Sunday Scriptures

Silent Moments Enable Us To Hear the Clarion Call

by Father Thomas Catania

I write these columns too far in advance to be able to speak to this summer’s weather; in fact, I write them far enough in advance to be only too mindful of this past winter’s weather, of which the less said in a religious journal, the better. But it seems that in the Bible, weather is wherever you turn — wind and earthquakes in the Elijah story; sea squalls in the Gospel. The psalm tries to get a word in edgewise with its language of a prosperous harvest, but that’s for those who have their act together in respect to God and His covenant (“those who fear him” — hold God in proper perspective, or “awe,” “with all their hearts and souls and minds and strength”).

Most of us, like Peter, waver in our relationships with God (our “faith”) and tend to sink into the squally waters. It seems, in real time or Bible time, the weather represents everything about life that is less than nice, and, worse, everything that reminds us that somehow we don’t connect with God as we ought to.

As a child, I was told that every electrical storm indicated that someone, somewhere, had just committed a mortal sin. Reader: hear me; it does not! Now let’s go on in pursuing this weather-in-the Bible thing, shall we?

It seems odd that in over three millennia we have not acquired much control over the weather. We know a lot more about it than the ancients did, but not enough that we can negotiate with it. I, for one, would be happy if the weather-people on the radio could just explain why yesterday’s “mostly sunny” came out “very wet.” But they can’t, or don’t, and we are left to deal with an energy whose power, whether or not we want to attribute it directly to God (I don’t), is more than our power. In other words, it is still a reliable way of representing our unsteadiness on the gangplank we call life. All of the language we use to suggest that somehow a human being can find a sure and serene walk through an Eden of untroubled flowers in the end fails. And, more troubling, it leaves plenty of people at odds with the God who they imagine (since God is supposed to be omnipotent and fond of us besides), will take away the squalls and pat down the earthquakes. This is much like people who argue that they no longer believe in God because their grandfather died when they had asked that he not die.

Elijah is left marveling that God is present in “the tiny whispering sound” and Peter is probably more than a little relieved that the Son of God has picked him up from the Sea of Galilee. The two seem to be stories that lead in the same direction: God/God’s presence is tantamount to a life without squalls and earthquakes. After all, Elijah (who was known to have an energetic, not to say abrasive temperament) appears to discover God is peace, and Peter joins the others in “reverencing” Jesus as the Son of God only once the wind died down. Peace equals God who, being peace loving, solves your problems when you hold still. Er-no!

Journeys to Find Self
The stories are about journeys; Elijah is fleeing for his life, and Peter is, well, Peter is just being Peter, not exactly believing but figuring that the “ghost” should have a chance to prove himself as his pal Jesus. The discoveries they make do not prove that “God is peace” so much as they demonstrate how frenzy obscures the capacity of the human soul to find itself. Elijah comes to his senses and hears God commanding him to get to work. (See the end result in 1 Kings 13-18 — it’s why we call them “biblical” epics). His fear made him forget what he was called to, and the silence wakes him from his frenzy back to the creative energy to which the spirit of God called him. He will find his “life” not in the “tiny whispering sound” of silence or monastic retreat. His life lies elsewhere, and he needs to pause to recover it in power.

Peter has another discovery to make: that the boldness that marks him throughout the Gospel representations of him is not, in the end, what he will serve God or future generations with. Peter needs the humbling of powerlessness to be recharged with “power from on high.” But not fear — instead, an excess of assuredness — kept Peter from advancing. “Peace” proved his chance to recover why he was chosen: not to call the shots but to share the humiliation of the Crucified. The leader of the apostles was not to find God in “peace” — after all, he too would be crucified — but in the very shame he would rebuke Jesus for accepting (“God forbid, Master, that anything like this should happen to you” — see Matthew 16:22). No less than Elijah, Peter needs to learn who he is and to undertake (as if it were a cross) what his mission is. His God would meet him in a far worse squall than this one on the seas, and in a torrent of pain, embrace him as the same God embraced the beloved Son amid the dark eclipse and the earthquake. His peace is the silence that recedes the showing of God’s power in the weakness of martyrdom.

The weather is what it is and our life’s journeys are what they are. From time to time, we experience a moment of silence when the normal storms and squalls cease. Scripture invites us to see silent moments as opportunities to review our vocations, reassess who and why we are. Actually, life is a struggle more than a sleep. Stillness after the storm lets us see in the clearing and hear the clarion call.

Readings for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:22-33

Father Catania is an English professor at Molloy College, Rockville Centre, and an assistant at Holy Child Jesus parish, Richmond Hill.

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