth, another reality – no matter the age, stage of life we’re in – no matter what it is we’re facing, we’re dealing with – there’s a desire, spoken or unspoken for someone to be with us, who will help us, take care of us, make us feel safe, secure.  Whether it’s a child crying out for Mommy or Daddy… the college student finding that professor, that advisor that helps them navigate whatever overwhelms them in planning their course of studies…  The person who’s received a terrifying diagnosis and meets the doctor who they entrust themselves to – we recognize that as much as we have to stand on our own two feet and confront things and be independent, that there’s always going to be situations we face where we need the expertise of someone more learned… the experience of someone more mature… the care and concern of someone who notices us, recognizes us, loves us.

Which is why we are here.  We come as ourselves, as imperfect, sinful, frightened people. We come to meet and encounter Jesus.  Who speaks into each and everyone of our fears… Who dispels the darkness… Who casts out the demons that torment us… Who heals us… Who wipes away our tears… Who loves us.

We begin this extended period of time, this 40 hour devotion, these 40 hours with Jesus listening to words from the Gospel of Mark.  Coming from the fourth chapter of this Gospel, it is early into Jesus’ public ministry where He has already called his first followers, done some significant miraculous healings, preachings, appointed 12 as His apostles.  So some important things have already taken place, but it’s still early yet for even those who have changed their lives after they have encountered Christ.

It is then when this unforgettable event happens one night:          

On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, “Let us cross to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up.  Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”* The wind ceased and there was great calm.  Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”  They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this that  even the wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4: 35-41)

Who then is this that even the  wind and sea obey Him.

Think about that.  Try to picture yourself in that scene.  Imagine the terror of that moment.  We’re not talking about a breeze gently through the autumn leaves or some idyllic day at the beach staring out as waves roll in the water.  We’re talking Weather Channel reporter standing out in the middle of a Category 3 Hurricane approaching the shoreline where you’re half listening to his report and half wondering if the guy will make it back to his news van.  Think of the ferocity of those natural elements whenever we’ve experienced a storm and watched from the relative safety of our homes.  Now picture being on a boat when such elements have suddenly emerged, and you’re surrounded by water, feeling completely vulnerable, helpless.

That’s where the disciples on boat with Jesus find themselves.  As Jesus is asleep in their midst, they try to do everything they can imagine to navigate the sudden storms.  You can imagine Peter saying “I’ve got it” Andrew countering “you need to do this” while James and John argue about what there father did this one time when they encountered something similar.  You can picture the frustration as each and every one of their techniques, suggestions seems completely useless as the situation grows worse and worse and more and more dire by the moment.  They go from not wanting to wake Jesus, not wanting to embarrass themselves that they don’t have everything under control, that no they don’t know what to do – to being real, to being vulnerable – to express their utter terror:  JESUS WE ARE PERISHING.

The Gospel recounts a seemingly quick progression and resolution of, well everything.  Jesus wakes up, rebukes the wind, speaks to the sea and “the wind ceased and there was a dead calm.”

Who then is this that even the  wind and sea obey Him.

As each of these men individually failed to come up with some solution, as they as a collective group were unable to deal with the rapidly deteriorating situation – the immediacy of this being resolved by Jesus’ very word was indeed awesome.

But it was equally terrifying.  It was one thing to see a leper healed or a paralytic walking at Jesus command.  Those were inexplicable but it was something they only experienced as an eye witness.  It was something that was astounding.  But it was also something so out of the norm on every level for everyone… and it was removed from their personal experience.  They saw and witnessed the miracle – but they didn’t know how it felt to have been in those broken situations, thinking there was no hope and then finding Hope and everything else restored in meeting Jesus.

Being on a boat and sailing – that is part of their everyday life.  They knew and had experienced every conceivable ebb and flow to it.  In the blink of an eye though, they are plummeted into the depths of vulnerability where they could relate to the leper or the paralytic.  In spite of all their experience, expertise, knowledge now they needed saving.   And in another blink of an eye, Jesus does just that.

Even more, Biblical scholars point out that calming the wind and sea would evoke for these Jewish men the remembrance that it was in the very opening chapters of Genesis, where we first heard and learned of God’s omnipotence where He is presiding over the very act of creation and is summoning the winds and waters by His very word.  So all the titles, all the images, and speculation they had about the “Messiah” the “Lamb of God” whatever conceptions or ideas they had surrounding those things hadn’t prepared them to recognize that Jesus was in fact God Himself.  God had indeed become man and dwelt among them.  He had been there all along, they had seen Him, listened to Him, witnessed what He had done, but the reality of who Jesus was – that He was God Himself among them, hadn’t really captured their minds, their hearts, their visions quite yet.  God had come down to be with them, to be intimately close and present to them yet they didn’t quite catch the fact that He had done so… that He was in fact sleeping in the boat with them.

That’s why we’re here.

That’s why we need to be here.  As we know all too well the terrifying winds that seem to be blowing in multiple directions all at the same time.  As waves are crashing and the ferocity of flood waters seem to be gushing in that all makes us believe we’re perishing, our nation is perishing, our world is perishing.

