The Gospel narrative about the storm that threatens Peter’s boat has always been a symbol of the Church being persecuted throughout history from within and without. God allows these difficulties to oppose the Church in order to draw out a greater good. Fr. Gabriel in Divine Intimacy tells us, “Virtue and goodness are strengthened in time of difficulty; the efforts made in bearing trials tend to make us surpass what we would have done had we enjoyed perfect calm.” Fr. Gabriel, p. 183 God also allows difficulties in the Church in order to purify it of its errors and disobedience to His Commandments. It seems that only in difficulties, when events become insurmountable, will we turn out of desperation to God for help: “Lord, save us we are perishing.” Mt. 8: 25
“What manner of man is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” Mt. 8:27
In his commentary on the Gospel (Mt. 8:23-27) for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Dom Prosper Gueranger in The Liturgical Year III comments: “Let us adore the power of our Emmanuel, who is come to calm the tempests which threatened the human race with death. In the midst of their danger, the successive generations of men had cried out: ‘Lord, save us we are perishing.’ Mt. 8:25 When the fullness of time had come, he awoke from his rest; he had but to command, and the power of our enemies was destroyed. The malice of the devils, the darkness of idolatry, and the corruption of paganism—all yielded. Nation after nation was conquered to Jesus. They had said, when in their misery and blindness: ‘Who is this Jesus, whom no power can resist?’ and then they embraced his Law. This power of Jesus to break down every obstacle, and that, too, at the very time when men were disquieted at his apparent slumbering, has often shown itself in the past ages of the Church. How many times has he not chosen for saving the world that period which seemed the least likely for rescue! The same happens in the life of each one among us. Oftentimes we are tossed to and fro by violent temptations; it would seem as though the billows must sink us; and yet our will is firmly anchored to God! And what is this, if not Jesus sleeping in the storm-tossed boat, protecting us by this his sleeping? And if our cry for help at length awakens him, it is only to proclaim his own and our victory; for he has already conquered, and we have conquered in him.” Gueranger, p.261 We should never forget what St. Therese told us of this same incident of Jesus sleeping in the boat; always remember that Jesus is present in the boat and nothing can happen to Him as He is the Son of God and is all powerful. If we are with Him in the boat, we too will be protected no matter how bad the storms of life are.
Purification of evil
St. Cyprian in a letter to the Church relates how the present persecution was caused by their sins: “We have to confess that the force of the present storm of persecution which has decimated the flock and is even now still pouring out its fury upon it is to a great extent our fault, because we have not followed the commands of God which were given us for our salvation. Christ did the will of his Father, but we do not do his, living in luxury as we do and in pride and rivalries, despising simplicity and faith renouncing in words only, not in deeds, the world in which we live. We please ourselves and do harm to others…. For us this persecution is an examination of conscience. God has decreed that we should be proved and chastised – as he does many times with his own. However, he never fails us in time of trial. He has told me, the least of his servants, to give you this message. ‘Tell them,’ he said to me, ‘that peace will come. The delay is due to the fact that there are still some to be tried by the fire.’” (The Preacher’s Encyclopaedia, p. 437) Because of a lack of charity to others, God would allow the evil of persecution in the early Church to purify it from its selfishness and greed.
“Be debtor to no man in anything—except only in regard to mutual love.” Rom. 13:8
St. Paul in today’s Epistle to the Romans (Rom. 13: 8-10) reminds us that the debt of charity can never be fully paid. Our one debt that we owe to our fellow man is charity. We can never say that we have paid that debt already! When we pay the debt of charity, we pay all the other debts of the Law of Ten Commandments: “For he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the Law. For ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not covet’; and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’… Love therefore is the fulfilment of the Law.” Rom. 13:10 The early Christians were known to the pagans for their love for one another: “See how the Christians love one another.” St. Paul is just repeating throughout the Epistle to the Romans the major teaching of Jesus which is to love God: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Mt. 22:37-40.