Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Prayers for today: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who lived in the shadow of death, light has shone.

God, light of all nations, give us the joy of lasting peace, and fill us with your radiance as you filled the hearts of our fathers. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.

St. Gregory Nazianzen (329-390)

After his baptism at 30, Gregory gladly accepted his friend Basil’s invitation to join him in a newly founded monastery. The solitude was broken when Gregory’s father, a bishop, needed help in his diocese and estate. It seems that Gregory was ordained a priest practically by force, and only reluctantly accepted the responsibility. He skilfully avoided a schism that threatened when his own father made compromises with Arianism. At 41, Gregory was chosen suffragan bishop of Caesarea and at once came into conflict with Valens, the emperor, who supported the Arians. An unfortunate by-product of the battle was the cooling of the friendship of two saints. Basil, his archbishop, sent him to a miserable and unhealthy town on the border of unjustly created divisions in his diocese. Basil reproached Gregory for not going to his see. When protection for Arianism ended with the death of Valens, Gregory was called to rebuild the faith in the great see of Constantinople, which had been under Arian teachers for three decades. Retiring and sensitive, he dreaded being drawn into the whirlpool of corruption and violence. He first stayed at a friend’s home, which became the only orthodox church in the city. In such surroundings, he began giving the great sermons on the Trinity for which he is famous. In time, Gregory did rebuild the faith in the city, but at the cost of great suffering, slander, insults and even personal violence. An interloper even tried to take over his bishopric. His last days were spent in solitude and austerity. He wrote religious poetry, some of it autobiographical, of great depth and beauty. He was acclaimed simply as “the Theologian.”

It may be small comfort, but post-Vatican II turmoil in the Church is a mild storm compared to the devastation caused by the Arian heresy, a trauma the Church has never forgotten. Christ did not promise the kind of peace we would love to have—no problems, no opposition, no pain. In one way or another, holiness is always the way of the cross. “God accepts our desires as though they were a great value. He longs ardently for us to desire and love him. He accepts our petitions for benefits as though we were doing him a favour. His joy in giving is greater than ours in receiving. So let us not be apathetic in our asking, nor set too narrow bounds to our requests; nor ask for frivolous things unworthy of God’s greatness.”

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (6: 45-52)

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid. Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

Signs of His Glory
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

One of the many notable characteristics of the modern secular era is its many-sided scepticism in respect to miracles. It is one aspect of the modern scientific interest in the laws of the material world. There is a good side to this inasmuch as it is unlikely that, at least in the public and civil domain, spurious religious claims of miraculous events will be accepted. There is a sense in which scepticism is healthy. What the scepticism characteristic of modern secularism amounts to, though, is a deep reluctance to admit any claim to miracles. It can spring from a presumption that the visible world is all there is. Alternatively, those who admit a supernatural realm and who allow for a Supreme Being, may still be resistant to anything miraculous because of an assumption that this great Being only acts in and through the natural laws of his creation. Again, they tend to regard miracles as being, in any case, trivial in significance. Miracles are somewhat like tricks and in a certain sense lack substance. They are not given weight — and the public attitude to the requirement of miracles by the Church to complete the process of beatification and canonization is an instance of this. What I am saying is that a culture that is strongly predisposed in this direction needs to be aware of its prejudice so as to take proper account of the action of God in, say, Scripture and in particular in the Gospels. Christ worked many miracles, and the secular denomination of him as a “miracle-worker” often has a dismissive character. By contrast, the period prior to the age of modern science and technology expected that God would act miraculously — which is to say, outside the normal laws of nature. Each age has its tendency, and each age must take account of its prejudices in considering the objective facts and their significance for life. We of the modern period will tend to disregard miracles as being, with some probability, spurious or trivial. In respect to Scripture, and in particular the Gospels, we will tend not to contemplate their significance enough.

That having been said, let us turn to our Gospel passage today (Mark 6: 45-52). Let us place ourselves not in the position of modern secular man, skeptical as he tends to be in respect to the reality and value of miracles, but in the position of the Apostles in the boat out in the midst of the storm. It has been a long and busy day, with large crowds, Jesus teaching them at some length, and finally a striking miracle of Christ feeding them all with a handful of food. The Apostles were doubtlessly weary and — at our Lord’s direction — immediately at the end of it they had set out across the Sea of Tiberius. But it was not to be the end of the long day, for all night they had to row with the wind against them. The Greek reads that they were in distress. But lo! Jesus, seeing them in their plight, took to the water himself. He strode steadily on its surface, amid the contrary wind and the heaving waves. Calmly he moved on, rising and falling with the surface, sprays of water beating against him, his garments and hair responding to the gusts that swirled about him. Strength and tranquillity glowed in his features, and his stride was steady. Power and kindness rippled across his figure. Perhaps the moon lit up the vast and powerful Lake and the disciples saw coming towards them a living figure on its surface. It was a phantom, a spirit of the underworld, a menacing spectre coming to do them harm! The busy day had become a nightmare and the Master was not with them. They were alone before the terrible elements and now a dark ogre of the sea was coming at them. They yelled in terror, and with that they heard the figure speak. Unbelievable — it was the Lord. “Be of good cheer. It is I. Be not afraid.” A deep astonishment descended upon them all. Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. The Master had come to them in the midst of their difficulty and had resolved it. Notice the words our Lord had used: It is I. Ego emi! They are directly reminiscent of the words Yahweh had used when Moses asked for his name: I am who am (Septuagint, Exodus 3:14, ego emi ho On). Our Lord used them deliberately, perhaps with that long past event in mind of which he, as God, had been the saving Protagonist. It is I, Yahweh, who am with you to save you. I shall be with you.

Let us take seriously the miracles and all the deeds of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospels. As St John chooses to regard them, they are signs of his glory. We saw his glory, St John writes, glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Let us contemplate the wondrous person of Jesus Christ our brother, our Saviour and our God. Let us make room for him in the boat that is our life, knowing that if we take our stand with him, all will be well.

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