How to walk on water
There’s good reason Simon son of Jonah became the Church’s foundation stone. His faith is exquisite, and even in today’s Gospel, when he sinks like a rock, he is a model we’d do well to imitate.
But first, consider how the storm in today’s Gospel can be applied analogously. Perhaps when you think of storms in your own life, you think of moments of crisis and emotional turmoil. But I think the analogy is much broader than that. A storm is any reality we’d like to change but can’t.
Here’s a classic example. Not in my own life, of course, but certainly a storm which is very common in the lives of my parishioners:
I want my children to go to Mass, and I’ve been telling them that for years, but they just won’t go.
That’s a storm. I bet we can each identify a dozen similar storms in our own lives. Realities we’d like to control and change, but which we can’t.
Now consider Peter’s prayer in the midst of the literal storm afflicting the disciples. He realises that the ghost walking on water is actually Jesus, so he calls out to him:
“Lord, if it is you, stop this storm! Calm the sea!”
Except that is not what Peter says. We’d expect him to say something like that. It’s the sort of thing I’d pray — and often have — in the midst of life’s storms. But Peter’s faith, remember, is the exemplar. He teaches us a better way to pray:
‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’
Peter has our Lord’s measure, and he applies the perfect test. He knows that only Jesus can take him to a place beyond himself. Only Jesus can ask him to do something he can’t do alone.
So Peter steps out of the boat, and he walks on water. What’s in Christ is now in Peter. He invests all his trust in Jesus, and receives the power of Jesus into himself. But then he doubts.
As soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink.
When our focus on Jesus falters, we sink. More specifically, when we focus on those realities we can’t change and can’t control, we sink. And it’s so easy to pray out that of spirit:
Lord, take this storm away from me. Solve all my problems … and then I won’t need to bother you.
See the problem? We can go through life asking God to take away everything that makes us dependent on him. But God is our Father, and we are his children. He wants us to depend on him! So we have to abandon ourselves to the storm, and to God’s will. We have to shift our prayer, and our focus, to God.
Peter couldn’t walk on water. God did that for him. We can’t get to Heaven. God must do that for us. We can’t become like Christ. God must do that for us. That doesn’t mean we do nothing. It means we actively focus on Christ. If we trust him, his power will work through us.
Easier said than done. In practical terms, how exactly do we not focus on the storm, and instead focus on Christ? Even Peter struggled with that one.
I think the secret is to pray like little children. Simple prayer of the heart, repeated over and over in the midst of unchangeable realities.
Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus I trust in you. Jesus I trust in you.
Mary, pray for me. Mary, pray for me. Mary, pray for me.
Praying like that won’t change the reality around us. But it changes the reality within us. It fosters serenity, and it opens our hearts to the power of God.
It’s pure speculation, of course, but I imagine this is the way our Lady prayed at Calvary. What else could she do, as she gazed at the cross, watching her son die an agonising death? “Father, I trust you. Father, I trust you. Father, I trust you.”
H/T Fr Thomas Richter.