Father Linus Clovis: courage in tribulation
At that time, when it was late, the ship was in the midst of the sea and Jesus alone on the land and seeing his disciples straining at the oars, for the wind that was against them, about the fourth watch of the night, he came to them walking upon the sea. And he would have passed by them, but they, seeing him walking upon the sea thought it was a ghost and cried out, for they all saw him and were troubled. Then immediately he spoke to them and said to them, “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid”. And he got into the boat with them and the wind fell. And they were utterly besides themselves with astonishment, for they had not understood about the loaves because their hearts were blinded.
And crossing over, they came to land at Gennes′aret, and moored the boat. And when they had gotten out of the boat, the people at once recognized him, and they hurried through the whole country and began to bring the sick on their pallets wherever they heard he was. Or wherever he went, into the village or hamlet or town, they laid the sick in the market places, and entreated him to let them touch but the tassel of his cloak. As many as touched him, were saved.Mark 6:47-56
In the sixth chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel, we read of the feeding of the multitudes. And, as we just heard, of Our Lord walking on the sea, which immediately followed the miracle of the feeding of the multitude.
But what St. Mark tells us that should strike us is that they (the apostles in the boat) were utterly besides themselves with astonishment for they had not understood about the loaves because their hearts were blinded.
What didn’t they understand about the loaves? Our Lord didn’t work miracles for the purpose of impressing his disciples. Every miracle that he worked had a meaning behind it. Every miracle was a confirmation of the teaching he had given. And we see that the crowds gathered to him, not so much because of his teaching, he says this explicitly in St. John’s Gospel – “you didn’t come to me because of what I said, but rather because you had bread to eat. Do not labor for the food that perishes but rather work for that which gives eternal life.” So the Lord works the miracles to confirm the truth- the validity of his teaching.
And why was this so important? Well, because we were deceived by the words of the evil angel. Eve said to the Lord, the serpent deceived me.
And so, the Lord, to correct this, gives us true teaching; the Divine Word by which we have life, for every word out of the mouth of the Lord gives life. Your Word, the Scriptures tell us, is Truth and Life.
Our Lord also didn’t say to his disciples that he was God because the pagans themselves often had myths, stories, legends about the gods who became men or the gods who were disguised as men. And whilst Our Lord himself speaking to his disciples, may indeed enable them to understand that he truly was God, for us, who come so many centuries afterwards, it would be so easy for us to attribute the stories of Our Lord to the realm of myth. But no, the Lord worked these miracles and the miracles themselves pointed to his divinity.
And this, of course, is even more important for us today, when there are efforts being made, and even within the Church, to reduce Our Lord to be just another preacher, another prophet, another ethical master, and nothing more. Whereas, we must believe that he is God; that he came into our world because of his great love for us. He came into our world to offer his life in redemption for our sins. He came into this world to lead us back to heaven.
And so, he worked the miracle of the loaves, and then he dismisses the crowds or rather he dismisses his disciples, and he says he said to them, “you go to the other side. I myself will send the crowds away,” which, in fact he does. And, having done this, he goes into the hills to pray. We read that in the other Gospels, including St. John.
Why did Our Lord have to pray? Well, Our Lord communed with his father continually because he had, of course, the beatific vision: he saw his father. Being God, he enjoyed the delights of the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But that was according to his Divine Nature. According to his human nature, he had what is called infused knowledge: the knowledge of all truths. And this is not surprising since this gift had been given to other prophets and apostles, particularly Paul the apostle; he had infused knowledge. In the moment of his conversion on the road to Damascus, he knew the whole truth. We have other saints who have such gifts as well (the gift of infused knowledge) but then Our Lord also had what we would call experiential knowledge. And this is knowledge that all of us have: we learn from what happens to us for the things that we encounter in daily life; we learn in this way, and so, likewise for Our Lord.
And so, he went into the hills to pray as man and as God: as God, so he could commune with his Father, but as man so that he could intercede and pray for us. And, no doubt, he was praying for his disciples, that their hearts would not be closed, their hearts would not be blinded, but rather they would understand the meaning of the miracles that he performed.
And so, he sends them across the sea.
It’s evening, and we’re told that it was late and the ship was in the midst of the sea and Jesus alone was on the land. And isn’t this so very much a description of our current state, where we are in the midst of a turbulent sea? The Church is battling headwinds. It’s battling the storm and the Lord is on land, and the Church is directing itself towards him, who is on land.
And, seeing his disciples straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, about the fourth watch of the night, he came to them walking upon the sea.
