Among the most memorable beginnings in English literature is the opening line from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. One could be forgiven for thinking that they were written in 2018. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the season of despair…”
Reading or watching the news these days, it seems that we are in the midst of a mighty storm raging in and against the Catholic Church. And we are. Much of it, unfortunately, of our own making. Referenced by St. Augustine in his writings, it seems like the Catholic Church itself is a tale of two cities right now — the City of God and the City of Man. A city of love bound together by the presence of Jesus Christ, faithful to the promises of the Father with hope in the resurrection and eternal life. But it is also a city filled with those who have turned from God and have been corrupted by the evil of sin. Right now, it would seem that the Catholic Church is made up of inhabitants of both cities and yet we need to be united.
It is hard enough to be a Christian at the best of times but at a time when the Catholic Church and the actions of her leadership are facing intense scrutiny, it becomes even harder. We question, we despair and we doubt. While we know that the gates of hell will not prevail against us, we are being tossed around in a sea of lies, betrayal, sadness and despair. It hurts.
On the Sea of Galilee, the disciples, too, were in the midst of a storm. Throughout the Bible the sea often stands as a symbol of the powers of evil in combat with God. During the fourth watch of the night (between 3 and 6 in the morning) the disciples were caught out in their boat and looked up to see Jesus walking on the water towards them. Peter, ever the impetuous one, got out of the boat to make his way toward Jesus. The Scriptures tell us that Peter actually “began to walk on the water toward Jesus” (Mt 14:30). Defying all of the laws of the natural world, for a short time, Peter made the impossible, possible, as he walked on water!
But then, Peter looked around and saw how strong the wind was and he became frightened. Beginning to sink, he cried out what is the shortest and perhaps most desperate prayer in the Bible, the prayer of a drowning man, “Lord, save me.” We are told that without hesitation Jesus “reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Mt 14:31).
Right now, in the midst of hurt and suffering, it may feel like we are drowning in the news, but can we step out in faith like Peter?
We can, but only if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
Peter’s problem is our problem, too. He took his focus off of Jesus and instead looked at the storm. It is a lesson for each one of us.
A friend of mine has a saying that “boats don’t sink because of all of the water around them but only because of the water that they let in.” You and I live in a world today where there is turmoil all around us, but we do not have to take it in.
Jesus knew that each one of us would face trouble in this world for he tells us that “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Before Jesus left us, he makes it very clear that it is the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit who sustains, advocates and comforts us. In this crisis and in every crisis, it is Jesus who saves us and the Holy Spirit who will sustain us all. Jesus is greater than all the problems that we face. Let us not drown in the storm but fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let our response be just as Peter’s was — “Lord save us” — for only he can.
Stanz is director of Discipleship and Leadership Development for the Diocese of Green Bay and author of the book “Developing Disciples of Christ.”