The readings for the Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time, both the Old Testament reading from Job 38:1, 8-11 and the Gospel reading from Mark 4:35-41, place us in the presence of God who is sovereign over nature. It is on my mind, not only because of the readings for the week, but due to our presence this weekend on the vast Prairie, both of Manitoba and North Dakota. It is big, flat, and in some ways frightening. As people around here say, "you can watch your dog run away for days." The unending landscape that flows for miles and miles, to a horizon that fades into nothingness, puts one in mind of one’s smallness and even insignificance. At the same time, I have picked up Kathleen Norris’s Dakota: A Spiritual Geography and am enjoying her meditation on the isolation one feels on the Dakota prairie in light of the Desert fathers, who cultivated their sense of intimacy with God in light of their aloneness. Both the passages from Job and Mark tell us that God has control of nature, as does, indeed, the responsorial Psalm, 107, and that our fears are misplaced. This nature we share, whether in Rome, Fargo, North Dakota, New York, or Roland, Manitoba (see if you can find it on the map), is only God’s good creation. Wherever we are, we can hear Jesus’ question,"Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?" We are not alone, either crowded on streets with people we do not know, or perhaps even care to know, or alone on the prairie, listening to the wind whistle through a stand of trees, because God is present, and in control. As the Lord speaks to Job out of the storm, he describes his power and control over nature: "Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled!"
This image and reality of God "in control" conjures up a sense of God’s fatherhood, perhaps for some a sense of tyranny, based on memories of their own fathers. But God’s control is that of a father who cares enough to love us alone. Psalm 107 describes his children calling out to him in distress upon which God acts ("from their straits he rescued them, He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze, and the billows of the sea were stilled"). Upon their rescue, the Psalmist proclaims: "Let them give thanks to the LORD for his kindness and his wondrous deeds to the children of men." Above all is the wondrous deed of Christ’s sacrifice, which Paul describes in the second reading, 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, in the wondrous phrase of the NAB translators: "Brothers and sisters: The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all." The love of Christ impels us. To what does it impel us? Love. Love of God, love of neighbor.
And especially love of father on this eve of Father’s Day. So many men I know speak of lost relationships with their fathers, and here I do not even speak of the pain of absent fathers, by abandonment, lack of responsibility or divorce, but of fathers present and distant – their sons wished for more depth, more profundity, more movie moments where the clarity of their love becomes diamond pristine in an event of sublimity. Then I became a father and I struggled to speak to my sons about moments of significance as they have grown and continue to grow. My own failures and weaknesses erect barriers that I am at a loss to know how to tear down. But I love my sons so dearly and so deeply, and all I can see are their gifts and strengths; and if they sense that it is because of the love of my own father, and of his father, and of all those who came before, who cared for their sons and daughters, however faultily and imperfectly. They did it as best they could, and when fathers do it well, they do it in the image of God the father, who is there to care for us, to love us, to save us, who is watching out for us. They do it in the image of Jesus Christ, who impels us to love. Whether alone or in the midst of many this weekend, God is present and in control. Fathers, who often love to be in control, need only to sit back this Sunday and learn from the Master: to be in control is to learn how to impel others to love.
John W. Martens