19th Sun [A] 2002

Fr. Charles Irvin

1 Kings 19:9,11-13; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

St. Peter may not have had the brightest of bulbs glowing on the front marquee of the Church, but he certainly was one of the most central and prominent of lights. He is found in about 100 incidents reported by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. John, his rival for Jesus’ affection, has as many reports about him as any of the other gospel writers, with the exception perhaps of St. Matthew.

It is one of Matthew’s reports we have just heard in today’s gospel account. Moreover, St. Peter is mentioned about 60 times in the Book of Acts, that book in the New Testament that gives us a historical glimpse into the activities and development of the early Church. The fact that Peter is reported 160 in the New Testament, more than any other figure except Christ himself, means that we should pay particular attention to St. Peter.

He is not just one figure among many. In the mind of the Apostolic Chuch he is obviously central. His character and faith response to Jesus Christ are terribly important for us as latter day followers of Christ Jesus in 2002. We all remember the account written about “Doubting Thomas”. We ought likewise to remember “Vacillating Peter”.

To do so I would today like you to bring to mind Sylvester Stallone’s famous movie “Rocky”, the first one in the series. I’m raising to your eyes here a parallel between the “Rock” that Jesus Christ saw in Simon Peter and the “Rocky” character played by Sylvester Stallone. It occurs to me that when next Hollywood makes a movie about Christ it ought to cast Sy Stallone in the role of St. Peter. Both faced daunting difficulties. Both were tested – severely tested. Both had to discover themselves in the eyes of others, others who saw in them what they at first did not see in themselves. Both had to be rescued from their own uncertainties, doubts and tentative responses to what was offered to them in terms of faith and belief.

We stand in their shoes today. We need to see that the story of St. Peter meeting Christ in the storm tossed waters of chaos is a paradigm of our own personal stories. We need to likewise see that St. Peter’s boat is a symbol of the Church, the Barque of Peter as it is sometimes called.

There’s little doubt that our Church is navigating in storm-tossed waters these days. And there’s little doubt that many of us find ourselves to be likewise “in the same boat” as the phrase goes. The economy is stormy, the stock market is sinking, the war against terrorism and the aftermath of 9/ll still darkens our skies and our souls, and our basic faith in the goodness of men and women is being shaken. Even little children are experiencing horrific abuse, abduction, sexual exploitation, kidnapping and, yes, murder. The newspaper headlines of this entire year are filled with horror upon horror. Truly we’re navigating in some terrible storms, personally, in our Church as well as a nation of people.

And yet as Christians we hold to our awareness that God in Christ, the divine presence of God himself, is present to us in all of life’s storms and underneath all of their ruin. Truly the image of the crucifix, that horror with a human body nailed to it, is (our ought to be) of central importance to us.

The constant theme in Christianity, from Peter, Paul and those first apostles, down to our day is that the saving presence of God is available to us, is present to us in spite of what is apparently to the contrary. Our first reaction is the tendency to blame God. God is vacillating we claim. If God is so good, why all of this chaos and pain? God is capricious and unpredictable in his love for us. “Why has God done thus to us?” we cry.

But today’s account of St. Peter should cause us to pause and ponder. Is it not we whose superficial faith is just as conditional as Peter’s? Note carefully Peter’s response to seeing Christ walking toward him upon the waters of chaos. “IF it is you, Lord, command me to come to you upon the waters.” If?

There it is again, a conditional, testing response to Christ’s offer of power and strength for us. Is your response to Christ any less conditional than was St. Peter’s? I have to stand in front of you here and confess to you that my own responses to Christ have been just as conditional, just as doubting, just as fearful, and perhaps more so. And my confidence is God’s saving presence in Christ has been built upon sand, not on solid rock. I, too, have heard those words from Christ’s lips: “O you of little faith, why do you doubt?” Call to mind, now, those original passages in the Book of Genesis.

It is God who breathes forth his spirit upon the waters of chaos. The waters of chaos? God bringing something into being out of nothing? Those waters out there in the Sea of Galilee with Jesus walking upon them to Peter and the disciples – they recapitulate those waters of Genesis. It is God who is at work. It is God who is once again giving us the divine formula in which he reveals himself to us: “It is I. Take courage, I AM…I am with you. Do not be afraid. Reach out and take my hand. Alone you can do nothing. With me, there is nothing you cannot do.”

Recovering alcoholics and recovering drug addicts all know of such a miraculous moment of divine intervention. They all know that if they are to recover and be saved they must give up their human pride, and their lust for personal power, admit their powerlessness, and place their wills and their lives over into the care of God. Unless and until they do that they cannot and shall not be saved. Peter vacillated more than once. The New Testament reports a number of occasions in which Peter’s faith was tested and found wanting. Jesus repeatedly rescued Peter from the difficulties in which he found himself because of his own bravado, impetuousness, and superficial reliance on his own powers rather than upon Christ’s. Astonishingly enough, in the end, Jesus gives him the triple command to feed his sheep. In one of the most tender of moments reported in the New Testament Jesus builds his Church on a rock he has lovingly made out of sand.

Do you have any doubt at all now that Jesus can do the same with you?

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”