Friday, August 8, 2014

Homily: The 19th Sunday of the Year: 2014

the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them.

The storm in this Sunday’s Gospel counts as a ‘perfect storm’. The Oxford English Dictionary gives  references going back to 1718 for “perfect storm,” but the earliest citations use the phrase positively, as in a “perfect storm” of applause. But more lately a storm is “perfect” from the standpoint of the storm, not from our standpoint, and perhaps also perfect from God’s standpoint. Meteorologists now define a ‘perfect storm’ as a combination of factors like Hurricane Grace in 1991 which inspired the  Book and Movie: warm air coming from one direction, cool dry air from another direction and tropical moisture. Maybe the storm in the Gospel does not qualify as a perfect storm in these terms but it does in theo9logical terms.

There is nothing quite like a hurricane to dwarf human presumption. Hurricane winds are at least 74 mph, that's by definition.  However, winds over 110 mph are common.  This means that flying debris becomes a serious threat to lives, buildings, cars, and animals. If the wind breaks a window in a house, the mass amount of air rushing into the house then looks for a way out of the house. That usually means more blow out winds and often the air will go up blowing off the roof.

I remember that during Hurricane Katrina NPR commentator Daniel Shore thought it was a good time to mock the advocates of intelligent design but saying that it did not seem very intelligent to him.

But most folks are probably humbled by the display of these powerful forces of nature, if not humbled into awe before God’s creation, at least humbled enough to realize that the universe is much more mysterious than they had suspected.

In the Gospel, hurricane or not, the disciples are pressed to worship Jesus, when he displays his authority over the forces of nature: “the wind ceased and those in the boat worshipped him saying ‘truly you are the Son of God.’” As Fr. von Balthasar puts it: “the eye-opening sovereignty over wind and waves all reveal better than his teaching and miraculous healing how loftily he exceeds their poor humanity.” Better put still it reveals that he is a poor man like them but he is poor man voluntarily which means he is from God.

It might not take a destructive storm to get us to this point but it may well take something tremendously disturbing about our human existence, some experience of the dangers that surround that surround us, dangers which we cannot control or manage or even understand, something I might add, which is much more frightening than a ghost. That is of course the primitive religious impulse –mysterium tremendum – the mystery which causes us to tremble.  but it is no less real for that. If you want to abolish religion, you will have to abolish the mystery of human impotence before forces beyond human control, the mystery of innocent suffering, and the mystery of evil.

The resistance to this fact of human existence is obviously due to the illusion of human self-sufficiency The TV weatherman in the movie says: “you could be a meteorologist all your life... and never see something like this. . . . a disaster of epic proportions. ... the perfect storm.” Actually all human beings inevitably see perfect storms like this: ‘trouble, need, sickness or any other adversity.” Death, the death of those we love and our own death. One way or another the illusion that we can handle anything that comes our way is broken, or that the  Doctor will take care of it or new technology will take care of it or the Government will take of it or a psychologist will take care of it.  But that illusion has to be broken. We need perfect storms. In the telling phrase: ‘we have to hit rock bottom”, like Peter.

As scary as all this it is, it is still the very reason why we can take his words seriously: "Take heart, it is I; have no fear." If I tell you ‘have no fear’ or someone else tells you ‘have no fear’, however well-intentioned, you can take it with a grain of salt. But if Jesus tells us ‘have no fear’ that you can take perfectly seriously, not because he is one more well-intentioned friend but because  he is ‘truly the Son of God’, the one who grabs Peter, as he begins to sink, the Love which created, redeemed, sustains and rules all things. The Lord over even perfect storms.

the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them.

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