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God in the “eye of the storm”

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 13 August 2023
1 Kings 19:9, 11-13 ><}}}}*> Romans 9:1-5 ><}}}}*> Matthew 14:22-33
The well-defined eye at the center of the storm Hurricane Florence seen from the International Space Station taken by astronaut Alexander Gerst in 12 September 2018, https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/staring-down-hurricane-florence.

Our gospel this Sunday speaks of winds and storms, something we have experienced recently that brought so much rains and caused widespread floods even in Metro Manila.

Storms and typhoons are categorized by the winds they pack that induce the heavy rains which result in floods. At the center of every storm and typhoon is called the “eye” which is its most calm part without winds at all, even with clear skies; however, all the hazards and dangers of a storm come from the wall of that eye of the storm that is why we have the expression “lull in the storm” – that moment of calmness before suddenly everything breaks loose as the storm passes or pummels an area.

Our first reading and gospel today imply something about this “eye of the storm” where God is found, where Jesus comes. Both readings tell us that it is not really in the raging storm where we find God but right in that eye of the storm, the peace and stillness of our heart within.

Photo by author, Katmon Nature Sanctuary & Beach Resort, Infanta, Quezon, 04 March 2023.

In the first reading, God told Elijah to wait for him at the entrance of the cave as he fled from soldiers of Queen Jezebel out to kill him. First came a strong wind, followed by an earthquake, then, fire, but God was nowhere.

After these shattering events, Elijah found God in a “tiny whispering sound” that followed. What a beautiful imagery of the prophet deep in prayers! It was in his serenity, in his complete trust in the Lord – in the eye of a storm – that he found God and had to cover his face with a cloak as a sign of respect. Imagine the stormy condition of Elijah at that time, of being hunted.

Here we find again the importance of prayer life, the eye of the storm, our communion with God in Jesus Christ. It is in prayer where God first comes and reveals himself to us. More than the recitation of traditional prayers, prayer is being one with God, of wrestling with him in our inner selves that is always in turmoil, always with a storm that makes us choose whether to stay or to leave, to wait for God or go ahead with what we believe and think. Prayer is wrestling with God like Jacob because deep within us is always a storm and typhoon going on, with an eye as its center where God is, where Jesus walks on water to save us when like his apostles we are in the middle of a storm at the darkest hour of the night.

Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Galilee, Israel, May 2017.

When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “come.” Peter got out the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:26-33

These two instances of Elijah in the cave and Jesus walking on water show us that God is always present in our lives. Whatever is happening around us does not determine God’s presence.

What matters most is that we pay attention to him alone in Jesus, our Emmanuel or God-is-with-us. Every time we cry out “where is God?”, it is us who have left him, it is us who have doubted like Peter who even in the middle of a storm was thinking more of himself than Jesus. See how doubtful was Peter that even after Jesus had identified himself by saying “It is I” which is actually “I AM” as God had called himself to Moses and the Israelites, he dared to say “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on water.” How funny that when Jesus gave in to his request, Peter sank because he still doubted the Lord. Just like us when we would dare God but when he plays our games, we chicken out, still unbelieving, still unconvinced.

Is it really God whom we are seeking especially in moments of storms in life?

Photo by author, San Juan, La Union, 24 July 2023.

If all we seek is fame, comfort and pleasure even amid the storms in life, paying attention only to our selves, we would surely miss the Lord who is always beside us. People, things, events can distract us and lead us astray at critical moments in life.

Hence, the need for us to remain focused in Jesus by looking right into the very “eye of our storm”, into what is disrupting us, seeking Christ like the psalmist in our responsorial psalm today who begged, “Lord let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.”

In this age with so many storms of distractions outside us in a world on a 24/7 mode with almost everyone in his/her own world listening/watching to their playlists and podcasts with eyes stuck on their gadgets or stuck in their ears, do we make time to find our “eye of storm”, our center of peace and calmness where God is?

See how St. Paul in the second reading was tormented or tortured in himself because of his fellow Jews’ refusal to accept the good news that Jesus is their awaited Christ. It was a perfect storm within him that saddened him but never bothered him because he was focused with God and his mission. He had no qualms in bearing many sufferings and facing death because amid all the storms in his life, he had found Jesus. This focus on God is the reason why Jesus remained behind to pray that night when he told the Twelve to go ahead to the other side of the lake. This is the first time Matthew tells us Jesus was praying. Two things I wish to share with you regarding prayer life as the eye of our storms in life.

First, the most difficult prayer is always the most meritorious. Prayer is not about feelings nor of feeling good and light but in giving one’s self to God wholly that even if nothing seems to happen, we remain in God, with God. Desire only God in prayer, asking him for courage to find and follow Jesus. Like the apostles in the boat, true prayer happens when we feel abandoned and isolated, so far from God. It is in our many trials in life when we pray that we learn how strong and faithful are we in God’s grace!

Second, there are no distractions in prayer. I have realized that most often, the distractions we consider during prayer periods may actually be from God, not from the devil as we usually believed. Recall how Jesus forced the 12 to go ahead to the other side of the lake perhaps to test them and face their inner distractions and storms. The people, things, and events that distract us in our prayers are from God as reminders of the issues we have to face and resolve in life so we may see him clearly.

12th century mosaic in the Cathedral of the Assumption in Monreale, Sicily of Jesus saving Peter. From https://orthodoxartsjournal.org/icon-carving-of-christ-pulling-st-peter-from-the-water/.

Why do you see your enemies in your prayers? Maybe it is time to forgive them.

Why all these malicious thoughts happening during prayers? Maybe it is about time you stop watching porn and start respecting women as persons.

Why do our embarrassing moments keep on appearing in prayers? Maybe God wants us to forgive ourselves and move on with life.

They are not distractions but blessings that if we open ourselves to confront our inner storms, no strong wind from outside can topple us because we have Jesus inside us. Today is a Sunday. Go celebrate Mass in your parish. Forget all the noise and distractions you experience, be focused only on God. Find your eye of the storm in yourself and there you shall find God, loving you, comforting you, blessing you! Amen. Have a blessed week ahead.

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

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