Sunday Homily, 13th August 2023 – Fr Paul Rowse, OP
To be good at Christianity, we need a good memory. We can expect that the people who cry out to heaven are those who remember something about God’s power. So, when we cry out to heaven for help, we’re doing so on the foundation of remembering that God acted before and can do so again. This is the pattern of the Collect (or opening prayer) of the Mass: “O God, who did this thing long ago, do this other similar thing for us now. Amen.” Peter speaks to the ‘ghost’ on the waters, not because the form he sees could be a ghost, but because it could be his friend. Elijah covered his face when he heard the small voice, not because he heard a small voice, but because he knew it from experience to be the voice of God.
A working faith, the kind of faith we need, is past- and future- looking: past, because we keep the memory of God’s work alive in gratitude; future, because we hope that he can meet our acute need as he did before. For all the bluster and occasional shows of strength, often we are no better off than the boat the disciples were on.
To help us into a working faith: you might call to mind now a significant challenge which is looming on the horizon for you. It’ll be important to be specific if you can. Make it a big one: health, employment, finances, love, life, sickness, death. Now, see if you can remember whether there is a similar event in your past to this one. That’s the memory you’re going to use as the inspiration for prayer. That past event similar to this big one on the horizon was an occasion when God helped you out. Clearly, he did help you back then because you’re here: you struggled, you survived, you succeeded, you flourished. But after the struggle, you returned to God’s Church. Own that in prayer: “Lord, you once helped me with that, and I thank you for it; so help me now with this. Amen.”
It's good to realise that the Lord held Peter up on the water. Sure, Peter’s faith is one thing, but the Lord’s power working through faith is another. It’s not the case that Peter’s faith did all the work. The Lord has chosen faith, trust, belief in him as the necessary condition we need to meet before he gets things moving for us. We don’t think for a second that if you just believe hard enough, trust blindly enough, that everything is going to be OK. When things turn out, it’s the Lord who has stepped into your life because you have let him into it. It’s up to the Lord as to how things turn out – we know this. But the Lord is good. The Psalm tells us the Lord’s help is near for those who fear him; that he will make us prosper; that justice and peace surround him. Let’s allow all that we’ve heard in our readings and seen with our own eyes be the encouragement we need to let the Lord into this difficult, challenging situation. Ask him to meet the real needs of your life. Yes, much will be at stake, but the alternative is to face the difficulty alone, and the Lord doesn’t want that for you. He is God with us; he is God with you.
If you’ve never had a moment in which the Lord came through for you, there are a couple I can offer just now. The first is personal to you and is based on why you’re here. What happened in the past that makes you think there’s something good on offer here? I’m sure it’s more than socialisation: that’d be a good beginning, but it’s not sustaining, and you’re here for the long haul. Why are you here? Might there be something missing from your life which you know you cannot provide for yourself but only God can? If you can put your finger on why you’re a practicing Catholic, you’ll have the foundation for your personal prayer.
The other is common to us all. The Lord’s cross has won life beyond death for us. We know there are good things which come through the cross, foremost of all is a life without death: the resurrection. In thanksgiving for the sacrifice the Lord made for us, we take our place before his altar in hope of receiving all that we need so that our life would resemble his. For the Lord is calling us from what we know into a life we don’t know much about, other than that we need it and he is there in it. We are not alone in this; we are with him.