Following is Bishop David M. O’Connell’s homily from the Mass at the gazebo on Silver Lake in Belmar celebrated the morning of Aug. 13, 2017, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Bishop O’Connell was principal celebrant at the Mass, which was attended by nearly 1,000 people and hosted by five Monmouth County shoreline parishes that comprise Cohort 19.
We are all looking for God in our lives. For many of us, the search is conscious and deliberate. For others, the search is more occasional or sporadic. For still others, the search is hesitant, and we only became aware of God when we deny we are looking or turn away: who are we denying? Who are we turning from? God.
The Gospel from St. Matthew this morning transports us to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where the Lord Jesus has just performed the great miracle of feeding the 5000 with the five loaves and two fish. He sent the apostles to the other side of the Sea so that he could have some time to pray ... he prayed until sundown when a storm blew up. Jesus could see his apostles a few miles out and around 3 a.m., he walked toward them on the water. They were terrified, the Gospel tells. Was it a ghost? As if the storm wasn't enough to frighten them, now this? And the Lord Jesus calls to them, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." They were certainly not denying God at that moment, they weren't turning away. They were desperate for God; "Lord save us," they cried out.
Peter even asked the Lord Jesus to prove it was he, "Let me walk to you across the water,” and he started out but faltered for lack of faith. The Lord Jesus reached out his hand and embraced him, saved him. "O you of little faith, why did you doubt."
What a dramatic moment! Sometimes it takes a little drama to stir up faith ... feeding 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. Wasn't that enough? Now walking on the water ... it took a miracle or two to get Peter and the apostles to recognize "truly you are the Son of God." Usually in the Gospels, faith comes first – then the miracle. It's often the same in day-to-day life. Faith is looking for God ... not a God we invent, not a God we only see when our boat is sinking ... but a God who is already there, who is always there. A God who created us, a God who loves us, a God who says to us throughout our lives, "take courage, do not be afraid; it is I." A God who's got our back.
Faith is not simply a set of doctrines, although they are important. Faith is not simply a dramatic miracle here and there that catches our attention. Faith is a relationship with the Lord. And like every good relationship, it has to grow and deepen – it cannot be taken for granted. There is always more to learn, to see, to believe, to love. And our relationship with the Lord, our faith, also leads us to one another. The Lord Jesus didn't call one apostle, he called 12. Jesus didn't feed one person, he fed 5,000. Jesus didn't preach to one individual, he spoke to the multitudes.
Sometimes, in our search for God, we set our expectations far too high. We don’t need to. It's not that complicated. Our first reading from the Book of Kings makes the point when God invites Elijah to leave his tent to look for him. It wasn't in stormy winds, earthquakes, fire, some dramatic display ... but in the whispering wind. In other words, in the everyday moments of life, we find God. In the everyday moments, God says to us, "do not be afraid, it is I." And when we have faith in those everyday moments EVERY DAY, we ready ourselves for the difficult moments, the restless moments, the tough times, the stormy seas. Faith sees us through and lifts us up when we falter. Faith in God.
In faith, remember the prayer of St. Augustine: thou hast made us for thyself O Lord, and our hearts can find no rest until they rest in thee.