Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A

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Joseph A. Loya, O.S.A.
Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Readings
1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a
Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
Rom 9:1-5
Mt 14:22-33

Fear is in the air. It penetrates awareness and the heart. It seizes the soul. The effects translate to one’s physical well-being, and that of society, in a range of debilitating ways. When commonly shared, it certainly can get people talking. Everyone is discussing the current Covid-19 crisis: health care professionals, experts in the natural, social and behavioral sciences; editorialists, educators, concerned parents, politicians, sports fans and more. Individual persons and communities yearn for an imagined pre-virus normality. Before contemplating the Saving Word from today’s Gospel in the midst of this challenging time of uncertainty, instability, polarization and free-floating anxiety, a note from history:

The name Marie Sklodowska would not ordinarily be a familiar name as such; most know her by her French husband’s name, Curie. 1940s “Greatest Generation” film goers came to know of her through a popular film of her life entitled Madame Curie, starring Greer Garson. Through the initial years of the twentieth century, Madame Marie Sklodowska Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields, Physics and Chemistry, coining the term “radioactivity” along the way. During World War I she developed mobile units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals. As a final and bracing biographical note, her death was hastened by working so much with the invisible but then not fully-known powerful rays. For our purposes here, the following quote of hers is most beneficial to contemplate: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” For us the faithful who constitute the members of Christ’s Mystical Body called His Church, understandings are apprehended through the truths of faith. The great St. Augustine, guided by the inspired thought of St. Paul, perhaps said it best: “I believe in order to understand.”

In today’s Gospel from the Evangelist Matthew, Peter is overcome with fear for his life the moment he switches attention from his Lord and Savior of All to that of his perilous situation. Exactly in that dire circumstance Jesus extends His Saving Hand and gently admonishes, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

What is faith? For those who are a bit daunted by the notion as a result of nurturing an overly exalted idea about faith’s essence and what it is to have (or not have) faith, the concept is rendered more approachable simply by thinking of faith in light of the familiar notion of “trust.” To have faith in someone or something is to trust him, her or it. Who of us would seek the services of a physician, bridge engineer, investment counselor or automobile mechanic in whom there was no proven cause for faith/trust? (As a classroom lesson in learning faith-as-trust, students could be asked to identify the many ways eating in the school cafeteria involves acts of faith – try it yourself!). Now transpose acting in faith/trust (an exercise of the will more than the intellect) to all those critical situations immediately calling for faith in Christ, the Lord and Power over All. Commonly, the more critical the situation, the more faith is commanded. Examples of Scriptural divine counsel in situations of disquiet and fear are abundant: “Do not be afraid, for your prayer has been heard” (Luke 1:13); “Fear is useless, what is needed is trust” (Mark 5:36); “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

In these turbulent times may we be attentive to the testings and results of science while trusting our Sovereign Creator Who has proven over and over divine covenantal love for us unto eternal salvation. The fruit of such trust is the “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).