How Strong is your Faith?
Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the Sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. "It is a ghost," they said, and they cried out in fear. At once (Jesus) spoke to them, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter said to him in reply, "Lord, if it you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, "Truly, you are the Son of God."
Jesus desires our faith to be strong, really strong. He issues a surprising and powerful challenge to St. Peter in today's Gospel. After stepping out of the boat and beginning to walk on water, afeat that requires serious faith, St. Peter then begins to sink and cry out to the Lord who extends His hand and rescues the singing apostle. Then, our Lord says to Peter, "How little faith you have! Why did you falter?"
Let me start by noting that this Gospel story gives us three god reasons to believe in Jesus. First, He walks on water. Second, He clams the storm. God alone exercises this kind of power over nature. Jesus is God. He is the Father's only-begotten Son. He is the Word-made-flesh who came and dwelt among us. Third, Peter's call from the water, "Lord, save me!" points to the most important reason that the son of God took on our human nature - to redeem us from our sins. Belief in Jesus is essential t true human flourishing.
Jesus teaches us today how to grow in faith. He demonstrates with the example of His own life the significance of prayer. "He went up on a mountain by Himself to pray." Our personal relationship with God, which is fundamental to our Christian life and to a strong faith, has to be nurtured by taking time to be alone with God, to rest in His presence and to listen to Him in the Scriptures. Jesus, while fully God, was also fully human. In His human nature, He turned regularly each day to the Father in prayer. Here, as in countless other elements of Jesus' life, He say to us, "For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done . . . " (In 13:15). There is no deep faith in Jesus without deep prayer.
Jesus teaches us another critical way to grow in faith - learn to keep our eyes fixed on Him. Peter steps out of the fishing vessel and begins, amazingly, to walk on water toward Jesus. However, when he gets distracted and focuses on the strong wind, he takes his eyes of of Jesus and begins to sink. Difficulties arise in life; storms come our way. They are inevitable. If we can keep the eyes of our faith fixed on Christ, we can weather these storms. By keeping our eyes fixed on the Lord, we find wisdom and strength in Him that lifts us beyond our mere human capacities; we learn to trust that God is there and never abandons us; and we do not grow weary or discouraged.
Finally, our Blessed Lord teaches us that true faith flows from love and love casts out all fear. When our Lord first comes on the scene in our Gospel, He is walking on the lake toward them. The disciples, at first, think He is a ghost and are terrified. Jesus rebukes His disciples: "Get hold of yourselves. It is I. Do not be afraid." In time, these disciples will come to accept the incredible love that Jesus was pouring into their lives. They embrace His mercy for their stubbornness, selfishness and sins. They accept the suffering He endures for their sakes. They realize that He came to reveal God to them as well as the Gospel way of life that singularly leads to blessedness and joy. They gradually grasp that He was not doing these mighty deeds out of some kind of generic love of humanity, but that He personally cared for each one of them in a way that transformed their lives. In time, they learned that "perfect love casts out all fear" (1 Jn 4:18).
So, how strong is your faith? At its core, faith is a gift from God; so, ask the Lord to increase your faith, "I believe. Help my unbelief" (Mk 9:14). Take responsibility for nurturing the faith you have received with a commitment to 10-15 minutes of daily, personal prayer. Develop the virtue of keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus during the storms of life. It takes a great deal of practice. Finally, open your hearts to His amazing love, which will grant you faith to more mountains.
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