Monday, 1 August 2011

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

1 Kings 19:9.11-13; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

A while ago I happened to notice this statement from Fr Ron Rolheiser OMI: We're finding it more difficult to dwell in a universe inhabited by unseen presences: the presence of God, saints, one another. Today's world is reduced to what is physical, what can be measured, seen, touched, tasted, smelled. We're mystically tone-deaf, all the goods are in the shop window.

These words struck a chord with me as I had been wrestling with the responses I imagined people would have to the Gospel of today - the Gospel of Jesus walking on water in the middle of a storm. I could hear the cynical chuckles, ‘Yeah, sure, walking on the water’.

Fr Ron was basing his thoughts on a book called Sacred Heart, Gateway to God by Wendy Wright. She was a struggling Hollywood actress, more of an agnostic than a believer, when, while killing time one afternoon in a Los Angeles library, she picked a book about St. Hubert to read about her husband's middle name.

At first she was fascinated by the descriptions of Hubert, a scholar, a bishop, and a diplomat. But then: I was chugging along just fine until I came to a description of Hubert's ability to bilocate.

For those of you who don't know what bilocate means it is the well-documented mystical gift of being able to be in two places at the same time.

The book Wendy was reading told very matter-of-factly how St Hubert had been able to be in North Africa and in Continental Europe at the same time. She goes on: Profoundly disoriented, I closed the book. I felt queasy. It was as though two subterranean tectonic plates had collided inside the structured universe in which I lived.

Wendy goes on to explain how this experience was repeated many times during the course of her journey into the Catholic Church as she discovered that reality is not merely physical and that the believer lives in a multi-layered world of hidden realities which science cannot reveal for us.

Let me give another example. On the eve of the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul, July 19, 1830 St Catherine Labouré was awakened by a brilliant light and the voice of a child: Sister Labouré, come to the Chapel; the Blessed Virgin awaits you.

The child, it turned out was Catherine's Guardian Angel. He led her to the convent chapel to speak with the Blessed Virgin who gave her the Miraculous Medal.

I wonder how many of us stop to reflect on all this - apparitions, guardian angels, the blessed Virgin, miraculous medals? What an exciting world we live in! A world in which our mortal earthly lives are already in intimate connection with heaven, and of profound concern to those who live there.

Each one of us has a Guardian Angel. They are somehow here with us in this church right now, surrounding us. The Catechism has this to say: 336 From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession ... Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.

And just so we don't miss the point it highlights for us that: Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

And if Guardian Angels can appear to us so can the Blessed Virgin, so can Padre Pio, and Mother Teresa and any other saint, or even a soul in purgatory, or even the demons from hell.

St John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, used to receive frequent visits from demons. At first he was terrified but later in life he treated them with contempt.

Saint Faustina, the first saint of the Third Millennium often spoke with the souls in Purgatory who asked for her intercessory prayers, and what's more, she was shown hell and its terrible reality.

Yes, it's true that we believers live in a rich world. A world far richer and more interesting than Harry Potter's world of magic and goblins. His world is make believe - ours is real.

Fr Ron Rolheiser goes on to say in his article: What she (Wendy Wright) describes ... so brilliantly points towards something that is all but lost in our world today, namely, the fact that reality is more than just physical, that it has layers that we do not perceive empirically (with our senses), that these layers are just as real as the physical, and there is more mystery within ordinary life than meets the eye.

  • How is it that Padre Pio, and St Francis of Assisi, and Esperanza of Betania carried on their bodies the bleeding wounds of the Passion of Christ - the stigmata?
  • How is it that Therese Neumann could live for 50 years sustained only by her daily Communion?
  • How is it that the CurĂ© of Ars could tell penitents the sins of their youth which even they had long forgotten?
  • How could St Teresa of Avila and St Joseph of Cupertino defy the laws of gravity and levitate during their prayer, in front of many witnesses?
  • And how could Jesus walk on water?

The purpose of the Gospels is to bring us to faith. As John says at the end of chapter 20 of his Gospel: These (the things Jesus did and said) are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

When Jesus came to the Apostles, walking on the stormy waters of the lake, it was so that they might believe. Jesus wanted his followers to believe that the loving care of God for his children can penetrate our physical world of little boats and stormy lives - and that there is ultimately no barrier between heaven and earth when faith is active.

Faith is our response to God and the Apostles responded in faith: The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, `Truly, you are the Son of God'.

Yes, what an exciting world is the world of faith! Nothing is impossible in that world, because nothing is impossible to God our Father, and we are his children. We have only to look forward to the next miracle.

And what is the next miracle?

Well, that bread and wine over there at the back of the church will be brought up and placed on the altar. The priest will speak over them the words the Lord used at the Last Supper - and the bread and wine will become the Body and Blood of Jesus - offered to the Father so that our sins 'may be forgiven' - and offered to us in Holy Communion so that we may become one with God.

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