12th Sunday in Ordinary Time in Ordinary Time
In his latest encyclical, Pope Francis writes: “A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshiping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot” (75). The Lord said as much to Job, as we heard in the first reading: I set limits for the sea and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!
The Holy Father goes on to say that “Creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things” (77) and he quotes the book of Wisdom: For you love all things that exist (Wisdom 11:24). That love was experienced by the sailors, when Godtossed the waves of the sea up to heaven and back into the deep, but they cried to the Lord in their need, and he stilled the storm to a whisper. Then they thanked the lord – not for his power – but for his love, and we joined them in singing “Give thanks to the Lord, his love is everlasting”.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, Let us cross to the other side. But waves were breaking over the boat, so the disciples cried out to Jesus to save them. Jesus echoed his Father who had saidHere shall your proud waves be stilled, and he, the Son, said to the sea, Quiet! Be still! And there was great calm, says St Mark, so that the disciples were filled with great awe.
And yet it is not the power of the Lord that overwhelms St Paul in the second reading. He begins:
The love of Christ impels us and then goes on to speak of death, as if it had something to do with all this sea imagery we heard in the first reading and in the Gospel. In fact there is a connection between death and the waves of the sea. At the Night Office on Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection, we sing these verses from Psalm 18: The waves of death rose about me, / the torrents of destruction assailed me. / In my anguish I called to the Lord / and he drew me forth from the mighty waters / he saved me because he loved me. Not to show his power, or because he loves people in general, but because he loves each particular person, each me.
Seen in this perspective, the Gospel this morning is not just a sea story: it is a resurrection Gospel. As the evening of our life draws on, Jesus is the first to cross to the other side. The waves of death rose about him, and he fell asleep on the cross, but even the waves of death obeyed him. He changed the mighty waters of death into the waters of baptism, so that we too could cross to the other side with him, being baptized into his death, and rising with him in thenew creation, where the waves of death have no more power over him.
And still it is not the power, but the love of Christ, that overwhelms us. He could have calmed the waves of death with a word, as he calmed the waves of the sea. But that is not the way of love. The way of love is to suffer what the loved one suffers, to die as every human being dies, and trust in God who was able to raise Christ from death, and did so, so that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who for our sake died and was raised. Those who live no longer for themselves may be utterly powerless, but their love for Christ is something stronger than death.
One of the finest expressions of this love that conquers death is found in the works of the great Norwegian Catholic, Sigrid Undset. Towards the end of her magnificent trilogy, Kristin Lavransdatter, she writers: “Kristin woke up fully again with a start, and fixed her eyes upon her hand. The gold ring was gone, that was sure enough – but there was a white, worn mark where it had been on her middle finger. It showed a little M, where the middle plate of gold had been pierced with the first letter of Mary, the Virgin’s holy name.
“And the last clear thought that formed in her brain was that she would die before this mark had time to vanish – and she was glad. It seemed to her to be a mystery that she could not fathom, but which she knew most surely none the less, that God had held her fast in a covenant made for her without her knowledge by a love poured out on her richly – and in spite of her self-will, in spite of her heavy, earthbound spirit, something of this love had become part of her, had worked in her like sunlight in the earth, had brought forth increase which not even the hottest flames of fleshly love nor its wildest bursts of wrath could lay waste wholly. A handmaiden of God she had been – a wayward, unruly servant, slothful and neglectful, impatient with correction – yet he had held her fast in his service, and under the glittering golden ring a mark had been set secretly upon her, showing that she was his servant, owned by the Lord and King who was now coming, borne by the priest’s anointed hands, to give her freedom and salvation”.
Our Lord and King has made death itself an act of life and freedom, because he has filled it with himself, with his love and salvation. And now, neither life nor death can separate us from the love of Christ. We don’t know when Jesus will say to each one of us in the evening of our life, Let us cross to the other side. We don’t know in what way the love of Christ will overwhelm us at that time. But we do know that our very death will be an act of communion with life, and that in Christ our own Passover, our crossing over to the other side, has already begun, that all the waves of the sea will be hushed, and that we shall rejoice because of the calm, for Christ is risen, and life reigns, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.