Gospel of the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
22 After He had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. 23 After doing so, He went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening He was there alone. 24 Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. 25 During the fourth watch of the night, He came toward them walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. 27 At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter said to Him in reply, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 After they got into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Those who were in the boat did Him homage, saying, “Truly, You are the Son of God” (Mt 14:22-33).
I – Hope: A Golden Virtue
Faith is a priceless virtue, since charity itself is born of it (cf. 1 Tm 1:5). No one esteems what he does not know, and therefore true love for God depends on firm adherence to divine Revelation. However, we also know that faith “worketh by charity” (Gal 5:6), without which we would be nothing, even if we had a faith capable of moving mountains (cf. 1 Cor 13:2). Therefore, we need to have a charity illumined by faith and, at the same time, a faith animated by charity. Hope plays an essential role in this intertwining, since it is, in a sense, the link between the two virtues.
Indeed, love spontaneously arises from the act of faith when there is the mediation of hope. Through hope, the human heart is offered the imminent and glorious prospect of possessing God, the object of spiritual love. Since we love more or less depending on whether the possibility of uniting our affection with the object loved appears near or remote, charity owes the force of its first impetus to how strongly we expect to attain the desired end. In the same way, love, which is the noblest of virtues, only enlivens faith if hope makes the ideal of union with God increasingly attractive to the human mind, moving it to know and admire Him more and more.1
These considerations serve to introduce the episodes recounted by St. Matthew in the Gospel of this 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which highlights the Apostles’ lack of trust in the Divine Master, particularly the vacillations of St. Peter, who will be saved from the waters by the compassionate, effective and omnipotent hand of Jesus.
In this Gospel, we will discover how much it costs man to trust in God and, consequently, to carry faith and charity to their ultimate expression, and we will identify hope as a golden virtue on the path to sanctification.
II – A Careful Preparation
In the Gospel we contemplate Our Lord walking on water, saving Peter from drowning and finally calming the storm by His mere presence, episodes preceded by the multiplication of the loaves. Added to this are the miracles performed by the Divine Master with the aim of forming the disciples and consolidating their faith.
In the first place, Jesus shows His lordship over food. Not even Moses in the desert had enjoyed such dominion, for the manna came from Heaven, while the bread multiplied in the desert came directly from the hands of Jesus, who presents himself as the very Word through whom all things were created.
Secondly, He manifests an absolute power with regard to His own Body, to the point of covering in the blink of an eye an enormous distance that would require hours of walking or swimming. And He appears hovering over the troubled waters, which leaves the Apostles amazed and terrified.
In this way, Jesus lays the foundations for revealing the most sublime mystery of all, that of the Eucharist, which was hidden from all human eyes but those of Our Lady. She, through her deep and firm faith illuminated by the gifts of knowledge and understanding, knew of it and longed for the day of its institution. Indeed, some pious authors2 assert that at Cana She hoped to see not only the water converted into wine, but also the transubstantiation of the wine into the Precious Blood of Christ.
Filled with awe, let us consider of this passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, following Jesus’ careful preparation for His revelation of the future institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We shall do so through the clear, luminous gaze of Mary Most Holy, who with transports of adoration followed each step her Son took to prepare the nascent Church to receive the greatest of treasures.
Wisdom in action
22 After He had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds.
In the light of the events that will follow, we observe in this verse that Our Lord does nothing hastily or spontaneously, but in everything He observes a higher reason of wisdom. In preparing His disciples for the manifestation of the great mysteries of our Faith, He acts purposefully, aiming at their benefit and that of the future Church. By sending them on ahead, He knows that they will be exposed to the headwind and the fury of the waves; nevertheless, a great good will come from this ill.
May this appreciation serve to strengthen our trust in Him. In our lives too God allows us to face tragic scenarios, inexplicable circumstances and dead-end roads. Let us trust! He knows what wonders He will work in our hearts, perhaps miraculously resolving the most distressing situations before the eyes of men. The lives of the Saints are full of facts that show how God writes straight with lines which seem crooked to our eyes. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived. In the face of apparent absurdity, we must abandon ourselves with the candour of a child in the arms of the good Heavenly Father, certain of being led by Him to safe port.
Alone with the Father
23 After doing so, He went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening He was there alone.
In solitude and silence, Our Lord focused His human attention, previously divided among various occupations, on intimacy with the Father, loving Him with all His strength and allowing himself to be loved by the One who had begotten Him before the creation of the world as the perfect imprint of His substance, full of grace and splendour. It was fitting that this communion take place on the summit of the mountain, for it raised the Saviour’s most holy humanity to its highest pinnacle and prefigured the glory He would receive forever after His Ascension into Heaven.
