Monday, January 18, 2016

Toiling in the Midst of the Sea

“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Beth-saida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw him, and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”[1]

The preceding is the Gospel reading for 6 January 2016.  Although the multiplication of the loaves is not included in the reading itself, it is alluded to at the end of the passage.  Jesus had just finished feeding the five thousand, a pre-figuration of His passion, death, and resurrection portrayed in the Eucharist, which makes us grow in His likeness after Baptism.  Immediately, He compels His disciples to get into the boat to go to the other side, which Origen astutely interprets as our goal, which we commonly refer to as “heaven.”  Jesus compelled the disciples to leave lest they should be carried away by the misguided enthusiasm of the crowds who wanted to make him king (Jn 6:14).  The entering the boat is our entering the Catholic Church in order to complete our pilgrimage here on earth, our “wilderness.”

Jesus had known that, upon the miraculous feeding with the loaves, the people would see the Messianic promised alluded to. The miracle just performed by Christ was of the spectacular kind which, according to popular expectation, would mark the coming of the Messiah.[2]  He knew they would desire to force Him to be king.  Although it was not the time for that to occur, nonetheless it was time for Him to teach and prepare not only the Twelve but all of His disciples, including us, for all the hardships and sufferings we must undergo in order to “go to the other side.”  We must count the cost if we desire Jesus to be King in our lives.

Although the miraculous feeding prefigures the Eucharist, in this in instance Jesus is not feeding the five thousand with His body, blood, soul, and divinity.  This is a message, primarily, for His disciples.  We cannot look at this miracle and surmise that the Eucharist is open to everyone, regardless of what they believe.

Jesus feeds all His disciples with Himself, the Bread of Life, the manna from heaven, the Eucharist, and straightway sends them off.  This occurs to every individual when he partakes of the Eucharist.  We cannot partake of the Body and Blood of Christ and then make ourselves invisible, hide within ourselves.  Christ, through the Eucharist, is transforming us in order that He may send us out into the world to transform others.  Jesus did not send the others to the other side for they were not yet His disciples.  Their desire for Him to be king was to enhance their temporal, daily lives.

After the miraculous feeding and sending the disciples and the crowd away, Jesus went upon the mountain to pray.  This portrays His Ascension.  Although He has ascended, nevertheless He continuously is interceding for us.  When evening came, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and Jesus was alone on the land.  For us, the evening is the waning hours of the day, with night rapidly approaching, the nearness of the end of the day.  To the Jews, however, the evening is the beginning of the day.

Mystically, when we are “born again” in Baptism, we see dimly because of concupiscence, because we have not yet suppressed the “old man,” the old Adam, inside of us.  In order to see clearly, we must become blind (represented by the night, the darkness).  After Baptism, we still “see” mostly by the senses, seeing mostly the world.  We must become “blind” to the world, dying to living sensually, living only by the senses.  We must unite ourselves to God’s will, invoking the “Our Father,” praying, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  The “earth” is us, and “in heaven” refers to the angels and Saints.  St. Alphonsus de Liguori, in Uniformity with God’s Will, tells us:  “We must unity ourselves to God’s will not only in things that come to us directly from his hands, such as sickness, desolation, poverty, death of relatives, but likewise in those we suffer from man—for example, contempt, injustice, loss of reputation, loss of temporal goods and all kinds of persecution. On these occasions we must remember that while God does not will the sin, He does will our humiliation, our poverty, or our mortification, as the case may be.

It is certain and of faith that whatever happens, happens by the will of God: ‘I am the Lord forming the light and creating the darkness, making peace and creating evil.’  From God come all things, good as well as evil.  We call adversities evil; actually they are good and meritorious, when we receive them as coming from God’s hands.”  Iron sharpens iron.  The Saint goes on to say that “St. John of Avila used to say, ‘One ‘Blessed be God’ in times of adversity is worth more than a thousand acts of gratitude in times of prosperity’.”  Only in this way will we be able to gain our sight, seeing clearly.  Darkness comes before sunrise.  For this purpose, our Lord sends His disciples out in the boat, in order that we may be in the middle of the sea when evening comes.

As mentioned previously, the boat is a portrayal of the Catholic Church.  We cannot endure to be in the “midst of the sea” in the evening as individuals; we must be with the rest of the Body, whether in the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering, or the Church Militant.  We must be working in unity, working together.  His is why we invoke the Saints to aid us.  We are not subtracting from the glory due God; we are revealing it more clearly by loving our neighbor, helping one another.

The sea represents the world and all those of the world.  The world is ever changing, and those of the world, necessarily, are ever changing because they live by their passions and emotions, which change constantly.  Contrary to the world, the boat, the Catholic Church, is constant because God is constant.  Because the Head is constant, they Body must also be constant.  Some may charge that the Church has changed, especially after Vatican II; however, that is not the case.  Although it is true that disciplines have changed, the Church’s doctrines and dogmas do not change.  We see an example of this in St. Paul:  “To the Jews, I became as a Jew, in order to win the Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the Law.  To the weak, I became weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”  Although St. Paul changed his disciplines, he never changed his teachings.

Throughout the evening and the night, it is necessary that the Catholic Church be buffeted, to undergo persecutions.  This is necessary for our salvation and our sanctification.  The road to hell is wide and easy; the road to heaven is narrow, with many pitfalls, many dangers.  It was necessary that our Head suffer for our salvation; hence, it is also necessary that the Body also suffer.  Once again, St. Paul instructs us:  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church…”  It is not that anything is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for our salvation; what is lacking is the sufferings for the Church’s sake.  Christ has ascended Satan cannot afflict Him; however, Christ’s Body, the Catholic Church, is on earth, and Satan can afflict Her and her members.

Although our Lord has ascended, He has not left us alone.  He is the Bread of Life; therefore, He is constantly with His Church, wherever She is in the universe.  When we commune, the Bread of Life is in us; and we become bread of life for others, transforming them through our faith, which has transformed us.  Many times it appears to us that God is not near to us, that He in essence is a far-away God.  However, our passage reassures us that He is constantly watching over us and is near us.  As St. August correctly surmises, Jesus often seemingly is passing us by in order that we call out to Him.  It is He who gets us to “the other side.”

In conclusion, it is by virtue of our Lord giving us Himself in the Eucharist and sending us out to toil in the midst of the sea that we and others are saved.  In the midst of the sea, we must love one another, working together, strengthening one another.  Through this toiling and loving, Christ draws the others that He sent away, but not to “the other side.”  He has not given up on them; He is drawing them through us.

--Tommy Turner

[1] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain), The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, (New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994), Mk 6:45–52.
[2] J. A. O’Flynn, A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, 1953, 916.