By Rev. Jean-Pierre Ruiz
It was at Lourdes during the summer after my second year of high school that I became convinced that God really exists, and I remember it as though it happened yesterday.
While I was in Europe studying German, a priest who was a longtime family friend offered to bring me along on the pilgrimage he was leading, and my mother gave permission, thrilled that I would have the opportunity to visit the renowned Marian shrine.
Visiting the grotto, witnessing the processions, and participating at Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary all left me genuinely moved.
That was already a minor miracle for this insufferably nerdy high school kid who couldn’t have imagined that he would someday be ordained a priest.
Inspiring as each of these was in its own way, it was something else that made the deepest mark on my soul: the spectacular thunderstorm that took place the first night of that pilgrimage. From the safety of my hotel room, I looked out the window to witness flashes of lightning such as I have never seen before or since, illuminating the landscape one after another in close succession with intense white light. Long rumbles, loud claps, and earth-rattling peals of thunder echoed through the foothills of the Pyrenees.
That night I knew for certain that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God,” as Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in words that came to mind from my English class the previous spring semester.
Of course, even my teenaged self knew that lightning was a phenomenon with a clear scientific explanation, but that didn’t prevent me from being awe-struck at its power and beauty, nor did it keep me from marveling that the Creator could work such wonders in nature. I recall the epiphany of that night every time there is a thunderstorm, whenever I hear thunder or see flashes of lightning, and it helps me to appreciate Sunday’s readings from the Scriptures not just intellectually but even viscerally.
Sunday’s first reading begins by telling us that “the Lord addressed Job out of the storm.” Miserable Job was anything but patient unless we take “patient” in its original sense as someone who suffers, as a doctor’s patient struggling with some disease or injury. Job had no idea of what he could have done to deserve the afflictions he endured, insisting on his innocence despite the nagging of his friends who tried to diagnose what sins he must have committed.
Job wanted to put God on trial, but God remained elusive: “Would that I knew how to find him, that I might come to his dwelling! I would set out my case before him, fill my mouth with arguments; I would learn the words he would answer me, understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend against me with his great power? No, he himself would heed me!” (Job 23:3-6) When God did show up, it was on God’s terms and not Job’s. God’s first words — omitted from Sunday’s reading — were anything but gentle: “Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance?” (Job 38:2) In verse after verse, from the midst of the storm God thundered at Job — figuratively if not literally — leaving not the slightest doubt about who is in charge of creation and who isn’t. In the end, Job confessed, “I have spoken but did not understand; things too marvelous for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3).
We sail into another storm in Sunday’s Gospel as we join Jesus and his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. As the squall came up and waves threatened to sink their boat, Jesus was asleep in the stern, so oblivious to the peril they were facing that the disciples woke him, complaining, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” By the word of Jesus’ command, “the wind ceased and there was great calm,” and his disciples, filled with awe at this act of power, wondered “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”
Awesome as this surely is, God’s definitive answer to Job and to all the raging storms of human suffering is the most paradoxical display of divine might, of power that is made perfect in weakness. It is about this power that Paul writes to the Corinthians in Sunday’s second reading.
The son of the Almighty One who addressed Job from the midst of the storm, the One who filled his disciples with amazement when wind and waves obeyed his command, is Jesus, who “died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
There is a force in the universe more formidable than lightning or thunder, and that is the power of divine love made manifest in Christ!
Readings for Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Job: 38:1, 8-11
2 Corinthians: 5:14-17
Father Ruiz, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is a professor of theology at St. John’s University, Jamaica.