The prayer of Jesus was endowed with an unsurpassable sublimity. As true Man, He prayed to the Father to present His desires, always in conformity with the divine will, which was fully manifested to Him because He was at one and the same time the Word of God, consubstantial with the other two Persons of the Trinity. With admirable vehemence, Our Lord pleaded for the salvation of the predestined of all ages: from the faithful Angels to the Saints of the latter times, to the patriarchs, prophets and just men of the most varied historical eras.
In this episode He thought with deep affection of each one of us too, shedding tears and presenting to God His infallible requests to save us and lead us to eternal happiness. We must therefore feel accompanied by Our Redeemer at every moment. Even when He seems absent, Jesus is at our side, watching over us with incomparable zeal.
The Lord is not in agitation
24 Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
This passing life is a battlefield on which man is put to the test, in order to prove himself worthy to receive the reward from Heaven. A clear example of this is the troubled waters that the Apostles cross with great difficulty, rowing for hours on end, fighting against weariness and the adversity of the elements. As happened to the righteous Job, Our Lord surely allows His followers to be struck by the infesting influence of the devil, a quintessentially restless spirit, who seeks to infect with this state of mind those whom he intends to bring to perdition.
Here we note the contrast between the action of the Prince of Peace, consoling and helping, and the frantic manoeuvres of the devil, the evident author of the agitation of the waters. God always acts as Father and Friend, even when He reproaches man for his faults, and only when we are calm and serene are we able to hear His voice within us. Likewise, the best way to resist the snares of the evil one is to keep calm, leaning on an unshakeable confidence in God.
Under the Master’s benevolent gaze
25 During the fourth watch of the night, He came toward them walking on the sea.
St. Matthew tells us an admirable and prodigious fact with the naturalness of one who witnesses a commonplace scene. In this style adopted by the Evangelists the objectivity and veracity of the narration is evident.
Recollected on the mountain and immersed in the splendours of the Father with indescribable adoration, Jesus had not abandoned His little flock. As the Word of God Incarnate, He followed His disciples step by step in their every thought, their vicissitudes, and the states of spirit that arose successively within them.
In short, with His human attention completely focused on the divinity, His zeal for His friends became even more acute, penetrating and effective. In His loving dialogue with the Father, He undoubtedly beseeched with ineffable ardour for the salvation and sanctification of those chosen ones and, more specifically, He implored assistance from above to successfully overcome the trial besetting them.
May this teaching serve to strengthen our confidence: even in the worst moments, Providence cares for us with an overflowing paternal – one might even say maternal – affection. To preserve the innermost certainty of always being in the “palm of the hand” of the Blessed Trinity, even when turbulent circumstances subject the vessel of our soul to the most severe tribulation, is part of the path that leads to Paradise, and only those who know how to trust in the Lord against all appearances will be considered victors.
A symptomatic mistake
26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
The Apostles cross the Lake of Gennesaret with the illusion of finding themselves alone in the face of danger, far from the Master and therefore left to their own devices. The supernatural perspective is absent from their cogitations and, immersed in a crude naturalism, they consent to the voices of discouragement that rise up in their spirits, weakened by the adversity. Mired in this state of spirit, they are incapable of seeing with the eyes of faith and, for this reason, the sight of Jesus walking on the water unsettles them. They are also incapable of recognizing the Lord and, thinking they are seeing a ghost, they cry out in fear. Not even St. John, the Beloved Disciple, is able to recognize the One who appears to them!
It is a priceless lesson, of immense benefit for us! How often, overcome by anguish or carried away by the whirlwind of events, we lose sight of the supernatural reality and easily fall into despair. Are we not even guiltier than the Apostles? They had not yet concluded that Jesus was the Son of God, while we steadfastly profess this when we recite the Creed.
Let us consider how theoretical and lifeless is a faith that does not translate into true hope, that is, into a deep conviction that we are loved by the best of fathers, and consequently protected and guided by Him, as the Psalm teaches us: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Ps 23:4).
27 At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Our Lord’s response to the disciples’ fear holds sublime theological value. He urges them to recover their courage on account of having His omnipotent and eternal Person before them. Indeed, courage is one of the corollaries of the virtue of fortitude, which makes man capable of overcoming the most difficult obstacles in the name of God, on whom he relies.
There is an indissoluble link between fortitude and hope, since only those who rely on divine help with conviction can resist the worst enemies and dispel the darkness of fear. True bravery is the daughter of confidence!
Temerity or faith?
28 Peter said to Him in reply, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.”
The Prince of the Apostles is not yet fully confirmed in the faith which he himself will profess at Caesarea Philippi, in affirming that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). Now he does not give full credit to the Master’s words and asks Him for an audacious proof, as befits his bold and fiery spirit. This mixture of daring, presumption and hesitation was bound to end badly, were it not for the goodness of the Lord…
29b Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
God is jealous and demands that our trust in Him be complete and unblemished. At first the miracle takes place, but faced with the roar of the elements, Simon loses sight of the Lord, lets himself be overcome by fear, and ends up sinking into the water. However, this failure leads him to a more perfect attitude, for he confesses with his heart and with his lips that he is before the Lord at the moment of imploring His help.
He walked with Him upon the waters…
31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Our Lord answers promptly, stretching out His hand and lifting Peter up with the ease of one who lifts a feather, to show that He is Lord of Heaven and earth, with full power over His own body and that of others. Then He rebukes him for his weak faith, as if to say: “From now on, be certain that you stand before God.”
The Gospel does not describe this particular instance, but it is clear that the disciple once again walked on the water, following the Master who had preceded him to the boat. Why? Because Our Lord had given him His hand! He had been saved by that divine hand, capable of infusing man’s heart with invincible strength. Peter, who had almost succumbed, now felt himself immune to the fury of the waves, with an absolute mastery that came to him from Jesus and conquered his panic.
After Pentecost we see that he had learned the lesson in an excellent way, for he exhorts Christians to the most perfect confidence: “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial” (2 Pt 2:9).
32 After they got into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Those who were in the boat did Him homage, saying, “Truly, You are the Son of God.”
Upon boarding the boat, Our Lord manifests His dominion over the devil and the meteorological elements, for the wind is calmed. The demonstrations of an unusual supernatural power had been more than enough for the fuse of faith to be lit in the hearts of the disciples with a fire of certainty in the divinity of Jesus. And behold, after seeing the Master multiplying the loaves, walking on water with St. Peter and finally overcoming the storm, the group of the Apostles prostrated themselves before Him and proclaimed Him Son of God. This could well be said to be the starting point of the Catholic Church.
III – Hope in a Marian Future!
In considering this Gospel, one is amazed at the power of Our Lord in manifesting His divinity. Moreover, one understands how indispensable it is for the profession of faith be sustained and nurtured by an unshakeable confidence in Him, to the point of walking on water, following Him with steadfastness and serenity, without wavering, even in the face of danger. Thus we see the role of the virtue of hope as a vital auxiliary of faith and charity: unless the former reaches a degree of excellence, the great works of God will not be accomplished.
Applying these teachings to our own times opens up a vast horizon with apocalyptic overtones. Indeed, if in order to found the Holy Church it was necessary for the disciples to have the certainty of complete victory, what will it take in our current days, in which Peter’s barque is not only surrounded by threatening waves and tossed about by crosswinds, but infiltrated by the whirlwinds of the world at the most varied levels of its structure? On the other hand, does not the challenge of paganism faced by the Apostles pale, in some respects, in the face of the colossal apostasy of today?
Hence we conclude, together with the most outstanding prophets of the New Testament, such as St. Catherine of Siena, St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Blessed Francisco Palau y Quer and so many others, that a new era of miracles is about to dawn, which is destined to bring confidence in God to an unprecedented height. This vibrant and steadfast hope will enable man to pass through the terrible days that are drawing near.
The prodigies will certainly be exterior, numerous and eminent, but the miracles of greater magnitude will take place in the interior of hearts with radical, profound and formidable conversions, reminiscent of that of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. These changes of life produced by irresistible graces will manifest the secrets of wisdom, holiness and beauty of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for She will be the great conqueror together with her Divine Son.
Who will witness this era of miracles with eyes of faith? Who will know how to read the signs of the times? Those who, in the apparent tranquillity of the daily routine, do not let themselves be contaminated by the stupid naturalism of the modern world and know how to hear the swift footsteps of God, who comes to reap, burn and plant.
Those who, overcoming the pragmatic materialism of neo-pagan society, have the courage to believe that the life of a Christian does not conform to any standard of mediocre normality, but is full of great epopees, like the one narrated in the Gospel that we contemplate today. These will recognize that God is just and merciful, and will come with power to renew the face of the earth.
Let us acquire and keep this certainty, if we do not want the glorious deeds of God to surprise and terrify us, as Jesus walking on the water frightened the Apostles. ◊
1 Cf. ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. Summa Theologiæ. II-II, q.17, a.7, ad 1.
2 Cf. ALASTRUEY, Gregorio. Tratado de la Virgen Santísima. 4.ed. Madrid: BAC, 1966, p.680-681.