The cry of the storm-tossed disciples was the cry of mortal Adam thrust into a broken world full of dangers and out-of-control tempests. Adam’s son Jesus, unbroken by sin, slept like a baby on a cushion in Edenic tranquility.
He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”
This “sort of man” was none other than the paradisal man of the forgotten garden who ruled with gentleness and calm over the whole of creation as king. The winds and the sea recognized his voice immediately amid the din of terror and returned to peace. Harmony and grace emanated from every fiber of Adam’s being in the cosmic garden, a memory never forgotten by the elements. Adam’s friendship with the Father in the garden held all things together.
Due to the loss of oneness, the scattered shards of Adam have lived in fear within and without ever since the expulsion. Fundamental to oneness was trust among all the creatures, shepherded by their little king.
Faith and divine friendship restore this original, simple trust and bring us into kinship with the soil, plants, animals, winds, seas, sun, moon and stars. The cruciform tree of life planted in the center of the exiled cosmos beckons us to eat and drink of it as one Body, and return to the Father’s garden.
Acts 12:1-11; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
At these words of Peter, an invisible bolt of lightning struck the stage of the world drama and lit it from end to end. The freedom of the omniscient writer and the freedom of the created character in the Story connected in an instant of pure grace.
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”
Insight into the divine mysteries beyond sight and sound in a single human mind is a world-changing event more cataclysmic than a tsunami or a pandemic.
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Recognition of Jesus’ personal identity as the Son of God was like scales falling out of the eyes of Adam. Peter’s profession of faith would be the first match to light the rest of darkened humanity one person at a time.
Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” is addressed very personally. Faith is not secondhand—what “people say”—but direct experience in the light of grace.
As the Church grew by the apostolic preaching of Peter and Paul, religion may have become secondhand for some as evidenced by Paul’s strange question to the Romans: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) Lacking firsthand knowledge by an experience of grace, some were perhaps simply following religious routine. Paul was amazed that some Christians thought it was possible “to continue in sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). There was barely a discernible change in life or outlook before and after conversion in some followers.
Secondhand religion is like hearing someone else’s testimony that water is cool and refreshing. Firsthand experience is tasting and knowing for oneself that it is cool and refreshing.
Getting to know Christ Jesus is a continual journey in metanoia; spiritual eyes open slowly and gradually. Matthew records that Peter stumbled shortly after his proclamation of faith by refusing to permit Jesus’ passion: “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus commanded sternly (Matthew 16:23). The triple denial and reinstatement of the “rock” as the drama unfolded show how much initial faith needed to mature.
Peter and Paul gained firsthand knowledge of Christ by sharing in his passion—Peter in prison chains, and Paul as he was “being poured out like a libation.” Both also experienced firsthand the deep peace of Christ in the midst of adversity. After Peter’s dreamlike rescue by an angel he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me…” Likewise, Paul testified, “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.”
The psalmist invites us to join Saints Peter and Paul and “Taste and see how good the Lord is; blessed the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).
Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The way of the Cross is paved with losses one after the other. In searching for the pearl of great price, illusion after illusion peels away until we arrive at the dimensionless core: nada. We brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it (Job 1:21).
Losing our life to find it is essentially giving up what was never ours to begin with. Not a breath or a heartbeat is our own achievement. We are, at bottom, ex nihilo—created out of nothing. At the border between being and non-being the mind disappears into a cloud of unknowing and can see no further, as Ultimate Reality lies beyond the dyad of thinker and thought.
If the possessive pronoun “mine” is really an illusion, we are simply stewards of time, life, relationships and circumstances. Each person is dealt a certain set of cards to be played in a limited space of time.
We did not choose our parents, culture, epoch, blood type, height, race, gender, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Our individual selves in this world are fragments of Adam, borrowed elements for the exercise of our personal freedom in this journey to our eternal Source. Returning in Christ to the Father, we become whole and distinct persons, possessing in common the union of all fragments as our own Body. What is possessed by all is possessed by none. “All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10).
Familial ties belong to our fragmented, biological condition. Persons transcend and encompass all tribes, cultures, nations and tongues. Even the biological role of the Blessed Virgin Mary was provisional and limited to her earthly sojourn. In communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Mary is an indescribably glorious person transcending the root of Jesse and the Davidic line.
