As Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him. Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep (Mt 8:23-24).
Noah’s ark, as well as the boat in today’s Gospel pericope, has often been a symbol for the Church. The storms may rage without, but those who remain in the boat will be secure. The image of Jesus sleeping can also be a sign of the storms within the boat, within the Church – where it may appear that Jesus is absent.
We are human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, we are good, but we are also fallible and wounded by our sin. We are wounded by the very gift of the free will we have been given. God loves us so much he is willing to risk that we will choose to place other people, places, and things before him. We may often pursue the promises of wealth, fame, honor, and pleasure as substitutes instead of our true and abiding happiness which can only come from God. God does not cause our suffering, but he will allow us to reap the consequences of our choices.
Hopefully, we will learn from our mistakes and grow to realize that we need to remember that God is to be first in all we think, say, and do. Even in our darkest moments, even in the darkest moments of the Church, we need to remember that God has not abandoned us. When we are experiencing the storms in our lives that come from without caused by others or the storms from within caused by our own sinful choices, or anxieties, worries, and fear, Jesus may appear to be distant, he may seem to not even exist. Yet, just as Jesus was calmly sleeping in the boat with the disciples, he was present with them and he is present with us. Once the disciples turned to Jesus and implored his help, Jesus calmed the stormy sea.
Our focus on Jesus through the good times and the bad is the key. Our faith in Jesus grows as our trust and relationship in him grow. We just need to remember to turn to him in all our circumstances in life, to be thankful when all is going well and to seek his assistance when we need his help. This is what St Paul meant by praying unceasingly. Turning to God consistently is to be a regular practice in our daily lives and then when we are in need, we will know he is there.
This is to be true regarding our own mental storms of anxiety, whether we are dealing with conflict in a relationship, \ with some crisis physically, economically, or spiritually, or even while experiencing challenges that go far beyond just ourselves such as this present pandemic and racial unrest, the Church abuse crisis, the inhumanity inflicted upon our brothers and sisters on the border or the violence inflicted upon the Church throughout the world.
We need not even fear death because Jesus has conquered death. Jesus chided his disciples, who feared the worst, as they were tossed about in the boat on the raging sea, for having little faith. He knew they could have stilled the wind as he had done or that God would have helped them to ride the storm out. They just needed to place their focus on God instead of their fear.
In all of these areas and more, even when Jesus may appear to be asleep, or absent, even when he doesn’t answer our questions of, “Why?”, we just need to realize that he is present in our midst. When we do so, even while the waves of our trials and tribulation toss us about, we will be able to experience his peace, that peace that surpasses all understanding. As we deepen our relationship and continue to experience his peace we can then be a healing balm for those who suffer, a voice for the voiceless, and begin to harness the courage to speak truth to power.