Out of the Storm

(Homily for Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

I would like to begin by mentioning one of the blessings of the Second Vatican Council. It is easy enough to see the negative thing which happened since the Council: declining Mass attendance, priestly identity crisis and doctrinal confusion. We need also to see the positive results, especially the renewal of the sacramental rites and prayers. Personally, I greatly treasure the revised Liturgy of Hours, which the Council wanted to extend beyond clergy and religious to include lay people.

Many pray not only Morning and Evening Prayer, but also the Office of Readings.* It invites the Christian to meditate daily on selections from the entire Bible. I have found myself looking forward to certain books of the Bible, for example the Book of Job. Just on the level of literature, Job is magnificent. But, more important, it addresses the greatest problem of human existence: why do people suffer for no fault of their own? Why, for example, is a child born with a terrible deformity? Why does God allow humans to do horrendous things to others: torture, rape, false accusations; why doesn't God do something about mistreatment and suffering of children?**

More than any other book in the Bible, Job focuses on the dilemma of innocent suffering. Today we hear the climactic conclusion of that book. After about thirty-five chapters of human attempts to solve the problem of pain, Job finally gets the chance to hear the one who knows answer: God himself. It is important to see how God speaks to Job: he addresses him "out of the storm." God does not give a calm, philosophical solution to the puzzle. He begins by himself asking what, at first, seems like an irrelevant question: Who set the limits for the sea? Why do the waves stop at a certain point and go no further? That question cannot be answered by a course in oceanography. Even after defining gravitation and explaining the nature of water, wind and land; the enigma remains. The question points to the mystery of the created universe. And if it were not enough to contemplate the ocean, God asks a series of similar questions about thing which cause wonder, awe and fear.

The more we know about the world, the more we realize how little we actually understand. Each scientific discovery inevitably raises new questions. Such is the nature of science. The point, however, is much deeper than recognizing the limits of human reckoning. What the Book of Job underscores is that God speaks to us "out of the storm." During recent years the media have made us aware of the awesome power of storms. Even those not in the path of hurricanes can sense the feeling of helplessness, the desire to flee or hunker down. It touches us on that level because we all face storms: some physical, but others emotional, the turbulence which results when something unleashs anger. Those storms can rage out of control, although they do not last forever. What matters, in the long run, is whether God addresses us out of the storm. God's word humbles Job. He inclines his head in silence.

A few weeks ago Pope Benedict stood before the site of the most apalling storm in human history. In visiting the concentration camp of Auschwitz, the Holy Father responded in a manner similar to Job: "In a place like this," the pope said, "words fail. In the end, there can only be a dread silence." The silence does not signify despair, but the desire to hear God's word. The pope of course did not resolve the problem of evil. As a "son of Germany" he acknowledged this terrible chapter in his nation's history. At the same time by certain gestures, he indicated that God was not totally absent. For example, Pope Benedict went to the place where the Nazis executed St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan priest who sacrificed his own life to take the place of a condemned Jewish man.

Today's Gospel presents a paradigmatic experience of the disciples facing a storm.*** In spite of waves breaking over the boat, Jesus somehow remained asleep. (He reminds me of a friend who can sleep through anything.) Like Job, the disciples wonder if their Lord cares about them. After quieting the sea, Jesus questioned them (and us): "Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?"

**********

*The one-year cycle of Scripture and Patristic readings is excellent. For an even more in-depth lectio divina, I recommend the two-year cycle A Word in Season from Augustinian Press.

**Perhaps the greatest modern novel to address the problem of evil is The Brother Karamazov. It contains an almost unbearable description of cruelty to a child. At the same time, in Ivan Karamazov's "Legend of the Grand Inquisitor" Dostoevsky brings home what a world without human freedom would look like.

***As George MacDonald wrote, "How often we look upon God as our last and feeblest resource! We go to Him because we have nowhere else to go. And then we learn that the storms of life have driven us, not upon the rocks, but into the desired haven."

Spanish Version

From Archives (12th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2015: Through Him - Week 3: Love of Christ Impels Us
2009: Who Calms Storms
2006: Out of the Storm

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