The fourth watch of night: the night was divided into four watches of three hours each, from sunset to sunrise–so, each watch would have been three hours. And yet, the Lord didn’t come in the first, second, or third, but in the fourth.
And again, there is a significance and meaning to this, because the Church embraces the whole human race. There are boundaries, which we know, and this belongs to those who are baptized and who believe the full truth. But even so, the rest of the human race is in some way related to the Church. Indeed, if anyone is saved, they are saved not because of their own beliefs but because Christ has saved them through His Church.
And so, he doesn’t come in the first watch, but we can interpret that first watch from the time of Adam to the time of Noah and the deluge. It is not then that salvation comes to us, nor does it come between the deluge and the time of Moses, which is the second watch. Nor even then, under the law, does it come from Moses; the coming of Our Lord. So neither in the third watch, for the law could not save us but, rather, he comes in the time of grace: from the time of his birth until the time of his second coming. This is the watch in which we are. And this is the age in which we see the Church in much difficulties; turbulent times, the storm is full on.
And so the disciples: we come back to them in the boat. It is night. It is dark. There’s a storm. Their boat is small (when we consider the vessels of that time). They dare not put up the sails for certainly the wind would dash them beneath the waters. And so, they are forced to row. And, yet, even in their rowing, there is great danger for they dare not approach the coast lest they strike rocks. And so, they have as best they can to ride out the storm.
And so, also for us. Even as the storm overwhelms the Church, and we see such divisions within the Church, and outside of the Church so many attack; when we see the confusion among the hierarchy, the corruption among the clergy: we indeed are troubled.
And where is the Lord? Well, he is on the shore but he’s never far from His Church, which is his body.
And we’re told he begins to walk towards them upon the water. And they saw him and they were terrified, thinking it was a ghost, so he even adds to their tribulation. But the Lord is close to us in the midst of tribulation and all we need to do is is to call on him.
In fact, in the Gradual we heard, “one thing I ask the Lord, this I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord…that I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and be protected by his holy temple.” (Psalm 27:4)
This, in fact, is what we desire of the Church: that she protect us from these dangers.
But the Lord appears to be walking past. So, in addition to the darkness, in addition to the storm, in addition to the straining at the oars, when they are all awake–that much we can be certain: they’re all awake–he appears on the waters, and they think it is a ghost. So everything now is for them danger, for it is no good spirit they see that would walk on the waters.
But what does he do? He says, “take courage, it is I. Do not be afraid.” And this, in fact, is what he says to us today: “take courage”. He is with us; he’s with us in the midst of the storm.
And he gets into the boat and immediately the wind fell, which, of course, is not according to nature, for the wind doesn’t just stop suddenly, but here it does. Wherever the Lord is, there is peace.
And we’re told they were utterly astonished; besides themselves, for they had not understood about the loaves. Their hearts were blinded. Well, what didn’t they understand about the loaves? Essentially, that the Lord is the Creator of the world, and that he had created bread enough to feed 5000 men, not counting women and children; that only God could perform such a miracle; that he did it without prayer, by his own power. They didn’t understand this, and now, seeing him walking on the waters, they should surely have understood that the one who is present is God, especially as the wind stopped.
And when they had gotten out of the boat, we’re told they came to the land of Gennes′aret and moored the boat. And when they got out of the boat the people recognized him, and they hurried through the whole country to bring the sick on their pallets, wherever they heard he was.
Our Lord was constantly on the move and the people sought him, seeking the healing of the body. But what use is that to us today? The fact that he healed thousands, two thousand years ago, is hardly a benefit to us. But, if we understand the meaning of these miracles, that it is God himself, in Christ, who is redeeming us, then, indeed, we can embrace the tribulations, the troubles, and the trials, of the time in which we live; the time which is now.
And the Lord, we’re told, wherever he went, village or hamlet or town, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, in the open places, and entreated him to let them touch only the tassel of his cloak.
And we think of the woman with the hemorrhage, “if I touch the hem of his cloak I shall be healed.” And she touched, and the Lord said your faith has saved you. And likewise, here, St. Mark tells us, that many touched him and were saved.
And so, today we can also ask the Lord in his great mercy to permit us to touch him, which, indeed, we do in the Holy Eucharist. Let us ask him to touch us, so that our hearts might not be blinded, and that we see clearly in the dark, in the current darkness, we can see clearly that he is with us, that we believe firmly he will not abandon us, and, no matter how bad the storm gets, he will always be with us.