There have been many times in my life where I have just felt so overwhelmed and overcome by fear, or stress, because of situations that I could not control, or relationships that were not working the way that I was hoping they would, or because of mistakes that I had made.
I remember one such day about six years ago. I was the Parochial Vicar at the Cathedral in Gaylord, one of our larger parishes in the diocese. It had been such a busy day and I was just struggling to get things done and feeling like a failure in so many ways.
As a priest or a minister, we are pulled in so many different directions sometimes, and what really hurts, at least for me, is not being able to give more, not being able to do more for someone, or to desire to do things perfectly in each situation and want to completely finish things up in one place before having to run off to the next thing.
As a closet perfectionist, I remember not knowing how to handle and balance that frustration.
On that one particular evening, I felt like I couldn’t tread water anymore and I was starting to sink below the surface; feeling like I wanted to give up.
I was in the sacristy at St. Thomas Aquinas in Elmira, a small parish that is serviced by the priests at the Cathedral. I was getting ready for the 5 p.m. Tuesday Mass, and like many times before, I had not had a chance to even look at the readings before Mass, and felt like I was going in completely unprepared.
I had more than had it with my weaknesses; my busyness; the demands of the priestly life. I was so tired of everything. I looked up to the crucifix to let Jesus know how frustrated I was. Instead, He caught my eyes and my heart in an instant. When I looked at Him, hanging there on the cross, all I could say was, “Oh, yeah.”
It was kind of an “Ah ha” moment, but also a surrender to the reality of the Cross at the same time. Jesus instantaneously turned my internal turmoil into inspiration. It was as if He was saying “Remember, this is what the Cross looks like. This is what I have called you to.” There was also this beautiful and added element of His promise to be with me. It was almost as if He added in that one instant both inspiration to embrace the Cross, as well as a reminder; “I am with you always. Keep your eyes on me.” With that I also had my homily instantaneously ready. Boom! Jesus pulled that one off like a rock star! All I could literally do was say in my head, “Oh, yeah,” and take a deep breath, and sigh a tear-filled “Thank you.” It happened so fast, but changed my entire outlook in the snap of a finger. All it took was a gaze upon Jesus.
In Chapter 14 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus works some beautiful and unbelievable miracles. First of all, He feeds possibly tens of thousands of people with five loaves and two fish. Then, He walks on the water to join his friends who were on a boat heading to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
In this particular episode, Jesus comes walking toward his disciples on the sea and in their fear they think that He is a ghost. The Gospel states “At once Jesus spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter said to Him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ After they got in to the boat, the wind died down” (Matthew 14:27-32).
This story is such a powerful one for me, partially because I identify a lot with the apostle Peter. I am named after him, but it’s more than that. I love how his humanity really comes through in both glorious moments of courage and desire, and in painful moments of failure and brokenness. Peter gives me such encouragement!
To think that our first Pope was so human, so weak, yet we see what he becomes through the grace of Christ. In this particular story of Peter, he at first is bold and believing and does not hesitate to step out of the boat. How long did it take for him to notice the wind and the waves of the storm and begin to fear?
And you really just wonder why would he begin to fear? He was literally walking on water! Who can ever say they have done that before!? But like many other times, Peter shows us his weak humanity.
Meanwhile, Jesus teaches us all a wonderful lesson. He says to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” As if to say “Do not look at the storm, do not focus on the troubles; the struggles; the suffering, but rather look at me and do not doubt that I will sustain you. I will help you stay above the storm.” What is also very powerful for me is that even though Peter did not have the faith in Jesus to sustain himself above the water, he did believe that Jesus could keep him from sinking. He cries out, “Lord, save me!” and “Immediately” it says, “Jesus stretched out His hand and caught Peter.” This is what I felt happened to me in that sacristy. Jesus immediately reached out and caught me and reminded me that I can do nothing without Him. However, with Him sustaining my life, I can walk on water. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
My encouragement for you all is to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and believe that He is your strength who will help you to accomplish things that are impossible for you to do on your own. Look up to Him on the Cross and see your Savior. Cry out to Him, “Lord, save me!” Let Him be the one to raise you and keep you above the storm.