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Bishop's Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 13, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu; St. Philomena Church, Kalaupapa]

If someone asks for the ability to step out of a boat in the middle of a storm and to walk on the water, and then actually does so, I am not sure I would call him a man of little faith!  That was a bold thing Peter did, trusting that it was indeed the Lord who was there outside the boat and not a ghost, as the others seemed to think.  Yet we hear that Jesus says to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  He says this, of course, after Peter is standing on the water and walking toward him, but then becomes frightened by the elements around him rather than focusing on going toward Jesus, as was his original intent.  Because he lost his focus, he paid more attention to the dangers than to the wonderful adventure that Jesus had allowed him to experience.  Yet in his merciful love, Jesus reached out to save him so that Peter could learn – as he did! – to be a man of great faith.

This incident took place, of course, as Jesus had sent the disciples off to go to the other shore.  And I believe Jesus is still sending us, his beloved disciples, to go ahead of him to the other shore, so that there we can announce his love and bring back those who have strayed away from him.  Just in the past couple of weeks I spoke to a nurse at my doctor’s office who said, “I was raised a Catholic.”  When I asked her if she still practiced her faith, she said no, she just drifted away from it.  I also had a seat companion on a flight to a neighbor island who said he used to go to one of our parishes.  When I asked him where he goes now, he said he does not go to Mass.  Again, there was no particular anger or animosity about the faith, but he just drifted away.  I am sure you know many such people.  In fact studies indicate that of all those who still identify themselves as Catholics, only about a quarter of them attend Mass regularly.  We might say that they are not people of no faith, but they are people of little faith.  When the distractions of the world, the race for success, or the busyness of life set in, something has to give, and so they choose worship, bowing down before the one who truly is the Son of God, as the thing that is jettisoned in the storm.

It is one thing to lament this fact, but it is another to have the faith to step out of the boat and to reach out to them with the message that Jesus is physically here in Word and sacrament, waiting for them to show them his love and mercy and to physically embrace them every Sunday in the Eucharist.  As St. Paul did for the Jews living in Rome, they need to be reminded who they are and that they are valued members of the Body of Christ, sharing in “the adoption, the covenants, … [and] the worship.”  It is easy for us to stay in this boat of the church, where everything is nice and safe, rather than to take the great risk of being rejected, sinking down into ridicule, or even being tossed about by the winds of criticism.  Yet Jesus calls us to walk on that water, so that we can reach out to others who think of him only as a ghost or as some person from the history books; so that they can recognize who he is and bow down before him in worship to thank him for satisfying all their longings and to declare to him, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

Sometimes we do not go out of ourselves to evangelize, to share the Good News of the risen and living Jesus Christ with others, because we are expecting that their response will be immediate and dramatic, like a hurricane, or an earthquake, or a fire.  Yet very often their response is a tiny whispering sound, a little voice that gently speaks in their hearts that calls them subtly to come, bow down and worship.  Or perhaps we do not step out of the boat of comfort because we think we may be overcome by their questions, or be tossed about by our own hypocrisies.   Yet we come here to fix our eyes on Jesus, whose presence here in the form of bread and wine is at least as miraculous as was his presence walking on the surface of the water.

And here Jesus calls us to walk on the water, to take the great risk of reaching out to those who do not truly know him or who have forgotten who they are.  These are our family members, our co-workers, our schoolmates.  These are the homeless and the hopeless.  These are those who think they are floating on top of the world because of their success but do not see the real dangers of being sunk forever.  Gently, with his tiny whispering voice, Jesus calls each of us to step out of the safety and comfort of our boats, and to walk to him across the water, so that others may be inspired with our faith – even if it falters a bit – and ultimately come to bow down and worship the one who is truly the Son of God.