Christ, Our Navigator and Our Guide
Father Christopher Zajac, OSBM
A ship sailing on the sea, constantly subject to the vicissitudes of nature and the fickleness of the weather, has been a graphic metaphor for our journey through life since the earliest days of the Church. The Church and all of its members are constantly tested in the stormy sea of life, as we so often have seen during the last century, with the rejection of the teachings of Christ by the so-called 'free thinkers' who had such a destructive influence on the attitudes and morals of young people during the early part of the last century, with the World Wars, Communism, political conflagrations, the Great Depression and many other upheavals, but no storm can submerge or destroy us if we place our faith in God. The metaphorical storms cannot destroy us as long as our conscience is honest and not deceived by our selfish interests or by the false standards that society places before us. When this happens, when we are taken in by self-deception and selfishness, we ourselves are responsible because we ignore the One Who should be our guide in our journey through life, Christ, Our Saviour and Our Lord. Christ power is infinite and He has pledged to save everyone who places his or her trust in Him.
Night was quickly approaching when the multitudes had finished eating the multiplied loaves of bread and fish. (Mark 6:35-44); The people were totally overwhelmed! They knew that they had just witnessed a marvelous event! A miracle! In the Gospel of St. John recounting the same event, he tells us that the people seeing this sign that He had given, said, ‘This is really the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus saw that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, escaped back to the hills by Himself to pray as He did before every important event during His earthly life. The curtain of the natural world was lifted and the people had had a glimpse of Divinity in action- instead they visualized a promised Messiah, whose interest would be solely in the restoration of a human, earthly, temporal Kingdom of Israel. Jesus was proclaiming a spiritual revelation but they saw only selfish material gain.
Today it is hard for us to imagine how religiously orientated the Jews were at the time of the coming of Christ. Religion played a part in everything that they did. There was nothing that they did which was not directly or indirectly connected with religion. In spite of this, or perhaps because of this, the great mystery of the Israelites was their terrible misinterpretation of the prophets, in view of the great place that their religious faith occupied in Hebrew history. The Sadducees did not even accept written accounts of the prophets as scripture at all and insisted that the doctrine of life after death could not be proved in the scriptures. As we read in Matthew 22:23: "On that clay the Sadducees approached him, saying there is no resurrection." From the patriarchs to the fall of the Kingdom of Judah, the prophets claimed attention for no other reason than that they spoke in the name of God, remaining outside of the secular order- politics, business and the military. That is precisely why all of the prophets, including John the Baptist, were persecuted by the people. The Prophets called for repentance and forgiveness; the people, including the Pharisees and the Sadducees, wanted victory and power.
It takes prayer and effort to rise above all the day to day preoccupations that occupy most of humanity in order to become a spiritual person- one who is only concerned with their relationship with God, whose goal is to lead men and women, boys and girls back to the source of life, the Eternal Creator. Our Lord was aware of the intention of the people (to make Him King) and decided to move on. He directed His apostles to re-embark and make for the opposite shore of Lake Gennesaret so that they could avoid the confrontation. He did not join them, but dismissed the crowds and withdrew into the mountains where He had at first sat and preached to the multitude. Christ would later assure Pontius Pilate that His Kingdom was not a rival for any earthly kingdom. Jesus said: "Mine is not a kingdom of this world!" And that was the problem- the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the scribes saw political influence, military power; they saw gold, silver and wealth as the goal of life, as do so many people in the world today.
So the Apostles began their voyage across the sea at nightfall while Christ stayed behind to pray as He did before every important event in His life. On the way the Apostles encountered an unusually severe storm. In fact the waves were so rough that St. Matthew reports that they had made only about twenty-five stadia, a distance of about four miles during the whole night. On the fourth watch, which began at 3:00 am, the apostles saw Jesus coming towards them walking upon the sea. At first they thought it was an apparition and cried out in terror, "It is a ghost!" "Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid." Our Lord assured them. Because they did not fully realize the significance of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, it is not surprising that they were again too slow to believe. In fact, it's quite odd why the apostles did not question Jesus why He had decided to remain behind.
Peter again shows his impulsiveness of character, which distinguished him from the rest. He jumped into the water. Apparently Christ wished to put Peter's faith to a more severe test. The wind increased in violence and the waves grew more furious- Peter faltered- at which point he began to sink.
No person can fail who does Christ's work, although he may not achieve that which he intended, he will achieve what Christ intended. If we fail it must be by default within ourselves, in ceasing to do Christ's work, by forgetting or ignoring His presence in our midst. Again I repeat, every person is tested on the stormy sea of life, but no storm can submerge or destroy us. That is, only as long as our conscience is honest and not fooled by selfish interests or by false standards. We ourselves are responsible for this deception. God's power is infinite and is pledged to save everyone who trusts in Him. Our faith in Him should be absolute, without any reservation.
There is much fear in the world- the fears are real, they even seem to be growing, more diseases, more violence, less real love, more abuse and self-abuse, more waste and pollution, more laws and less justice and the list still goes on ... in all of this, if we sometimes sink- not as Peter did in the water, but rather into depression and despair. We too, like Peter, should cry out, "Lord! Save me!" and Jesus will put out His hand to save us. He will give us the strength to carry our burdens. If we feel our situation intolerable, if we feel that it's more than we can bear, if in our hearts we say it's impossible, let us remember that for Jesus, nothing is impossible- all we need is faith. That attitude of mind, which draws back in fear and inaction, falters, halts, wonders in sterile thought, and questions the existence of God, is fatal to faith. Our faith must be absolute and without any reservations. With faith and trust in God everything is possible.
The Lord our God assures us, as we read in John 14:12, "I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself." A strong living faith in God will produce in our anguished hearts the hope, the courage, the strength and the love that will bring us to the final victory that our life is meant for. The Apostle John tells us in his first epistle (1John 5:4): "The victory that conquers the world is our faith."
We must not be frightened and defeated by the forces of evil and hatred that
are so evident in our world today in every corner of our society. Instead,
let us move forward courageously through our sea of life to our eternal goal.
Jesus tells us: "In the world you will have trouble, but be brave- I
have conquered the world." Jesus is telling us in His own inimitable
way that no matter what the difficulties and troubles that we face in life,
we are never alone because He is always with us.