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.” (Mt 14:27-20)
For the virtue of fortitude to arise in Christian hearts it must play out in two parts. First, we ought to come to firmly believe that God is present to us. Second, this belief should instill within us courage for acting boldly especially on God’s behalf.
If you have ever been in a situation where the primary reason you were not frightened was because you had someone with you who not only made you feel safe but actually provided for your safety, then you can grasp the spiritual sense of what it is like to have faith that God is present.
If you ever had to walk through a dark labyrinth but became separated from your trustworthy companion and received no response after calling out to him for hours, would you not “take courage” after suddenly hearing his voice exclaim, “It is I, do not be afraid”. This is the kind of interior assurance we seek to have in the spiritual life when we walk with God through the mazes of our life. Yet this is only the first part of Christian fortitude.
If upon hearing the voice of your reliable companion, fear of your situation still grips and paralyzes you from moving towards him, then you may not benefit from the voice of your friend calling you. It is the same in the spiritual life. Belief that is not transformed into courage makes you stay put. This prevents you from following God’s commands in a perilous world. Sadly, you may even convince yourself that you are just fine staying put, so that you even risk losing your belief.
In the spiritual life it is imperative that we act like Peter and demand that God command us. We must of course also be like Peter in being ready to act on God’s command. However, as we see in today’s gospel reading, even if our courage is not perfect and we falter, Jesus is there to pull us up. Still, in the life of faith we must be willing to jump out of the security of our earthly vessels into the arms of God if spiritual courage is to be fruitful.
For this 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we place on our parish bulletin cover a detail from a work by the German Romantic artist, Phillip Otto Runge entitled Peter Walks on Water (1806). Runge’s Romanticism veered from romantic naturalism to esotericism and hence to a personal theology which caused Runge to collide with the leaders of his Protestant faith.
In our image we see Peter and Jesus riding a wave on the Sea of Galilee under an ominous moonlit sky, the light of which draws our eyes downward toward these two figures. Christ’s cape forms the shape of a turbulent wave indicating his divine authority over nature. Those in the boat (mostly unseen) show the same apprehension as Peter whose fear overcomes his faith indicated by his left leg sinking into the sea. Peter’s eyes are on the natural surroundings not where they should be – on the supernatural Jesus. Jesus for his part is thoroughly engaged in saving Peter, symbolic of his desire to save all humanity.
Let us believe through grace that Jesus is always present, and let us take courage in His presence.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services