Image: Abandoned Boat, Darnley Bay
Today the Church celebrates the memory and life of St. Catherine of Sienna. Catherine was born into 14th century Italy, a time and place of serious upheaval both in the Church and in society at large. Outside, Europe was dealing with the ravages of the Bubonic plague, the “Black Death”. While within the Church, power struggles were ongoing between the papacy and the Italian city-states with the Pope forced to live in exile in France.
Catherine developed an early relationship with Christ and from the age of a child felt a personal connection to Jesus. As she got older, and having joined the Third Order of the Dominicans, this connection grew in intensity and Christ became for her almost, as a partner in marriage, in a mystical way, that one would probably have to be a saint to fully understand. Catherine’s sanctity was recognized by her superiors and she was called upon during this perilous time in history to help bring stability to the situation of the Church which was like a rudderless boat in storm.
This image, of a boat in a storm, is also raised by our Gospel reading today. The disciples find themselves far from shore and rowing at the mercy of the wind and waves. What draws the story of Catherine and the disciples together is, of course, the central figure of Christ. Both experiences of Jesus are unique and out of the ordinary. One sees Jesus as a mystical spouse, the other sees Jesus walking on water in the midst of a storm however, the effect of the encounter seems to be the same and can be captured best by the words of Jesus, “It is I, do not be afraid”.
How often do we find ourselves navigating our own hazardous journey looking for any safe harbor to ride out the storm. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus would come to us like a loving spouse or a super-natural life guard ready to tow us back to shore, but I suspect there are not many who have that experience. It sometimes seems that the mystical presence of Christ, telling us not to be afraid, might only be reserved for Saints?
For many people that I talk to it is as if desperate prayers often seem to go unheard and unanswered. They feel they have been left alone in their sinking ship and the only source of hope is grabbing even more furiously to the gunwales so as not to be tossed overboard with the next wave that life throws at them.
Perhaps it is enough to know that, in very difficult times, we are not alone in our aloneness. For every Saint that has had a vision of God there are many more who had dark nights of the soul when all they could feel was the absence of God. Their sanctity came not from having visions but from having faith, holding on even when there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to.
It may also be that we have role to play. We might not be able to walk on water but what if were to take time to tend to our despairing sister or brother and on Jesus’ behalf turn and say, “Here I am, do not be afraid”.