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His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI
19TH SUNDAY OF ORD. TIME A 2014
DO NOT BE AFRAID (MT 14: 22-33)
There is a lot of realism in this episode recounted in today’s Gospel. It makes clear that even those closest to Jesus were afraid and unsure when in danger. They were afraid of the things we are afraid of- even of ghosts! They are or were also afraid of themselves. They knew their limits, even feared them. ‘My faith might not be up to it’, Peter thinks. Their faith was very basic- a hope that God would keep them out of harm's way. But Jesus was not afraid. When he gets into their boat they pray to him- and falling down adore him.
The Act of Faith
We cannot helpfully consider experiences like these unless we have faith ourselves, however fragile it may be. That is what Matthew seems to be teaching his community and that is what he is teaching us. ‘You of little faith’, are the words with which he describes Peter’s disposition, having saved him from drowning. This faith is very concrete. ‘Save me from drowning’ would have been Peter’s first cry for help. This was not about abstract arguments; it was as basic as surviving ordinary dangers. According to Matthew, we like Peter, should recognize more and more that we depend on God helping us, often through others, all the time. With this we should learn to live a life of 'thank you' to everyone and for everything. For the Jews the word for praise and thanks is the same. When we praise people we thank them. The act of faith involves above all recognition of the God to whom we say thanks. Maximum thanks is called adoration. This is what the apostles eventually profess in this Gospel episode. They are expressing total dependence on Jesus, God’s Son, who saved them from drowning, and gave meaning and purpose to their lives.
Faith Under Stress Today
At this time, and especially next Sunday, Pope Francis and many episcopal conferences round the world are asking the faithful to pray for the suffering Christians in Iraq, and Syria and elsewhere the Middle East. We have no need of a special imagination to know what they are going through. The Christian faith in the Middle East dates back to the earliest apostolic missionary activity. They are being wiped out simply because they are not Moslem. Who could not feel pity for them?
Facts from Patriarch Sako of Iraq
When Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, there were more than 60,000 Christians living in Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city. Today there are at most 200, mainly those too poor or weak to flee. This microcosm reflects the wider state of Christianity across Iraq. Prior to the 2003 US-led military invasion Christians numbered 1.4 million. Today the tally stands at 300,000 and, because of the rapid advance of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) across swathes of Syria and Iraq, those figures are declining rapidly. Patriarch Sako estimates that in the near future Christians could number only 50,000. The militant Islamists seek to establish a caliphate across the Middle East. These Sunni jihadists embrace a radical form of Islam that echoes the 7th century Moslem mentality. Anger at corrupt regimes, the exploitation of oil wealth by the West—and the moral decay of this same West—has engendered an aggressive, regressive ideology, rejecting all that does not coincide with this fundamentalist vision of Islam.
Local Christians have been given an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay the 'jizya'—a tax levied on an Islamic state's non-Muslim citizens—leave or die. Half a million Christians and Muslims have been fleeing seeking shelter in Christian villages- now under attack- near the Kurdish controlled regions in northern Iraq.
Patriarch Sako has also reproached the silence of moderate Muslims: "We are equally shocked and indignant by the absence of a vigorous position from these Muslims and their religious leaders, not the least because the actions of these warring factions represent a menace for the Muslims themselves.”
This leaves the Church alone calling for the unity and the restoration of the religious mosaic that was Iraq, he says. "As for the Church, she finds herself completely alone, more than ever; nevertheless her leaders are strongly required to react before it is too late in applying the necessary pressure on the international community as well as those other decision-makers in view of fundamental answers necessary to the scandalous crimes and the destructive conspiracies that affect, above all, unarmed citizens in Iraq, Syria, and in Palestine-Gaza." (Reported in Zenit News, The World Seen from Rome, August 8th,2014).
We ourselves now watch what is being done to help these people, and add our prayers for their protection.
'Take courage- it is I- come to me' Jesus had said. The act of faith must be personal- supremely personal. But it is collective too. We are to trust him totally, not just individually but together. Like the Apostles in the boat we share life’s journey together. Our courage is reinforced in community. When we adore we adore together...and our little faith is topped up by the community faith. We do not have to apologize for having little faith; we are just invited to pray for more. That is one major reason for being at Mass together. And that is what we are doing this morning here together in Boarbank Hall. The waters may be choppy often and our personal faith sometimes wobbly, but the church sails on through history; for the Lord sails with the barque of Peter. This is a great consolation for many parents who wonder and sorrow at the indifference of some of their children towards the faith they have been nurtured in. Clearly the problem is not new- and that is why St. Matthew encourages us not to give up but to pray harder, and love even more. Amen.
Rev Richard J. Taylor
Spiritual Advisor, MaterCare International
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK