Imitating Peter- get out of the boat!

I love St. Peter.

I admire and deeply relate to his extreme responses to Christ’s teachings.

I know he gets a lot of negative attention in the Gospels, but it’s speculated that this is mostly due to his own influence of the Evangelists (Matthew and John were his friends and Mark was his disciple).

Most homilists pick on him, and are quick to point out where St Peter failed (like today when he doubts)… and it kind of lights a fire in my belly… probably because I relate to him so strongly. Peter had some big failings…but didn’t he fail because he was actually trying?

Take today’s gospel for instance. Jesus really needed some alone time after learning about the death of John the Baptist and then feeding 5000 people.  He made the disciples get in their boat and leave him. He went up a mountain to pray. Lo’ and behold- a storm arises in the middle of the night.

ocean-storm

Matthew tells us that their boat was being tossed by the waves. The wind was blowing against them. Both the boat and their sense of calm were being rocked. Clearly, this was not a little drizzle.

What I think is somewhat comical is that Jesus decides to walk across the sea while it’s storming. I mean, he did agree to meet up with the apostles on the other side. He doesn’t have another boat. He’s God, he has control over the sea. He can walk on the water, he won’t drown. But my imagination can only come up with comical imagery when trying to make sense of the circumstances. Scripture tells us the waves were rolling… so, what exactly did Jesus walking on water, in the middle of the night, during a giant squall look like?

ghost

Was he kind of “rolling with the tide?” Or did the waves on which he walked settle? I wish Matthew had gone into a little more detail with this! The only clue we get into what it looked like is that the apostles assumed the figure was a ghost. In all the ghostly appearances I’ve read about, ghosts move very smoothly, almost “floating.” Is that how Jesus moved on the water?

One thing is for certain– no one had ever seen anything like this before. It was totally abnormal, which is exactly why the apostles are freaking out.

Hearing them voice their fears, Jesus calls out to them to try and calm them: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter (and only Peter) responds, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” Jesus tells him to come, and Peter steps out of the boat.

Um…HOLD ON A SECOND….

All this ghostly figure says in response to Peter is, “come” and Peter gets out of the boat?! Couldn’t a ghost have given him that same command?

I think the real reason that Peter gets out of the boat is because this sheep knows the voice of his Shepherd; and when his Shepherd calls him, Peter follows.

He steps out of the boat.

…in a storm…

…while the surf is rushing about and the wind is blowing cylindrically.

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This is one of those moments where Peter’s bravery and faith in Jesus just fuels the fire in my soul.

Peter. Walked. On. Water.

…while it was dark and the waves were crashing all because his Shepherd called him, and he believed in Jesus’ power and might.

Peter, a regular, sinful, human person walked on water. The only other person who has ever done this is God!

WHY DON’T WE MAKE A BIGGER DEAL OUT OF THIS?!

Oh right… because of this…

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While Peter was the only one of the apostles who actually “took courage” and got out of the boat, he loses his focus. Instead of marveling because he is walking on water, he remembers that people can’t usually walk on water…

The wind picks up and Peter takes his eyes off the Lord. Instead he fixates on the waves… and realizes he’s being tossed about… and all of the sudden he’s no longer on top of the water… he’s slowly sinking.

Doubt

Oh Peter… me too. I do this all the time as well. This story is the perfect illustration of my own response to God. I am the kind of person who truly believes God can do anything… I’ll get out of the boat and walk on an ocean during a hurricane if I hear God call me to do it— even though all other reason and logic tells me not too. I glide along, focused on the one who called me, amazed at my success… and then the wind picks up. The storm gets worse, and my focus shifts. Like Peter, I fixate on the squall and slowly I start to descend. I let myself continue to sink… trying to swim and stay afloat by myself since I am a very capable person… until it gets so bad that I can’t breath and then I cry out, “Lord– I’m drowning!” and he immediatly says, “so grab my hand!”

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Why did I doubt?

Able to breath once more, my focus realigns to where it should have been all along, and once again, I am walking on water with my God. He’d been reaching out to me all along, I was just too “capable.” For some reason I wanted to swim across the sea by myself when I could have been walking across it with him. I imagine Peter felt the same after his near drowning.

Peter-Walks-On-Water,-1806

Peter may have done some stupid things during the three years of Jesus’ public ministry (denying Jesus, cutting off a dude’s ear, forbidding Jesus to die, etc.)… but he also continually showed more courage than the other 11 apostles combined. He shows up. He gets out of the boat. and when he fails… he calls out to the one who can help.

