In life’s storms when we feel overwhelmed, Christ is present in surprising ways
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
I occasionally come across an inspirational quote or story on Facebook that I like to share. Once such story, written in poetic form, speaks of how God sometimes allows us to experience more than we can actually handle.
With all the recent tragedies dominating the news, particularly in Dallas, and with the recent loss of my brother, Larry, and my two friends from St. Louis, Mike Stillman and Randy George, and that of my dear co-worker on the Chancery staff, Lourdes Garza, I also have found myself asking God, “Where are you, Lord, when we need you?”
Though we “walk by faith and not by sight,” as St. Paul reminds us, we long for evidence that Jesus is near. The human emotion that cries out to God “Why?” is expressed in a number of the Psalms that the Church prays daily in the Liturgy of the Hours. The pinnacle of this anguished cry is captured in Psalm 22, which Christ cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Psalm 22:1). But does God truly leave us to ourselves in our most dire time of need?
We all want to be assured that God is always with us, especially during the most difficult times in our life. But like the two occasions when the apostles feared for their lives upon the stormy sea (Mark 4:35-41 and 6:45-52), Christ sometimes seems to be sleeping through our ordeal, or to even be passing us by.
At times such as these, our cries echo those of the apostles as we struggle to awaken Jesus to our dire situation — “Do you not care that we are perishing?” At other times, we struggle to recognize Jesus’ presence as He approaches us over the deep and mighty waters, causing us to ask, “Lord, is it really you?”
Sometimes the very things we think are preventing us from seeing God (like the storm and the turbulent sea that hide Jesus’ presence) are the very means by which He draws nearer to us. The Lord addresses us “out of the storm,” as He did Job (Job 38), and He comes to us across the tears of our life, inviting us to step out of our familiar boat to a new level of trust in Him.
In this moment of history, there are storms all around us: a war against our faith and religious freedom; violent attacks on the sanctity of human life, the sacred bond of marriage and the family; storms of hatred and division that incite riots and murder; a fierce persecution of Christians by ISIS; and a torrent of suffering from illness and pain in both body and soul.
Where is Jesus? Why does He allow the storms to keep raging? Why does He wait so long, sometimes until the “fourth watch of the night,” before He makes His presence known?
Jesus wants us to have complete trust and confidence in Him, no matter what the circumstances, no matter how we feel, or what is going on inside or outside of us. As part of our growth and testing, Jesus allows storms to arise and darkness to descend upon us. We may or may not be able to see Him. If we do, He might be asleep.
Sometimes Jesus doesn’t allow Himself to be seen until the middle of the night when we are exhausted, and even then He acts as if He is just passing by. Why does He do this? Because He wants us to remember that He is bigger than our circumstances and stronger than the fiercest storms. He is always passing by because He is continually watching us from every side. Jesus wants us to grow in faith rather than to complacently stay where we are. He has so much to give and is ever inviting us to a deeper trust, a more ardent love, and a more vibrant faith.
Jesus is showing us that He has power over nature, and comes to us in a very special way “across the natural elements.” His walking across the sea is a foreshadowing of the mystery of our faith.
In the sacrament of His love, Jesus comes across the elements of bread and wine when they are transubstantiated into His Body and Blood, His real presence. If we keep our gaze on Him, we will not let things overwhelm us, nor will we sink into the depths of discouragement or despair.
Jesus wants us to discover Him in every circumstance of life, and to realize His footprints, like the beloved poem, Footprints in the Sand, are always there, though many times unnoticed. He wants us to experience Him in the help of others — those who are His face, and hands and heart.
Through all the storms of life, He is waiting for us to welcome Him into our boat, into our life, so He can bring calm and stillness to our soul. Through our faith, we see that every holy Communion, whether sacramental or spiritual, is a “Footprint of Jesus” on the mighty waters of His love. So I repeat His words to all of us, “Take courage. It is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50).
I wish to conclude by thanking all who have joined me in praying for my brother, Larry, my friends Mike Stillman and Randy George, and my co-worker within the diocese, Lourdes Garza. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.