I was pretty scared when the wind started. I mean, I knew a lot about being out on the water. I mean, I was a fisherman. It wasn’t that it was night time, or that the rain had started to pick up. We’re kind of used to that out there. But it was that wind, you know, the kind that howls, sounds like someone’s screaming for help, that starts to whip up the water all around the boat, that makes the boat start to heave, up and down, up and down. And then we saw Him. What was He doing? What was He doing out here? How was he out here? Was he… Was he walking on the water?
And I thought the wind was terrifying! We thought he was a ghost! We thought He was something we couldn’t handle. Sure, the wind didn’t look so bad then: give me the water, the night, the rain, the wind, but don’t give me any ghost. Can’t handle that. I was just a fisherman! But no, this was something else, this was something new, this was someone else, this was someone new. He had come to us, when we were most afraid, most out of control, most in need of help. He came out walking on the water.
Can I really put into words what came next? I mean, he told us not to be afraid. Not be afraid! That’s easy to say, ha! He’s the one walking on water, we’re the ones nearly drowning in a boat, one that He sent us out on in the first place! But then I heard something in His voice. It was more than just words, more than just comfort. There was something in His voice! I don’t know, I can’t put it into words. It just felt like a command: Don’t be afraid! It is I. I AM!
I didn’t know what I was saying, what I was doing. I had to call back to Him, I had to make sure it was Him. If it’s you Lord, command me to walk on the water to You! I screamed over the water and the wind and the rain that was suddenly not quite so awful and terrifying. But, man, was I shaking. Have you ever put your feet over the side of a boat, miles out to sea, and just before your toes hit the water, knowing, just trusting, that you would be able to actually take steps on the water! Never! Trust me, it’s pretty damn scary.
Those first couple of steps, I just wanted to make it to Him. I didn’t know how I was going to make it to Him, just that I was going to do what He said, I was going to let my faith take me where my feet normally would fail. I made it a few steps! I was walking on water, but then that wind! The wind got me again, rocked me, shook me, threw me down, all those things I can’t control, all the unstable things of this world and the forces trying to keep me from walking toward Him, and I could feel my feet go under, and then my knees, and my hips. Soon my shoulders were soaked through, and just before my head went under I shot my hands up and cried out, Lord! Save me! And as my eyes were closed in under the dark water, I felt Him grasp my hand. Even in the way He held my hand and pulled me to Himself, on top of the water again, I knew He cared, I knew what it was to not be afraid, even in the worst storm, wildest sea, darkest waters. I knew by his touch, that He is God, and He has never failed, and He won’t start now.
Yeah, so Peter had a pretty special moment with Christ, so we read and we hear in Matthew 14:22-33. Go read it, keep going through it, hear the winds howling, feel the water shooting up into the boat, feel the wonder as Peter swings his feet over the side of boat, and then let Jesus take a hold of your hand. That’s what I’ve been trying to do this whole semester down here at the Sem. This passage has kind of been a mantra of sorts for me since the end of July, when I woke up one morning down in San Diego, at Steubenville, only to open my Bible to Matt 14, and then heard the Hillsong tune “Oceans” for the first time that night during Adoration, realizing that my day very unexpectedly opened and closed with this beautiful story of the ways the world can blow us over and put us under the water, until we finally let the Lord take us by the hand to keep our head above the water.
And it was the same thing with the whole semester. From that day at Steubenville to the beautiful weekend I just got to spend with some of you at the Junior Core Retreat, I opened the semester with Peter taking those first steps out on the water, and now my semester is finished, feeling Peter’s hand firmly held by Jesus’, and the boat safe upon the shore. I’ve got to say, they’ve thrown a lot at me this year at the Sem (I guess nothing really that I haven’t taken on myself, darn stubbornness!), but it’s been so important to be faithful to what I’ve taken on,so important to not feel like I have to make it all the way to Jesus on the swirling waters all by myself. Just put my feet over the edge and let my toes hit the water. And do it both feet first.
I think that’s what the Holy Spirit is asking of us, all year long, but I think especially this Christmas. I want all of you, but especially you in the Junior Core, to know this especially. I could think of no better way to celebrate and show my thanks for one more semester done and closer to the priesthood than to serve you in what little way I could this last weekend. It wasn’t easy to delay seeing my parents for a few more days, and it wasn’t the most energizing thing to make the drive from the Sem down to the Cathedral in LA for lunch, and back up to Santa Barbara for the retreat, but there aren’t a lot of other places I would have rather been. I hope you felt the same, that there are easier places to be, more comfortable places to be, but it’s Jesus who calls us to step out of the boat, the only seemingly safe place in a churning sea. That’s Christmas, that’s the Christian life: our God could have stayed in heaven, simply too holy and too distant to care about His creation; instead He was born as a defenseless child, laid in an animal’s feeding trough, and wrapped in clothes that pretty closely resembled a burial cloth. Yup, that’s our God. He swung His feet over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward us. Don’t be afraid to do the same this Christmas.