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November 11, 2009     



Where Is the Lord?

by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.
The People of Faith Also Have Questions

The question above sounds strange coming from a person of faith. Yet, I believe there are few Christians who have never uttered that question when in a state of difficulty and trial.  They may not be demanding a miracle; rather just looking for a little help from God who seems lost.



The Apostles in the Storm

That’s exactly the way the apostles felt as their boat on the Lake Galilee was filling up and near sinking. (Matthew 8:23-27) Just before that a scribe had told Jesus that he would follow Jesus wherever he went.  Jesus was quick to tell him that  He “had no place to lay head.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “Look, if you become my disciples I will never guarantee you an easy journey.”

It was immediately after that, the apostles got into a boat upon Jesus’ request to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  What happened? A frightful storm comes up, caused by the unexpected winds blowing down the from the steep hills on the side of the lake.  The boat is tossed and is filling with water. Keep in mind that Peter, James and John are professional fishermen…they were used to stormy seas. But they also are completely helpless and scared to death. Imagine what panic the other disciples, landlubbers as they are, must feel.  Three words say it all as they cry out: “We are perishing.”  And where is Jesus? Sleeping quietly seemingly unaware of what is going on. They wake him, and I suspect not too gently either.

Actually, this whole scene is a preview of the scene on Calvary when Jesus dying appears to be abandoned by his Father. It was time for his enemies to crow and shout this as proof that Jesus was indeed an impostor and they had God on their side all along. They would go home that night satisfied that they had served God and gotten rid of a true false prophet. Of course, we know in faith that we cannot always judge by visible circumstances. There is so much hidden that is going on between God and us.



The Challenge of Jesus

In the scene of the storm, Jesus seems to scold them a bit for their fear. Actually their fear was perfectly normal given the circumstances….their God-given instinct for survival was only acting as it should have. Did not Jesus himself sweat blood in the Garden of Olives?  What Jesus was doing was reminding them that there was something deeper inside them they had to call upon. It was an act of faith, tiny as a mustard seed, but powerful enough to move a mountain.  And of course, the disciples were really just beginners. They would not be very brave either in following Jesus to Calvary. They had a lot to learn and experience.



True Faith Is Tested

Faith is something we as followers of Jesus have to grow in. And it is a struggle from time to time….that’s one of the themes of the gospel, in fact.  And the way we grow in faith is by having it tested within the circumstances of our lives. Whether it is a relationship problem, a drinking problem, or a financial problem, we have to understand that emotions and inner turmoil do not prove we have no faith. Faith is in the heart, and that is part of our will to declare our faith in God’s presence during the crisis or trial. The emotions will be roaring and our faith may sound like a mouse…but that is just part of the gospel paradox…..little things can confound and overcome enormous difficulties.

Now in saying that, I’m not referring to a quick fix miracle. What faith does is enable us, with God’s presence to bear with and sometimes get through the terrible times in our lives.  And that is what makes faith truly faith.  Who really needs faith when the sea is perfectly calm with hardly a ripple bumping the boat? It is that unexpected (often undeserved) affliction that calls us to go deep within and murmur, “Yes, Lord, I know you are with me.”
    
Right now there are readers facing great stress and crisis, financial or otherwise. And you would be justified in initially asking, “Ok, God, where are you? I don’t deserve this.” God knows that and what suffering you are experiencing has not been sent by God. People suffer because it is people who cause suffering for other people. We live in a wounded world. People who have little power expect government to keep people honest. People who have wealth and power want government to stay out of their lives. It’s always been that way. People with power place faith in themselves. People with faith do what they can and always hang on to God.

A newspaper in a farming area once ran an article on the benefit of praying for successful crops and harvest. Letters came to the newspaper thanking them for the reminder of God’s care. But one farmer wrote: “Look, I have no regard for God in my life. But I can tell you that even though I did not mumble a single prayer, this October I have had the best crop in years and I attribute that to my work and not to any God. What do you say to that?”  The editor printed the man’s letter with the following brief rejoinder. “Just remember, God does not always settle his account in October.”



Friar Jack's Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jack Wintz's October E-spiration, Musing: Our Christian Creeds:
They’re Really Documents of Love


Dear Friar Jack: Although many have accused me of being mentally unbalanced, I volunteered to be the catechist for the 8th grade confirmation class this year! After their November Confirmation, we will start the New Year with the Apostles' Creed. I have been pondering on how to help them look at this great gift in a way that does not seem formulaic, or “just something else to memorize.” When they asked me what came next in the curriculum and I told them, they actually groaned. Thank you! I now have inspiration--and a framework--for my ponderings and meditations. Peace, Sharon

Dear Friar Jack: Your letters are wonderful and you have helped me to increase my love and need of God and have filled me with the hope of eternal salvation. May God always bless you and your work! Dennis


Dear Sharon and Dennis: I am pleased that my words have brought you a bit of inspiration, encouragement and hope. May our generous God continue to bless you and all our readers with the same! Friar Jack

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for your article on the Apostles' Creed. One part of the Creed that requires further explanation, at least in my mind, is the “the resurrection of the body”—especially in this age when cremation is becoming more popular and modernization of weaponry that scatters body parts on detonation. R.B.

Dear R.B.  Interesting question. It is certainly a mystery how God will put us all back together again in situations such as these. But consider the case of Jesus. He was quite mauled and brutalized by nail, spear and whip, and yet when he appeared to his disciples in his transformed body after rising from the dead, he appeared beautiful and luminous, despite all the wounds. Think of the marvels of DNA, by which human scientists are quite talented in their ability to re-create amazing identities. Couldn’t our Creator come up with an even-more-amazing “rebuilding clay?” Forgive me for letting my imagination wander into outer space! Friar Jack

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for your column on the Apostles' Creed. At our parish, we recite the Nicene Creed during the Profession of Faith every Sunday. My husband of 32 years, who attends Mass with me faithfully (and goes up at Communion for a blessing!) has a definite problem with the line, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” He asks me if I really believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church….Can you give a further explanation of that line? Thanks for your column! Leanne

Dear Leanne: Let me just respond briefly about the words catholic and apostolic. The word catholic here does not have a capital C as if to signify primarily the (Roman) Catholic Church. Rather, it wants to signify that the word catholic means "universal," that is, "the worldwide Church." As the Catechism says, Christ sends it “on a mission to the whole human race” (see #831). The word apostolic, on the other hand, refers to our Church’s link to Christ’s first Apostles, upon whom it is based and from whom it traces its succession. Friar Jack


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Welcome!
I am Fr. Jim Van Vurst and I hope you'll enjoy
all of the news and great features at AmericanCatholic.org as well as my own writing. By the way, I am a real Franciscan friar, as is my co-worker, Friar Jeremy.
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