Then he walks on water again.

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And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

 

Humdingers from the Saints: St Lawrence

On his twitter feed a couple years back, Cardinal Dolan remarked, “To be a Catholic should be something liberating. Something fun. We aren’t Puritans, are we? Joy is what attracts people to the Church.” 

Amen, Cardinal Dolan. Amen!

I think sometimes we take ourselves, the saints, and our personal quests for holiness far too seriously. Holiness is far simpler and far more enjoyable than we make it out to be.

Below is a detail from Pellegrino Tibaldi's Martyrdom of St Lawrence (1592) An uncorroborated tradition holds that Lawrence was grilled to death in Rome, and that while being grilled he joked about being cooked well enough to eat, saying "Turn me over. I'm done on this side".  He is the patron saint of cooks and chefs.

I love reading about the saints and learning of their humor, especially in the face of adversity. For example, take St Lawrence, a deacon in the early church whose feast we celebrate every year on August 10. The Prefect of Rome believed the Church to be in possession of great material wealth and demanded that Lawrence bring him the Church’s treasure. Lawrence returned the next day with all the poor and the sick people of Rome whom he so lovingly served. Needless to say, the Prefect was a little “put-out.”

The Prefect was so infuriated that he ordered Lawrence’s death. Wanting it to be especially cruel, Lawrence was tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted his flesh little by little. Apparently Lawrence felt nothing, as he was was burning with so much love of God. At one point, he even famously joked,

“Turn me over, I’m done on this side.” 

Ironically- he is now the patron saint of cooks…

You can’t say the Church does not have a sense of humor…

What are your favorite one-liners from the saints? Comment below-I’d love to hear from you!

Three Insightful Books that Read Easy

A Common Catholic Dilemma: finding a spiritual read that helps you grow but doesn’t take months, or even years to finish.

Even with my formal training, there are times when Augustine and Aquinas are simply too taxing when it comes to reading in my spare time.

In the midst of my own search for an accessible Catholic read, I thought I’d start making my own recommendations for anyone who finds themselves in a similar circumstance.

Here are three books that were a breeze to read yet made an impression on my personal faith formation.

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St Patrick’s Summer: A Children’s Adventure Catechism by Marigold Hunt

This book was written by Marigold Hunt in the 1950s. As the title indicates, it is a children’s chapter book. Despite its intended audience, it was also required reading for one of my catechetics courses in college. I was amazed by the simplicity and skill with which Marigold Hunt was able to explain the mysteries of our faith within an action-packed story. St Patrick and many other heavenly visitors appear to Michael and Cecilia, explaining the catechism over the course of the summer as the youth prepare for their First Communion. Though the story was not as “thrilling” for me as an adult, the explanations were absolutely worthwhile. I gained a much deeper–and simpler– understanding of mysteries like the Trinity, the angels and the graces of Baptism. She not only helped me understand my own faith better, but she portrayed a standard of evangelization to which I aspire. I am actually amazed that St. Patrick’s Summer is not super well known among this generation of Catholics. In my opinion, it should be in every Catholic household, especially those with young children.

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Between the Savior and the Sea by Bob Rice

Y’all, I loved this book…

If you’re unfamiliar with Bob Rice, you are truly missing out.

This book is a novel adaption of the Gospels told from the perspective of St Peter. Everything within this novel is solid scholarship. Bob Rice does not sway from the truths of the Gospel, but he uses his own prayerful imagination to take us into the places and events that the Gospels do not reveal. This novel is truly a piece of art, leading its readers to the heights of wonder and the depths of prayer. It magnified my love for Christ and St Peter. Most importantly, it helped me to see that my doubts and failings were not powerful enough to keep me from being a true disciple of Christ… since this book highlights the human struggles of the apostles and the transforming power of grace (aka, “the swap”).

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A Travel Guide to Heaven by Anthony DeStefano

Anthony DeStefano loves to travel- and he loves reading guide books about what his destination offers before he arrives. He wrote this book as a “guide” for those of us who are considering a trip to heaven. He saw this book as a necessity, since to most of us, the Gospel is not longer “good news”, but more “old news.” He claims that in this case, our familiarity with heaven has not bred contempt, but it has certainly bred boredom and maybe even apathy. He’s a faithful Catholic, true to Church teachings and what’s found in Scripture, but as a layman writes without a formal theological style.

