Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
That little boat crossing the stormy lake is a perfect parable of our life. St Thérèse of Lisieux noticed it and took comfort from it. Describing a time of great disappointment in her life she wrote: "My soul was a like a fragile boat delivered up to the mercy of the waves and having no pilot. I knew Jesus was there sleeping in my boat, but the night was so black it was impossible to see him." But sadness turns into joy, and soon she could write: “In place of the wind of trial, a light breeze expanded my sail and I believed I’d reach the blessed shore, now seemingly so close. It was really very close to my boat, but more than one storm was still to arise."
Fifteen centuries earlier St Augustine meditated on this same boat, and saw meaning in it for the whole Christian community, the Church. St Thérèse was born in the modern era, where the individual is seen as the primary bearer of meaning. An earlier consciousness looked at the community first. Certainly the story has meaning for the individual; but let’s see how St Augustine applies it.
“The boat carrying the disciples — that is, the Church — is rocking and shaking amid the storms of temptation, while the adverse wind rages on. That is to say, its enemy the devil strives to keep the wind from calming down. But greater is he who is persistent on our behalf, for amid the ups and downs of our life he gives us confidence. He comes to us and strengthens us, so we are not jostled in the boat and tossed overboard. For although the boat is thrown into disorder, it is still a boat. It carries the disciples and receives Christ. It is in danger indeed on the water, but there would be certain death without it. Therefore stay inside the boat and call upon God. When all good advice fails and the rudder is useless and the spread of the sails presents more of a danger than an advantage, when all human help and strength have been abandoned, the only recourse left for the sailors is to cry out to God. Would God, who helps sailors to reach port safely, abandon the Church and prevent it from arriving in peace and tranquillity?”
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