We go through our litany of fears and worries – some imaginary, most probably not… that seem to increase by the day.  We go from our own lives and families and our own personal lists – to bigger events that have everyone on edge:

– seeing the anger and division of a nation preparing for another election in less than 10 days: with everyone on edge as both sides have demonized the other; as media and leaders have eroded trust in one another and the principles that founded and guided the nation for close to 250 years…

–  recognizing the fragility of life that a virus could cause widespread fear, illness and death in both the wealthiest and poorest of nations.   Understandably people worry that we are in fact perishing.

But – do we go to Jesus with these fears, worries and anxieties?  Do we recognize He has not abandoned us, or forsaken us, that no He is not punishing us?  Or maybe that’s getting to far ahead… even more foundational – do we believe that “even the wind and sea obey Him?”   Throughout the Old and New Testaments we recognize how God has gifted humanity, gifted us with the ultimate of gifts – of free will.  He takes the incredible risk of creating creation and for humanity, the crown and glory of His creation, who He makes in His own image and likeness, in order for us to to truly be in His image and likeness, He equips us with free will.  He allows us to freely choose to listen to Him, to follow Him, to Love Him – or not.

In Jesus, in God became Man, in God who dwelt and dwells among us… And here right now He draws infinitely yet intimately closer to us.  Vulnerable under the least threatening of appearances and accessible in the most common of elements making His real body and blood as real and present to us in the Eucharistic Host.

Yes, Jesus has stepped into this space, place, time… We too have met Him and encountered Him in a variety of ways.  Most especially as Baptized, initiated Catholic Christians… as people who have met Him in the scriptures and in our interactions with the poor… So yes, Jesus has entered into our lives…

But what about our lists of fears, anxieties, doubts and worries?  How many of us feel like we’re on the boat? Jesus, it’s getting a little windy and wet up here…

The one whom the wind and sea obey is the way out of a life of fear; the truth to all the questions that overwhelm us; the life to a world that is threatened by a culture of death…  But do we want Him or not?  Or rather do we want Him or just want Him to fix our fears and worries.  Like – Hey Jesus get us a vaccine so we don’t have to worry about COVID anymore.  Or Jesus everything will be fine if so and so wins the election (I’m reasonably sure Jesus is rolling his eyes on that one) Jesus help me to get this job, get into this school… find a girl friend…cure this disease – hey you did it for those guys in the Gospel, why not me?

That always seems to be the stumbling block for many.  We hear these awesome stories and wonder where’s our tremendous sign, where’s our tremendous feat – where’s our miracle?  The thing is, not that we shouldn’t share all the hings that sadden, or discourage or frighten us.  But too often we are looking at Jesus as kind of like a “Jack of all trades” or “Jesus of all trades” – Mr fix it who we want to come in and fix things here – interestingly to our image, design and plan.  And that’s the problem.  That’s why often we’re discouraged in our prayer thinking “its not working, He’s not doing what I want, what I need.”  We’re too self reliant.  And in a real sense we don’t realize that we’re not actually putting ourselves into Jesus’ hands and letting Him take control.

The apostles that fateful night did not anticipate the wind and sea obeying the very word of Jesus.  Interesting though that Jesus was there the whole time and seemingly sound asleep.  Was He disinterested?  No He was at Peace.  He was perfectly in tune with His Father’s will and never wavered in obedience and submission to that.  So while the winds and sea were very much real and present, Jesus was not disturbed by them.  When the apostles finally go to Him, recognizing that there’s nothing else they can do, there’s no obvious way to safety – they are putting themselves in humble submission to Jesus.  They have no other choice: “We are perishing”.  And rather than speaking words of comfort to them, or giving them advice on how to navigate the seas, or what they could do or should do to survive this moment… or the next… or the next -to their cries “we are perishing”  He responds No you’re not. 

And neither are we.

That is the epitome of the good news that is the heart of Jesus’ message to you and me.  We are not perishing.  He has indeed come to save us.  But we have to have that bigger vision.  It’s not about saving us from that embarrassing failure, or the humiliations of not keeping up with what is current, and trending…  It’s not about saving us from experiencing tough times or difficult moments.  It’s not even about saving us from the windy times or choppy waters.

It’s much greater than that.  It’s about saving us from all that ails every human soul since we’ve had to leave Eden.  Saving us from Evil and the evil one- from the things that destroy life – from sin, from even death itself.  When we get in alignment with that awesome truth – when we let those promises to seep into the depths of our hearts and souls – when we begin to live our life confident in this new life we received when we became His – baptized into His death and eternally united in His Resurrection (Romans 6: 3-11) – when we reflect on the nourishment we receive as we dare to receive His very body and blood – that is meant to cause us to live differently – not denying all that points to the frailty of a world that is perishing, but unmoved by those signs.  We don’t say it as a question.  We know who this is that even the  wind and sea obey Him.