Sunday, August 16, 2020

On the firm ground of a shipwreck

Sermon for the tenth Sunday after Trinity

We have a habit of comparing misfortunes with perilous journeys, don't we?

People say that 2020 was a car crash of a year or that the recession was a shipwreck of the economy. Sometimes we use these phrases too lightly, especially when we consider the lives of people who have been greatly affected by a car crash, a train derailment, or a shipwreck.

If we have not suffered from such devastating circumstances, do we have the right to describe difficult times as being a car crash?


St Paul is not on the boat with Our Lord and the Disciples when the storm hits. He is not there when Our Lord wakes up, calms the storm and rebukes the Disciples for their lack of faith. Nor is he present when the Lord walks on water during the storm and St Peter nearly sinks while trying to do the same. He is not there when the Lord asks why St Peter doubted, for his doubt caused him to sink.

St Paul may not have been there, but he has learned from his conversion on the Road to Damascus. He has learned from being taught by the Disciples of their experience. His faith has been growing since then and he has realised that, in times of trouble, to focus on Jesus.


From a scientific point of view, much of the impact of pain on our lives is emotional. People who are injured experience less pain when they are focused on something away from that pain. The same is true in all kinds of circumstances: the greater the emotion, the more we remember the discomfort and the greater our distress.

The lesson that the Apostles learn is how to have such a great focus on Jesus that the discomfort of their suffering is something they can deal with. Look at St Paul's behaviour in the ship. He has been in prison so long that his focus on Our Lord is pin-sharp. He hears the Lord's words about the turbulent voyage ahead. He encourages his fellows to eat by what seems very like celebrating Mass on the ship. He warns them that if they leave the ship and the focus, they will drown.

As the events and the waters swirl around them, the passengers and crew are saved because St Paul gives them a better focus away from the troubles. That focus is Our Lord. The ship that is being tossed about in the storm becomes a firm ground whereby people are protected from harm because Our Lord is with them. If St Paul really does celebrate Mass on that ship then He is truly present with them as much as He is present in that boat with the Disciples. 


If we call a situation a car crash then we are speaking about a sudden period of painful confusion after which things might not be the same again. The COVID outbreak has rendered 2020 a car crash of a year because its effects reach far into the future. It leaves us disoriented, in pain, mourning and distressed. 

Yet we have an opportunity to stand on the firm ground of this shipwreck by making Christ present through prayer and especially attending the Mass. We can alleviate the pain by making Christ the focus, remembering His pain and suffering and knowing that He takes ours with Him.

We must not let ourselves be ruled by emotion. Emotions do matter very much, but we should not allow them to be the focus of our experience. Often we make our emotions the idols to which we sacrifice our lives in order to feel better. We must feel them but keep our focus on the One Who is truly real and from Whom we get our reality.


No, this is not easy. This is why we pray and worship in times of peace and tranquillity when we learn at the feet of Jesus. Then when the storm hits, we will not go down with the ship.

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