Every spring, well ok maybe not this spring, but every other spring, countless graduates find themselves at their graduation ceremony. They sit at this long ceremony that is headlined by some famous person delivering the commencement address. Having been a student for 29 years of my life and having taught on a couple of faculties, I have sat through more graduation ceremonies than I dare to count and certainly more commencement speeches then I dare to hear. As a matter of fact, I have given a few myself and as I have prepared to offer those addresses, I have realized there is one common theme amongst commencement addresses, and that is that no one remembers what is said any commencement address. I challenge you to remember who actually spoke at your college or high school graduation, let alone what they actually said.
Yet every spring, just out of curiosity, I like to see who the universities are inviting to give these commencement addresses and then I’ll go to YouTube and watch them. They are pretty much all they same. The speaker stands up and tells you that all of your hard work is going to pay off, you are going to be successful. If you use what the university has given you everything in your life will turn out perfect. Well a couple of years ago, I came across a commencement address from the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, speaking at his own son’s high school graduation. Here is what he said: “now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that … From time to time … I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty… I hope you will be lonely … so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, … so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.” I don’t know about you, but I could not get away with delivering a speech like that. If I said that anywhere, I am sure I would have been run off the stage, but I guess if you are on the Supreme Court you can say whatever you want whenever you want.
As much as we may be shocked that the chief justice was willing to tell a group of high school seniors that message, I think we have to admit there is some truth it. Whether we acknowledge it or not, all of us, it doesn’t how fortunate we are, how much money we have, how much fame we have, or where we live. All of us, at some point in this life will experience pain and suffering. The question is not will we have to suffer. The question is how will we endure that suffering.
As the darkness and storm rage, aren’t we often tempted just to close in on ourselves to hold to that one thing. It’s like the apostles in today’s Gospel. They are out in the boat a few miles from shore, the wind is throwing them about in the sea and it’s certainly not good for them. So, what do they do, they hunker down in the boat. It doesn’t really make sense does it? If I think the boat is going to sink why would I hunker down in the boat? Well it’s because that is what they perceive to be their only option.
As we try to weather the storms, they only seem to get worse. Sure, we can go through our life and pretend that everything is ok, but unless we actually address the pain and suffering it only gets worse, and eventually we arrive at the point where we either attempt something tragic or we finally reach out for help. Sadly, it seems that only when our backs are totally against the wall do we turn to God and ask for help. It’s crazy, but we all do it. Think about it; when something hard comes into our life, isn’t our first response to try to figure it out on our own? When that doesn’t work we then tend to seek out a professional to help us and when they can’t help us anymore then finally at last we reach out and beg God to intervene. Why isn’t God the first choice? Why isn’t He involved from the first day that darkness begins to come into our life?
There are not quick fixes to the storms in our lives and “no doctrine of escape is worthy of God.” But today’s Gospel teaches us that rather then asking God to end the storm we should change the question and ask God where He is in the midst of the storm. You see, just as Jesus came walking on the water in the storm towards His apostles, so too He comes towards us in the storms of our life. But like the apostles, we can be so preoccupied by the storm that we can fail to recognize Him in our midst.
I have a friend who is a professional counselor and she was shocked when she found out I didn’t have a graduate degree in counseling. Sure, I have graduate courses in counseling but with the amount of counseling priests do she felt we needed to have the degree. I reminded her that my job is not to help you come to a solution, my job is to help you see Jesus in the midst of the struggle you are undergoing.
The goal when Jesus comes into the picture isn’t just that He waves a magic wand and He fixes all of the problems we face. No, He invites us to allow Him to be a part of the problem. So rather then focus on the quick fix we need to focus on trying to find Him in the midst of the darkness. Just as Jesus begged Peter to come out over the boat and come to Him, so too, He asks each and everyone of us to lean into the darkness to find Him and to walk through the darkness with Him.
Literally, Jesus begs us to take a leap of faith. He challenges us to follow Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life through the storms that come into our lives. I don’t know if you noticed that in today’s Gospel Jesus doesn’t make the storm stopped immediately. He certainly could have, but He doesn’t calm the storm until He is in the boat, He doesn’t calm the storm until He is actually walking through the storm with the apostles. Rather than simply stop the storm, Jesus asks Peter to come through the storm to Him. He asks Peter to focus on Him and as Peter walks to Christ and keeps his eyes fixated on Jesus everything is just fine, but the moment he takes his eyes of Jesus he begins to sink. But Jesus is there to pull Him back up.
It’s a simple lesson for us. There is always a temptation to try and ride out the storms in our life, but the only option in moving through them is to focus on Christ and allow Him to walk through the storm with us. My friends, Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel that even in the midst of the dark storms He is never absent from us. When the storms rage, we need to step back and ask ourselves, where is Jesus in the midst of this storm and then run to Him. The gospel today invites us to be like St. Peter, to take the leap of faith, to focus on Christ and to step into the storm trusting that He is there to lift us up when we start to sink. The lesson is simple, walk through the storms of life to Jesus Christ and when you find Him in the midst of it, there you will find healing and renewal.
 Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) Pg 20