19th Sunday in Ordinary Time | August 9, 2020

Today’s Readings

One of many hiding places at AQ.

Kids love to hide. Or at least, mine certainly do. They camouflage themselves in the way only children can. They hide beneath the pillows in my office, behind a door, or simply stand with a blanket draped over them, both feet in full view. Sometimes Connor even plays peek-a-boo through our porch door, maintaining eye contact the entire time. His conviction is utterly charming, and discovering them is often a joy and always a relief. Playing along with their invisibility so as to surprise someone else? That’s even better.

To them, hiddeness means control and anticipation and surprise. When Lucy and Connor hide, their commitment to the role suggests they believe they’ve accomplished the impossible. Namely, that they truly are invisible. But to be invisible does not imply that something has disappeared, nor has it necessarily lost its power to manipulate. Yes, I may be describing the important childhood development better known as object permanence, but it also reveals something about our faith that I believe pertains to today’s readings.

You see, with Lucy, we also talk about what it means for something to be both invisible and real. After all, many of us had friends from our childhoods that were seemingly born ex nihilo. Some of us even remember the names of those invisible friends. The best example of something real and invisible that we return to time and again is the wind. The wind, we tell her, is made known in its affect. We cannot see it, but we sense what it does with our eyes and our ears. We feel it against our face and in our hair. We see the world dance about, sometimes with grace and sometimes in distress.

God asks us to lean into that same kind of trust, and today’s Gospel is a wonderful example of it.

Our narrative begins en route. The crowd is dispersed, and Jesus asks the disciples to take him across the lake in a fishing boat. When they arrive, the disciples remain in the boat while Jesus ascends a nearby mountain to pray. While they are apart, a mighty storm threatens to destroy their boat, “for the wind was against it”. Their world in chaos and their senses on overload, it is amid fear for their lives that Jesus asks his friends to put their trust in him. As he walks across the water, Jesus says, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid”.

What I find even more moving than Jesus’s reassurance is his action, or rather his reaction, to Peter’s failings. We read, “Immediately, Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter“. Without a thought, Christ was there, and his love for Peter is apparent in his company. By the grace of God, faith, hope, and love are made known in our actions, too. The invisible movement of God’s love within us is visible in what we do for those around us. Indeed, Jesus is Love made manifest, made into something we can see, touch, hold, and catch. The Incarnate Word remains with us certainly in the Eucharist, but in a time when regular Mass attendance may consist of sitting in your living room or even looking down at a phone, it seems almost more important that we remember Jesus is truly present in the love we have for others.

In our first reading, we witness the faith and trust of the prophet Elijah as he ascends Mount Horeb to wait for God. I often wonder what those whispered words were that caught Elijah’s attention. It wasn’t the mighty winds that called him forth, or the earthquake or fire. His soul was stirred by the tiniest sound. Here, God chose to be revealed in humility, much like he came to us as a child. But whatever it was that was spoken, Elijah recognized God’s call not unlike Jesus’s command to Peter. One can imagine our Lord raising his voice above the wind and the waves, calling out to Peter so that he could hear him. But the words he spoke were gentle, like God’s whisper. “Do not be afraid,” he tells him. The tone is that of comfort and confidence. When the world was crashing around them, Jesus was at the side of the disciples.

This summer, Fr. Brendan and I have been recording a Vigil Mass at Aquinas House on Saturday evenings. In many ways, it is a curious thing. Seemingly perfect days, light pouring into the chapel through the stained-glass windows encircling the altar. It reminds me of memories of sophomore summers past, and the gift the Upper Valley is to our students.

But the chapel’s beauty also illuminates the emptiness around us. We are so used to seeing the faces of our students and members of our community, celebrating the liturgy together and catching up after Mass. But for months now, AQ has, in a sense, felt invisible. That is why when we see students – almost always to retrieve belongings from campus – we feel so alive. No, they are not theophanies like those from our readings, but each reunion is an encounter with God’s image nonetheless. Like the wind and like Christ’s love for us, AQ may at times seem invisible, but our community is always very real.