To a Safe and Peaceful Harbor

by Fr. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem.


Just as the Gospel about the multiplication of the loaves was a prefigurement of the Last Supper, so another Gospel prefigures the events which followed the Last Supper. Jesus and His disciples are separated: Jesus goes up to the mountain, prefiguring the ascent to Calvary, while the disciples go down to the sea, where they are caught in a storm, prefiguring their trial of faith and hope. Jesus then comes walking to them on the water and, as at the Resurrection, the disciples are afraid and think it is a ghost, but Jesus reassures them, using the very same words with which He will reassure them on that first Easter Sunday night.

At this point, the Gospel says something very mysterious: they wanted to take Him into the boat, but suddenly they were at the shore.

The Gospels are filled with instances which reveal that the disciples wanted the glorified Jesus to get into the boat, that is, they wanted the Church on earth to be perfect, glorified, utopian: At Tabor, Peter wanted to build a tent for Jesus and Moses and Elijah; as Jesus was about to ascend to heaven, the disciples asked the Lord if He were going to restore the kingdom to Israel.

The modern disciples of Jesus, those of us here in the church and throughout the world, are often tempted to desire this utopian, glorified Church on earth. We want a Church in which there are no scandals, no sinful priests, no sinful religious, no sinful confreres, no sinful husbands or wives, no sinful children, no sinful parents. In short, we want heaven to be on earth, we want the risen Jesus in the boat of the Church at sea. But Jesus knew better: “If you loved Me,” He said to His disciples, “you would rejoice that I go to the Father.” “It is better for you if I go.” Jesus knows that it is better for the Church on earth to long for heaven than for heaven to be established in the Church on earth.

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles reveals that this very imperfect Church on earth was imperfect from the beginning. Greeks murmuring against Hebrews over food. The Apostles might have taken a utopian Church approach, demanding the faithful to act like the Church already in heaven: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” they might have said, or “Your food should be to do the will of your heavenly father.” But instead, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they accept a decidedly non-utopian, one could even say “earthly” solution to their problems: ordain some deacons to oversee the temporal goods of the Church.

The very good and beautiful result of this earthly service is made immediately manifest: “The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”

Because some members of the Church accepted an earthly, less heavenly role, the Apostles were free to attend to the preaching of the word, and as a result, “The word of God continued to spread,” and new priests were added to the Church. This seemingly earthly service had a heavenly effect. The Church on earth produced fruits worthy of heaven.

This lesson is not only for the members of the early Church, but for us too. We can be tempted to think that the only works which bear heavenly fruit are priestly duties like preaching, hearing confessions, offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. A seminarian might be tempted to think, if only I could do those things, I could build up the Kingdom of God. Even priests can say to themselves, “What am I doing wasting my time doing these earthly, these mundane, these secular things, when I could be busy about heavenly ones.” It is a great temptation. But it was because of the temporal service performed by those first deacons that the word of God flourished and many priests were added to the Church. Every member of the mystical body is necessary and important for spreading the Kingdom of Heaven; and even when we play the part of the less exalted members, the Spirit of God produces through us the very fruit which comes about more immediately through the exalted members.

The truth is that the spread of the Gospel which has come about through our abbey is the result of much more than the preaching and sacramental ministry of our priests: the often mundane apostolates that sometimes occupy a great deal of our time, both priests and seminarians; the work of the Rosarian Dominican sisters; the example and moral and material support of the laity who come here to pray, each of them has contributed in an essential way to the spread of the Kingdom of Heaven.

So, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not give up rowing our storm tossed boat. Rather let us have confidence that Jesus Himself will assist our efforts and bring us suddenly to that safe and peaceful harbor where the Church that so long has toiled shall at last be the Church at rest.

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