To the woman who said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” Jesus responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27) In no way was Jesus diminishing the role of Mary—the Theotokos was the exemplar of all those who “hear the word of God and keep it”—but her physical motherhood was put into perspective. Neither Jesus nor Mary are Jews in heaven, but persons transcending all cultures. From Our Lady of Guadalupe to Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of Fatima to the Black Madonna, Mary is Mother to all nations and races.
Apparitions to humankind necessarily use forms and names in order to reach our limited mode of knowing. Communion in the Trinity transcends the dyad of motherhood and fatherhood, but we are like children being gathered into the bosom of the Father.
Divine love gives parents, children, siblings and friends the freedom to follow Christ wherever he wants to lead them. Clinging to our loved ones and boxing them in to satisfy our own needs is against reality. A child born into the world is not ours, but the Father’s. By letting go, we flow with the grace of the Holy Spirit through Christ to the Father.
Spiritual motherhood and fatherhood are universal: we may offer a “cup of cold water” to Christ’s “little ones” anytime, anywhere, opening our hearts to the family without boundaries.
Jesus’ fame as a healer spread far and wide in Palestine, attracting not only lepers but foreigners like the Roman centurion. Jews did not associate with either group; one was “unclean,” the other was “Gentile.” Both were sources of defilement.
Jesus tore down walls of division by his compassion towards all people regardless of race, gender, physical and psychological condition, or social status. He must have felt an affinity for the centurion who showed such an unusual compassion for his servant, for under Roman law slaves were classified with tools and chattel. An infirm slave was considered disposable. As the noble centurion reached across social boundaries to help his fellow man, Jesus transcended racial boundaries and offered to go to his Gentile home—a transgression of Jewish law— and heal his servant.
The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
The centurion’s declaration of faith astounded Jesus. The Roman did not know Christ as the Son of God, but ascribed divine power and authority to him, intuiting by his spirit that Jesus could heal at a distance.
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven, but the children of the Kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed.
The racially exclusive court of heaven suddenly widened to include Gentiles in Jesus’ vision of the eternal Kingdom. The presumed heirs may find themselves disinherited, Jesus warned. Heaven is not a national birthright, but the universal communion of the faithful.
After the leper and the centurion, Jesus returned to Peter’s house where he was staying and healed a third person of marginalized status in Israel—a woman. Peter’s mother-in-law immediately began to serve him as soon as she was healed of her fever.
Jesus’ love knew no bounds as he healed every disease and infirmity. God had truly come in the flesh to reveal the secret of heaven: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:11).
As wonderful as miracles are, Jesus wanted above all to lead his people to faith in his Father: “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe,” Jesus admonished (John 4:48). He stood immovably silent in the presence of the sensation-seeking Herod (Luke 23:8-9).
The healing of body, soul and spirit in this world is a sign of the world to come when all divisions in the Body of Christ will be healed and brought to union and communion in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the miracle of miracles.
Did St. Gregory of Nyssa ever stand at a place like this? He must have:
“The feelings that come as one stands on a high mountain peak and looks down onto some immense sea are the same feelings that come to me when I look out from the high mountain peak of the Lord’s words into the incomprehensible depths of his thoughts.
“When you look at mountains that stand next to the sea, you will often find that they seem to have been cut in half, so that on the side nearest the sea there is a sheer drop and something dropped from the summit will fall straight into the depths. Someone who looks down from such a peak will become dizzy, and so too I become dizzy when I look down from the high peak of these words of the Lord: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“These words offer the sight of God to those whose hearts have been purified and purged. But look: St John says No-one has seen God. The Apostle Paul’s sublime mind goes further still: What no man has seen and no man can see. This is the slippery and crumbling rock that seems to give the mind no support in the heights. Even the teaching of Moses declared God to be a rock that was so inaccessible that our minds could not even approach it: No-one can see the Lord and live.
“To see God is to have eternal life – and yet the pillars of our faith, John and Paul and Moses, say that God cannot be seen. Can you understand the dizziness of a soul that contemplates their words? If God is life, whoever does not see God does not see life. If the prophets and the Apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, attest that God cannot be seen, does this not wreck all the hopes of man?
“It is the Lord who sustains our floundering hope, just as he sustained Peter when he was floundering in the water, and made the waters firm beneath his feet. If the hand of the Word stretches out to us as well, and sets us firm in a new understanding when these speculations have made us lose our balance, we shall be safe from fear, held safe in the guiding hand of the Word. Blessed, he says, are those who possess a pure heart, for they shall see God.”