Lord, Save Me, I Am Drowning

(Homily for Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

After the papal election, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee shared a vignette regarding Pope Benedict XVI. At the time Monsignor Dolan was rector of the North American College in Rome and the future pope (Cardinal Ratzinger) was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Monsignor Dolan happened to be in St. Peter’s Basilica. He noted that at one of the confessionals there was a small line of penitents. Nothing unusual about that. Pilgrims, as well as native Romans, can always be seen waiting for confession in St. Peter’s. As Monsignor Dolan passed by, however, he could not help notice the penitent coming out of the confessional: a medium size man with thin white hair, wearing a black cassock. It was Cardinal Ratzinger.

That image of the future pope emerging from the confessional is a good one for today’s Gospel. We see Peter sinking helplessly and Jesus stretching out his hand to him. Now, I doubt that Cardinal Ratzinger was facing some major crisis. Still, every confession in some way is a plea to Jesus, “Lord, save me. I am drowning.”

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the principal ways Jesus draws us out of dangerous waters. When I was in Lima, I had my own experience of this. I went to visit the famous Church of the Nazarenes where they keep the image of Our Lord of the Miracles. Connected to the main church is a Reconciliation Chapel which has room for about four hundred people. One side has a series of confessionals with penitents lined up beside them. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to make my own confession. When I finished, the confessor said to me, “Look, we priests are good at giving other people advice, but sometimes we don’t follow the words we say.” Then he proceeded to give some counsel which, in truth, I had probably said hundreds of times myself. Still, I thought about it. It was what I needed at that moment.

I don’t know about you, but I readily identify with Peter – not in his role as chief shepherd, but as a fellow human. When the water starts getting a little choppy, I know that I need the Lord. But once things calm down, I can get a little cocky – even imagine that I can walk on the water.

The Italians have a legend about the blackbird. When winter ends, it sings, “It is Spring now. I no longer need God.” What an illusion! Yet you and I can be equally foolish. Instead of thanking God for a moment of calm water, we can forget our own dependence upon him. If that deception takes over, Jesus allows a soul to sink. It is an act of mercy because apart from him we can find nothing but emptiness and misery.

You and I belong to a Church which is often tossed about by the waves, seeming ready to capsize at any moment. A reporter - with quintessential American innocence - made this comment to a Catholic friend, “We reported on the Enron scandal and that corporation collapsed. Why, after we exposed the clergy scandal, is the Catholic Church still functioning?” From the outside, the Church does appear to be disintegrating. But that viewpoint leaves something out. The One who says, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” The same One invites, “Come.” And in a gentle way, chides us, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”


Spanish Version

From Archives (for Nineteenth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2011: Two Tasks For Youth
2008: For the Sake of My Own People
2005: Lord, Save Me, I Am Drowning
2002: Men of Faith
1999: The Small, Still Voice

Other Homilies

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