Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Terrance KleinJune 20, 2024
Photo by Joshua Earle, courtesy of Unsplash.

A Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Job 38: 1, 8-11 2 Corinthians 5: 14-17 Mark 4: 35-41

In March of this year, the Princess of Wales announced that she had been diagnosed with cancer. Last week, she appeared in public for the first time since Christmas to celebrate King Charles’ 75th birthday. In her statement updating the public about her health, Catherine wrote:

I am making good progress, but as anyone going through chemotherapy will know, there are good days and bad days. On those bad days you feel weak, tired and you have to give in to your body resting. But on the good days, when you feel stronger, you want to make the most of feeling well.

Fairly or not, unnatural expectations follow those with great privilege. The Princess of Wales is expected to do the impossible: to say when her health storm, and consequential media storm, will end. Unfortunately, like the rest of us, she cannot answer that question.

Meteorological storms are quite different from the metaphorical storms of life. Connected to the web by the personal computers in our pockets, we are no longer surprised by nature’s storms. We are informed, often quite accurately, when they will begin and how long they will last, even about their intensity.

Life’s storms are quite different. We seldom see them coming, and we rarely know when they will end. Indeed, uncertainty is a large part of their toll. Many of us find that not knowing is worse than knowing.

So here are three pieces of advice for the storms of life.

First, have a lifeguard, someone who can tell you what he or she sees. Whether meteorological or metaphorical, storms make it difficult to see what is happening. We need help with this. We need someone else’s eyes, someone we can trust, someone who can say to us, “Look, you may not see this, but I know that you are in trouble.” And of course, we need to be those eyes for those whom we love.

Storms, and the stress that they cause, are seldom announced by calendar dates. The nature of stress is that it gradually builds up until we find ourselves staggering under its weight. Each of us needs a lifeguard, a spouse or other relative, or a close friend who can say what they see. “You’re really struggling. You’re under a lot of stress. You need to take care of yourself.”

Second, know your shelter from the storm, your line of retreat. Learn how to take care of yourself when times are good so that you can instinctively do this when they are hard.

What helps you to deal with stress: sleep, exercise, recreation, television, travel, conversation? You need to know this in advance, because by the time you hear from your lifeguard, you will be well into the storm, and it will already be wreaking havoc. You need to know what taking care of yourself looks like before you are told to do it.

And finally, remember that all storms pass. We know this when it comes to the weather, but we easily forget the same when it comes to life. It is in the nature of the storm to blind us, to make us forget that it is an aberration. Life was not always like this and will not always be like this. The storms of life blow over, even if they only pass with life itself.

If nothing else does, death will free us from the storm, and that is not a shallow promise. Indeed, it is a fundamental bulwark between Christian belief and contemporary despair. We have hope in the life to come.

This core insight was expressed in the Church’s condemnation of suicide as the ultimate sin of despair, and it explained her praise of martyrdom as the ultimate act of faith. One act saw no hope but death, the other viewed death as a small price to pay for the hope already given.

Today science rightly questions the level of freedom, and hence the presence of sin, operative in many cases of suicide. But no one can question the statistics showing that suicides are incrementally increasing in the developed world. Some storms only pass with death, and too many of our contemporaries see the complete darkness of death as a price they are willing to pay for the cessation of those terrors.

The great dividing line between Christian faith and contemporary despair lies in the resurrection of the Christ. If you believe that nothing follows death, you can be brought to accept death itself as the price paid to escape life’s storms. But if you believe that life follows death, then the surety that the storm will pass, either before or with death, allows you to struggle on, even to become a different person, a better person, as the storm rages.

Hope makes the difference. Christians believe that death is a portal that leads to the shelter we call salvation. There, Christ says to the storm,

thus far shall you come but no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stilled! (Jb 38:11)

The Princess of Wales began her recent statement with what might seem to be a bit of fluff.

I have been blown away by all the kind messages of support and encouragement over the last couple of months. It really has made the world of difference to William and me and has helped us both through some of the harder times.

Is that media spin? Is it the canned optimism that we expect from celebrities? That depends upon how you view the ultimate nature of reality. Christians believe that nature, to use Catherine’s word, has been “blown” open, like the tomb itself, in the resurrection of the Christ.

He woke up,
rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” (Mk 4:39-41).

For us Christ is a lifeguard; he is shelter from the storm; and he is the surety that it will pass.

More: Scripture

The latest from america

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures, with blood on his face, is assisted by guards after shots were fired during a campaign rally at the Butler Farm Show in Butler, Pa.
My fellow Americans, I have some bad news: This is who we are.
Kevin ClarkeJuly 15, 2024
We need to pray—and ask some hard questions.
Greg KandraJuly 15, 2024
"Together with my brother bishops, we condemn political violence, and we offer our prayers for President Trump, and those who were killed or injured," said Archbishop Broglio, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Many political and faith leaders, even as they prayed for Trump, also asked for prayers for the country as a whole, and particularly America’s polarized political landscape.