This book was a game changer for me. I read it when I was 18 and about to graduate from high school. Every morning I would wake up and read a chapter before school, and almost everyday, I cried tears of joy.  I was just so in awe of God and his generosity. It made me want to go to heaven simply for heaven’s sake… I hope that’s not unholy to say… I also wanted to go to spend eternity with God… but this book made heaven sound freaking amazing. 

According to Saints, if you want to make it to Heaven, meditating about heaven is a sure-fire way to get you there… not that the meditation makes you holy. The meditation makes you long for heaven. As a result, your attitude towards God changes, and your actions reflect that.

If you’re someone who has never really pondered heaven from a scholarly perspective, I highly recommend this book.

P.S. There’s a picture book version for children!

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A Travel Guide to Heaven for Kids 

Being Afraid is not a Sin

I have a confession to make:

I am a big, fat, scaredy-cat.BLACK AND WHITE

I was not always this way, but one rotten mistake from my past has left a mark that makes new situations and new people very nerve-wracking for me. Even though I have put this blunder behind me, I still struggle with angst almost everyday. There’s still a part of my subconscious which doesn’t trust my conscious decision making skills. I am afraid that I might inadvertently “screw-up” big time once again.

Depending on the severity of the situation, the intensity of these fearful emotions waxes and wanes…. Still, a habit of fear has become the consistent pattern for how my brain assesses new information. I’m not proud of it, but I also can’t really change it either. It’s not a conscious choice on my part to react in fear…

Thankfully,  I have found the grace to overcome every uneasiness I face, a silver lining laced within my timid ways.

It starts with the recognition that feelings cannot be controlled. If fear “pops up” when I am trying to make a decision… it doesn’t mean I’m not brave, or that I don’t have enough faith, or even that I am about to make a mistake. It means that I are a fallen member of the human race… and I am being tempted.

Fear is just that… a temptation (not a sin)…and Satan uses it as a tool to disturb our peace, slow us down, stop us dead in our tracks, and if possible– to get us to run away.

Once, in college, I took a big risk and changed my major. I switched it from nursing– a career which was sure to offer me stability– to theology– a field of study that would not even guarantee a job after graduation. Now,  my decision wasn’t on a whim, there was a huge “God-moment” during which God made it very clear that he wanted me to make this about-face… but that clarity didn’t stop my nerves once everything became official. Fear surfaced… and I didn’t know why! I knew that this was what God wanted! Why was I afraid?!

Later that day, I was doing some spiritual reading and I found my answer.
Prayer to St. John Paul II Oh, St. John Paul, from the window of heaven, grant us your blessing! Bless the church that you loved and served and guided, courageously leading it along the paths of the world in order to bring Jesus to everyone and everyone to Jesus. Bless the young, who were your great passion. Help them dream again, help them look up high again to find the light that illuminates the paths of life here on earth.  May you bless families, bless each family! You warned of Satan's a...

 

In a letter to one of his spiritual directees who was struggling with a decision she had already made, Padre Pio explained the phenomenon of “holy fear.” Based on the difficulties she foresaw in the coming months and years because of this said choice, she thought she had made a mistake in her discernment. She was panicking. Padre Pio assured her otherwise. Her ability to see her impending crosses did not mean she had goofed and chosen the wrong course. No matter what she chose, she would have faced suffering. If she had chosen another course, she would still be facing a cross… just a different one. And she probably still would have been worrying about it!

The fear of this woman was the simple awareness of the pain and the sacrifices that awaited her in the future, and at that point in my life, I could certainly relate. Padre Pio assured her (and me) of the grace within this realization… there was virtue in knowing the pain before us, but moving forward and facing it anyway. St. Padre Pio

Padre Pio’s take on this issue confirmed fo me that my fear was not due to a lack of faith. In actuality, the fact that I was being tempted to run from my decision was a sign that what I had done was very pleasing to God…and would probably bear much fruit.

So with this post, I just want to affirm any readers who may be experiencing something similar, that fear itself does not portray a lack of trust …

The lack of trust comes about when we run from our fear, or allow it to paralyze us.

Think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. His time spent praying the night before he died is commonly referred to as his agony in the garden.

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He knew what suffering awaited him in just a few short hours, and he was so terrified he was sweating blood. But when the time came, he stood up and chose to face his fear.

It seems almost “un-Christian” to be afraid. For a long time I thought so, since there are numerous times Scripture commands us to, “take courage” (Mt 14:27, Mk 6:50, Mk 10:49, Mt 9:2, Mt 9:22, Acts 27:22, Acts 27:25). However, how can it be “un-Christian” if Christ himself was once afraid? Maybe fear itself is not the problem….

