Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

David Oatney Blog: Life at 25

1 Kings 19:9A, 11-13A

Romans 9:1-5

Matthew 14:22-33


The prophet Elijah begins our readings today by going to Mount Horeb, also called Mount Sinai, and one of the things that we don’t see in that passage (merely because of where the text today begins) is the reality that Elijah is fleeing to the “mountain of God” in fear of his life. Even though Elijah’s time was centuries after Moses, the Holy Mountain was still in those days considered to be the place that a pilgrim went in solitude to get in touch with God in a very direct way. Elijah doubtless went there expecting some great wonder from God in order to signify His divine presence and make His will known. Throughout Sacred Scripture, God frequently made his presence known by wind, earthquake, and fire. When the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles at Pentecost, the Acts of the Apostles describes it as “a rushing mighty wind.” (cf. Acts 2:2) When Jesus rose from the dead, the first thing that the Gospel tells us occurred was “a great earthquake.” (cf. Matthew 28:2). When God first appeared to Moses to make himself known and to call Moses to his prophetic mission to free Israel, God appears to Moses as fire that would not consume the bush that the fire was burning.

The idea that Elijah would go up to the Mountain of God and God would appear in an earthquake, or wind, or fire would have been what Elijah might have expected if he was going to have a direct encounter with God. He experienced a great wind and a great earthquake, and he saw fire, but he didn’t find the Lord in those signs. He did not find the Lord in the way he would have been expecting. Instead, Elijah hears God in a “tiny whispering sound,” a small voice.

In so many ways, Elijah’s spiritual experience can be like our own. At some point in our lives we may have expected God to give us direction by showing us some miraculous “sign,” indeed the Pharisees and Sadducees tried the very same thing with Jesus, they were constantly telling Jesus “give us a sign,” even though He performed many miracles. (cf. Matt. 12:38, Matt. 16:1) Can God still make Himself known to humanity through miraculous signs in the world? He absolutely can, and indeed those of us who believe in the apparitions of the Blessed Mother at Fatima and Lourdes believe this has happened even in the modern era with events such as the “Miracle of the Sun” at Fatima, for example. But the reality is that most of the time, the obviously miraculous is not how God speaks to us, but instead in the miracles of our daily lives, and in the “small voice” that is often difficult for us to hear unless we take the time to listen for it.

Perhaps some of us here might be trying to determine what direction in our lives the Holy Spirit would have us to go. We might have an important decision or series of decisions to make about the future, or about finances, or work, or a family situation, or any number of things, and if you’ve ever been in a situation like that, you know that it is very typical for any of us to say “Lord, can you show me a sign,” because we don’t want to make the wrong decision. We can become so worried about doing the wrong thing that we can fail to hear the Holy Spirit in that whispering voice trying to guide us. I know that I have been guilty of that very fault.                                                                                         

A few people hearing this might even be considering a vocation to the priesthood, the diaconate, or the religious life. If that is the case for anyone here, some people may hesitate to further discern whether God is calling them to a vocation of Holy Orders or the religious life because they understand the solemn commitments involved in those callings-and they are serious commitments-and no one wants to make them and take them back if they discover that they were following their own desires rather than the Lord’s will.

The really short version of the story of my own vocation is not that the Lord came to me and said “go and be a deacon,” but rather that a series of happenings and events fell into place over a period of time in my life in such a way that the Holy Spirit was making Himself plain, I just needed to be open to hear, and see, and understand that. Before it was over the Lord might as well have put up a big sign in front of my face that said “DUH!”

We often look at today’s Gospel and think that Jesus is simply chiding Peter for his lack of faith, but let us give the Holy Father some credit…it was his idea to step out on the water with Jesus to begin with, he said to Jesus “if it is really you, command me to come to you on the water” and so Jesus did, and Peter did not hesitate to go out on the water, he already believed that Jesus could make certain that Peter could come to him on the water. There was a storm brewing, the wind was almost certainly violent, and Peter doubts, and he begins to sink. Peter has a very human reaction that any of us might have had, and Jesus asks “oh ye of little faith, why did you doubt.” And yet, Jesus rescues Peter, Jesus verifies that Peter’s initial faith that Jesus could get him across the water was not misplaced.

There is always going to be risk in following the Lord if we are truly following Him.  The secular world is not going to understand what we are doing if we truly follow and do what the Lord would like us to do, and in some cases the world can be outright hostile. Sometimes our family members or friends will not understand our decision to live a Gospel life-to have more children if we are able, as just one example, despite the strange looks or derisive comments we might get from others. Or to make sacrifices for the good of the Church which, if left solely to our own devices, we might not be prepared to make. Jesus shows us that even if it appears we are sinking, even if we do not know how the Lord is going to do it, and even if we doubt the outcome in the midst of trial, if we trust in the Lord He will see us through. He may not do so in the way we are expecting, and the outcomes might not even be what we would choose, but the Lord will not abandon us.

The Lord may not be in the fire, or the wind, and there may not be a great earthquake as a sign of His presence in our lives, but if we are willing to listen for Him, listen for that whisper of His voice, to be still and know that He is God (cf. Ps. 46:10), we will be able to hear the Lord, and respond to His call. When we do, we will best be able to live the life that God wants us, in his love and mercy, to live for Him.