19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Today, I want to speak about “Nevertheless Faith.” It is Fr. Jude Siciliano, the Dominican retreat master and Sr. Patty Bruno, both of them you know, as they have come here to St. Ignatius, that coined this expression.
“Nevertheless Faith” – what does it describe? “In spite of whatever – faith.”
It is the kind of faith that I call upon when fear of life situations overcomes me that I say, “Nevertheless,” I believe that God is with me.
It is the kind of faith that I call upon when health dangers surround me or other family members, when death is staring us in the face, that says, “Nevertheless,” I believe that God loves me and takes care of me.
It is the kind of faith that I call upon when I see Beirut blown up, atrocious murders committed, corrupt people killing other people, family members betraying me, criminals threatening my life, all my earthly property going up in smoke– that I say, “Nevertheless,” I believe that God is with me.
I can say that I believe in God, when I don’t actually think of God very much. And yes, I can repeat religious words and prayers not reflecting what they mean, and I really believe in God when everything is going my way.
It is not immediately clear when Peter had “Nevertheless Faith.” When he stepped gingerly out of the boat being tossed almost upside down on the Sea of Galilee. One scripture scholar remarked that he should have stayed in the boat and not be so foolish and to do such prideful a thing as tempt Jesus.
When everything is falling apart around us, is not the time to test God or to mock God. Peter would have been safer to ride out the storm in the boat. In the times that we are in, the boat of life, we need to remain humble, calm, heeding the silence of God. Peter, perhaps, did not hear Jesus yelling: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.”
This would be a good mantra for us to hear and to listen and take into our hearts.
On the other hand, our first reaction to the things and situations that happen to us in our lives is to lose all sense of perspective, to panic. The most repeated words of God the Father and Jesus in the Old and New Testament scriptures are the words: “Do not be afraid.”
When Peter becomes petrified — like a stone, numb, remember the root meaning of the word — Rock — Jesus renamed Peter from Cephas to the rock — a metaphor for a person who would become a dependable person of faith. But in today’s story, Peter turned into a sinking emotional blob. “Lord, save me,” Peter cries. “O you of little faith,” Jesus remarks, not ever “Nevertheless” faith.
We can learn something this morning from the Book of Kings and the Story of Elijah fleeing from the Queen Jezebel and her death threats; he pleads with God to take his life so that he could escape. (We too feel like that sometimes thinking to escape through death would be a blessing). God appears to Elijah and invites him to come and be with him on Mt. Horeb.
When Elijah finally arrived, he wondered and imagined how all of this was going to take place.
For centuries, human beings have imagined God’s power and glory and were scared to death by earthquakes, powerful storms of wind and large fires. They believed that these natural, powerful expressions of life were the frightening presence of God. How amazed must Elijah have been to hardly notice “a tiny whispering sound then, at that moment, he hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.”
When we hear the whispering sound, the wind of the storms of life wind down. It is St. Paul in today’s second reading that lamented all the spiritual gifts that God had given to the Old Testament chosen people. He lamented that he would give up his own faith in Jesus if only they would come to Jesus, “The Christ who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen,” the passage concludes.
How do we get to the “Nevertheless” of the “In spite of whatever” type of faith?
From the earliest of Christian times, the metaphor of the boat on the storm-tossed winds of life has become a metaphor for all of God’s good people. The boat is the Church as a community of those who believe in Jesus, who trust Jesus and His Father.
For us, Jesus is not a ghost who frightens us or messes with our imagination or deepest selves. When Jesus invites Peter to come to him, he is not inviting him to jump into the turbulent water, but rather into a spirit of trust and calm. We do not need to jump into the mess of life, what we need is the light, and inspiration, and wisdom of God to see us through the unraveling of life to its steadying and coming back together.
At the same time that everything is tossing and turning around us, we need to find the whispering presence of God. The winds and the storms will calm down. Some translators of the words “a tiny whispering sound” appear as “the voice of silence.” That may sound to be a contradiction. It is, the voice of God contradicting the noise, the confusion, and the destruction with a new way to be, to listen, to pray, to be strong, to see the light, and that is when we say “Nevertheless, in spite of whatever, I believe that God is with me.”