I want to give you some simple scriptural scenes of Jesus. On both occasions he is in a boat. First of all the story recorded in Luke Chapter 5 at the lake of Gennesaret. It says in Scripture that the people were crowding in to listen to him. They couldn’t hear, so Jesus asked Simon and some of the others to take him out in their boat, so he could address them more effectively… and it says, he taught them.
Jesus the Teacher
And it is clear that he taught them like no one else ever had. He taught them with an authority unlike any of the scribes, and they thrilled at his words; words which he claimed would never pass away – even if earth and heaven were to disappear! And as they listened, it seems people discovered for the first time something of their true destiny. They understood their true value as those loved by the Father. And after they had heard, Jesus tells those with him, inspired by his words, – to let down their nets….and there was a great catch! Obedient to his clear promises they let down their nets for a catch!
Now it is true isn’t it, that in the spiritual life; in our own life as individual Christians, and in our corporate life, that there are great moments when we thrill to hear the word of the Lord; when the promises of the Gospel are alive and powerful to us. It may be at the moment of our own conversion, or at a particular time of renewal or at the time of our Confirmation. At such times as we are filled with a deep sense of the truth of it all; that this is the word of eternal life. And there are times in the life of our community when the truth is proclaimed and lived with renewed power and vigour, when the Word seems near. Our brother, John Wesley, initiated such a revival, and it is clear that the fathers of the Oxford movement had about them a great sense of power and proclamation. There was a great sense of confidence in Jesus. They were not afraid!
Now the second scriptural scene. Jesus again in a boat, recorded in Mark Chapter 4. This time not in the daylight but towards evening. Again he was with a few of his disciples, but not preaching. He is asleep in the boat. The Lord of heaven and earth having forty winks! There is a great storm and the boat is tossed about in the wind and waves. No thrilling to his words and presence now, just a sense of panic. Wake up! they cry. Teacher, the boat is sinking. Don’t you care? And Jesus wakes and simply says Peace. Be still….peace. It seems as if it is easier to bring peace to the wind and waves than to bring peace to the hearts of men and women! And then Jesus asks a stinging question: Why are you such cowards? and Have you no faith?
An Act of the Will
His second experience reveals another truth of the spiritual life, for there are often times in our spiritual life when, like this boat, things are rocky; when it seems as if Jesus is asleep; times when we are praying and it can seem as if we are talking to ourselves; times in our worship when Jesus seems far away; times when we wonder – not so much in amazement, but in doubt; when we no longer thrill to the sound of the Gospel, but are spiritually tired, and it all seems like a hard slog.
It is at these moments that we can grasp a fundamental truth of the Christian and Catholic life – that to follow Jesus is fundamentally and primarily an act of the will. A matter of being faithful to a mystery we do not fully understand. We just have to keep on keeping on, trusting that even when it seems that the Lord is asleep, he is no less Lord of heaven and earth, that he is no less in charge of the boat.
We must trust that Jesus remembers us, and the mass is a reminder to us of that remembering. We are always in his heart. It is Jesus who makes us whole
The Catholic Movement Today
One could argue that our Catholic movement, perhaps the Church of England as a whole, is experiencing more of the second of my two scriptural pictures at present. The boat seems very rocky, and we are being tossed about. Some have jumped ship, only then to discover the truth that they are still in the same boat!
But our Catholic faith calls us to persevere; to keep on keeping on. Of course there are differences of viewpoint between us, but let the baptizer remind us that our Catholic belonging begins at our baptism. And we can walk for a very long way on the baptismal road together before matters of conscience must divide us. In Christ, we have nothing to lose, we must be bold…. and even if we were to lose our heads on a platter we will be in good company!
We Catholics must never be content to be a rump in the Church! Let the people of the land listen to us and watch us; let us be known for our purity of heart and our faithfulness. Let people be with us, and as they spend time with us, may it be said of us as it was of John the Baptist all the people were agog!