20 June 2021

The Waters of Galilee: Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B), Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, Covent Garden

At various times our Catholic faith holds our attention to some focal place. With Mary we often retrace our steps to the Holy House at Nazareth. We spend two months preparing first to go to Bethlehem, and then to make the journeys onward to Egypt and up to Jerusalem with the Holy Family. We go to the desert with The Lord in our prayer; we accompany him to every corner of the Holy Land to hear him teach, and witness Him in our world working the miracles of the Kingdom of heaven. Above all, we end up in Jerusalem - not just for Holy Week and Easter - at the foot of the Cross of the Lord’s passion, and peering into the Empty Tomb, whenever we perceive the sacrifice of the Living God Himself made present and known to us in the breaking of the bread at the Upper Room and, risen from the dead, on the road to Emmaus, when all these places assemble to visit us at our own churches’ altars day by day.

But have you noticed that it is frequently to the waters of Galilee that the action returns? Here beside its shore is Capernaum, where the Lord first spoke of the Holy Spirit upon Him (Luke 4.18). Here at Cana he turned Galilee’s fresh drawn waters into wine (John 2.9). Here Andrew and Peter and James and John forsook their nets, their boats and their livelihoods to follow Him (John 1.40; Luke 5.10-11). Here some people tried to seize Him and make him falsely King (John 6.15); while others wanted to stone Him for saying of Himself, “I am,” being God the Son to the Father who is Most High God (cf. John 8.59). Here He takes fish from Galilee and bread to feed the Five Thousand (Mark 6.41). Here He will meet Peter and the other disciples before His Ascension and reveal His resurrection to them (Mark 14.28), as He replays the dramatic Feeding of the Five Thousand, but this time intimately for them at night by the fireside (John 21.13), eating fish and breaking bread so that they might know and see Him vanish from before their eyes in the moment that in the Bread He enters to dwell in them, and they in Him (John 6.56). Not for nothing would St Paul one day remark – “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me.” (Galatians 2.20) Peter and the others discovered that for themselves on that night. And here on the lake this day (Gospel: Mark 4.35-41), we find Jesus with His disciples, recently raw recruits to the Kingdom of God, terrified in the boat, until He calms the storm, saying to the sea, “Quiet, be still.”


We have heard this exhortation before. In one of the Psalms, in the midst of war, the Lord breaks the warriors’ weapons of attack and shields of defence alike: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46/45.10). Today we know, then, that even at this early stage of His ministry, the Lord is announcing Himself as the Living God, who, lying down as if in the sleep of death now rises, as no storm, no threat, no death shall prevail. The disciples come to faith that, at His Word, even the most forceful of elements is transformed and yields its power to the peace and authority of Christ. It is this same fresh still water that is turned into wine, of which He says He will drink it new in the Kingdom of God all over again (Mark 14.25). It is water that is called upon, at the instant the Spirit of God proceeds in The Lord’s last breath from His Cross (Luke 23.46), to flow down with His Blood for our cleansing and redemption (John 19.24), to prepare us for the resurrection that is coming to us of all in Him. It is this lake’s water that absorbs the evil spirits that troubled the herd of swine so that they might no longer trouble humanity (Mark 5.13). It is Galilee’s waters that hear the Lord’s parables and amplify His voice with its surface when He preaches from the apostles’ boat (Mark 4.1). It is this water to which Mary Magdalen is sent home, to tell the disciples to come back to Galilee too, where the Good Shepherd had always said He would gather His scattered flock (Mark 14.28; cf. Communion II, John 10.11, 15), before He takes our humanity with Him in Himself as He ascends to the Father.


It is here on these beautiful inland waters that fear and alarm at the elements meet peace and faith in the present coming of the Kingdom, when its King ascends and appears to depart, yet does not depart, but immediately fills the world, transcending all time and place (Ephesians 4.10), saying, “I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28.20)


We do not know where all the disciples were baptised; but we know that, even to seasoned fishermen, the water was an ordeal. Thus, the water that baptises and changes a person from a creature of this world into a new creation in the next (II Corinthians 5.17) is what the disciples were afraid of, before they went into it and through it. And the water that is turned into wine is not a mere sign of a Divine action, but the very life force of the new Reign of Heaven that we call the Kingdom of God on earth, and that we know as our own life since our own Baptism. The water that rages in a storm is, as it were, the guarantee of a voyage into peace and love, seeing how St Paul has told us today that the love of Christ so overwhelms us, like a flood, that we are compelled no longer live for ourselves but for Him who died and rose again for us (Epistle: II Corinthians 5.14-17).


The odd thing is that these tumultuous waters are not the great Mediterranean or the mighty Indian Ocean to which the ships went down the great rivers of the East (Responsorial Gradual: Psalm 107/106.23). They are but an inland, freshwater lake. Yet truly this lake is the image of the sea within. The sea that is our soul’s turmoil of temper and anger, uncertainty and rebellion, is also reflection and restoration, refreshment and replenishment. We know this to be true from our own life of baptism. And no wonder the disciples kept coming back to the waters, constantly being reconciled to its power. The Lord is with them that night when they cannot catch any fish at all. “Put out into the deep,” He says, “and fish some more,” (Luke 5.4) as He continues to teach the people, intending for the gospel of the Kingdom to penetrate deep within their minds and souls and imaginations and hearts. His boat is overloaded with the catch, as the disciples are inundated with the images, ideas and demanding expectations of the Kingdom of God. Unable to bear it, Peter turns to Jesus and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinner.” (Luke 5.8) Yet The Lord takes this as a confession of trust in Him, and tells him that from now instead Peter will be a fisher of people. Peter does not question, but with James and John he leaves everything to follow (Luke 5.11), at the sight of the immense force of the King coming into His Kingdom.


This Galilee, close to where the Lord took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mother of God at Nazareth, and not far from the mountain where He showed Himself in His true glory of God in Man (Mark 9.2), the glory filling the universe, is where we not only recognise His power to change us, to overwhelm us with love, and fill us in His Church (cf. Ephesians 1.23) with His own life and liberty from the power of sin and death. Galilee is the place where constantly with Him we put out into the deep, going deep into His life in our own souls, as we hang on His every word, and find that “we are still and know the He is God” (Psalm 45.10), God with us (Matthew 1.23), with us to the end of time. (Matthew 28.20)


Consider Job (Old Testament Reading: Job 38. 1, 8-11), indignant at his sufferings, daring to question God why, like we often do. He is told to abandon His pride and self-regard. “Come thus far and no further,” he is told. But we who have been baptised and have faith in Christ are told, “Peace, be still (Mark 4.39); come to me (Matthew 11.28); drink of the water (Revelation 22.17); put out into the deep (Luke 5.4); enter into my Kingdom (Matthew 7.21; 18.3), enter My life as King.” And then find out, more than anything, that we have entered the stage when, truly, it is no longer merely we that live but Christ who lives within us. (Galatians 2.20)