By it’s very definition, to be courageous is to do something that frightens you. It is also said to be the recognition that something else is more important than the fear. To “take courage” doesn’t mean you aren’t apprehensive… it simply means that you are able to move beyond your fear.

Jesus is perfect embodiment of this truth. Fear should never keep us from doing the task that lies before us. Though Jesus was afraid of his cross, he knew that it did not mean he was not capable of bearing it.

So, whenever you feel afraid– be like Jesus.

Acknowledge your fear.

Pray for help.

Stomp that serpent

and go face your cross.

You’ll triumph like he did (Is. 55:11).

 

God, why don’t you just fix it?

Ever had a period of life that can only be accurately described by the old cliche, “when it rains, it pours”?

Last fall was like that for me. My relationship with my then-fiancé was being stretched. Both of us were truly doing our best; it was just a season of our relationship that we had to grow through. And in our case, the growing pains felt exceptional.

I remember praying in the shower at the end of a particularly rough day… crying…when something my mom always says surfaced in my thoughts:

Feelings are like clouds,

they come and they go.

But God is like the sun; his light is always shining,

even if the clouds make it seem not so.”

While I have always loved this image, that particular evening, I was just supremely annoyed by it.

“It’s been cloudy and pouring for days,” I said to myself/God (whom I knew knows my thoughts), “why do you let it to storm this much?” 

Rainy days in Carlow, Co Clare, Ireland

Immediately an image of Ireland flooded my mind.

If you’ve never been to Ireland, you should know that it’s perpetually cloudy and gray.

It rains just about everyday…

Sometimes it’s just a little drizzle…

Sometimes it rains “off and on” multiple times a day…

Sometimes it’s a steady downpour the whole day…

 

 

 

But when the clouds break and the wind stops blowing, Ireland almost seems to be an entirely new place…

#IrishKisses - ich bin im Irland-Fieber. Ireland - Beautiful landscape - This is what success looks like. Up, down, sideways, fast and slow.

This was the memory God placed in my mind that day as I struggled to suffer graciously.

In response to my defiance, he wasn’t cruel, or unhappy with me. He simply responded ever-so-sweetly and said,

“Remember what I can bring from the rain…”

Howth, Ireland. Love to go there for a cliff walk. If you are lucky you can see dolphins and seals. And afterwards a fish soup in the harbor.

The image I received was one of Irish wildflowers I had seen the semester I studied abroad… God reminded me that those flowers would not grow if it wasn’t for their climate

If you’re anything like me, you might also be quick to ask God to relieve you of your suffering.

I always want him to take it away… I never want to suffer. I have faith in his supreme power… in my bones, I know that he can do anything…

For some reason, I think he should take away uneasiness I experience… that because of my faith in him, I should be exempt from the slightest of discomforts…

My emotions cry out, “Why do we need this?! Get us away from the pain!” 

I am eager to believe I shouldn’t have to suffer…. quick to conclude that there’s no good reason for my struggle… prideful enough to think that I deserve to be excused from any uncomfortable situation.

And so I challenge my God, “why don’t you fix this?!”

And it’s then I realize who I’m acting like…

“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)

Ouch…. ouch. 

“I don’t deserve this”? Of course I deserve this! I am the one who is lacking!

Even when my suffering is not the result of my own wrong-doings, my rebuke and dismissive attitude towards my cross is prideful and sinful.

Why do I think I shouldn’t have to suffer?

Why do I think I should be exempt from pain, when Christ himself was not?

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Despite my pride, God’s love does not condemn me. He did not lash out at the thief… and he did not lash out at me.

Instead, he reminded me that he can do more than alleviate my sufferings… he can transform them. He can take something ugly, that Satan only meant for harm, and his grace can make it something his enemy never intended for it to be.

Can you imagine how infuriating that must be for Satan? No wonder he tries to make us give up hope, turn away from God and shut ourselves off from his grace!

When we hold fast to the idea of the “Son” shining behind the clouds, we keep our hearts open to grace. We allow God to transform the tactics of his enemy, bringing about our good, instead of destruction. By turning away from God, it’s as if we are turning our backs on the sun, and then complaining that it is not shining…

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Like the washing of monotonous Irish rains results in unexpected beauty, God takes the drizzles and darkness of life, and brings about beauty and righteousness.

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My God, My God… I thought I didn’t deserve my suffering.

But the truth is, I do not deserve you.

 

“You are a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in distress; shelter from the rain, shade from the heat.” ~Isaiah 25:4