Homily – 19th Sunday Ordinary Time
Getting “Caught By Christ”
People say, “Oh yes, I love Jesus. I want a personal relationship with Christ!” And Jesus responds, “Oh yeah? You want a relationship? You trust me? Ok, climb out of the boat. Walk on some water for a bit.”
And so what happens once you climb out of the boat? We might quickly get what we ask for. You walk on water for a bit. We begin to have new, unexpected, perhaps even mystical experiences. This throws us a bit. We might just as quickly ask, “Wait a minute, whose idea was this anyway?” …and we begin to sink.
The problem is that we’re not really meant to walk on water – or are we?
When you walk on water – as Peter did – it can be a very risky and scary place. It can be a real emotional roller coaster filled with exuberant highs and terrifying lows.
Both Elijah and Jesus experienced tremendous highs and lows, and both had those experiences right after each other.
Elijah encountered God in the midst of the whisper. He was coming off the victory of defeating and eliminating he false prophets of Baal. His people were celebrating him as an instrument of God’s great power. But he was still in a cave where he was hiding, totally discouraged, being hunted down by Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is having a conversation with his Father, “When it was evening he was there alone.” He was on top of the mountain probably exhausted after having taught the crowds for hours. He had just performed the miracle of feeding the 5,000 and people were celebrating him. Yet he had also just heard the news of the execution of his cousin John the Baptist.
Developing a personal relationship with God can be a very risky and scary place. It can be a real emotional roller coaster filled with exuberant highs and terrifying lows. that’s why many people don’t risk it! Karl Rahner once said that the time is fast approaching when one will either be a mystic or an unbeliever.
Twenty-five years ago, Henri Nouwen had already said something similar. While teaching at Yale, he commented that even among the seminarians he was teaching – the dominant consciousness was agnostic.
What were Rahner and Nouwen talking about? They were saying that many people in the church, even those who would be considered “engaged and active Catholics,” believe in:
- A code of ethics,
- Jesus’ moral teaching,
- God’s call for justice,
- Outreach to the poor,
- The value of gathering for worship.
They might have a relationship but it’s a relationship:
- to a religion,
- to a theology
- to an ideal,
- to a truth,
- to a community of worship.
But these things, of themselves, are not the same thing – as actual faith in — and a relationship with – God.
The Pew Research Foundation did a study and found that 60% of Catholics DO NOT believe in a personal God with whom you can have an intimate, personal relationship. What is the result? Just as we have people who believe – but do not practice, many people of faith perhaps practice – but do not believe. Why? Because there is a difference between a “religious identity” and a “personal relationship.”
British writer, Anita Brookner states in her novel Altered States, that the great tragedy in most marriages is that a man and woman cannot, in the end, console each other – and that what each really needs from the other – but generally never gets – is a good confessor.
Each of us needs someone to whom we can reveal all the secrets of our life – Someone with whom we can jump out of the safety of the boat – so as to let go of the tension – and finally just be ourselves – with total honesty and without pretense. WE need someone who can console us, who can forgive is, who can heal us, who can give us power to change – and that someone has to be for us, that trusted confessor … that person before whom no secret needs to be hidden. We long for someone who loves us and will catch us – not in spite of our weaknesses – but precisely BECAUSE OF THEM. Why? Because they have been there, and know what a dangerous and scary place that can be. And so, according to Ms. Brookner, to have that kind of relationship with someone – one must at some point in his or her life – make a deep, private, personal act of faith in that other person.
Consequently, to actually believe in God today – as Elijah and Jesus had to do then – one must at some point in his or her life – make a deep, private, personal act of faith as well – in THAT person.
Ultimately, that is what a personal relationship with Christ looks like. Each of us needs from God – someONE . It means consistently sharing all of our secrets and fears in those lonely, private hours when there are just the two of us and nobody else is around. This is a very risky and scary place – a real emotional roller coaster filled with exuberant highs and terrifying lows. But we ARE made to walk on water. Fortunate is the one who does get out of the boat, because fortunate is the one who is eventually “caught by Christ”.
Audio version of homily is here: