TAKING IN THE BREEZE
HOMILY – 19th SUNDAY [A] 2017 [1 Kings 19:9,11-13;Matthew 14:22-33]
This afternoon a special Mass here in the cathedral honours the 200 years since the founding of the Marist Brothers. Marcellin Champagnet was ordained a priest in 1816 in France and was immediately confronted by the appalling illiteracy and squalid social conditions among the people he was sent to serve. The French revolution had disrupted the lives of ordinary people; like the disciples in today’s gospel, they were caught in a storm they could not control.
This young Marist priest, Marcellin, responded to an unspoken but deeply felt cry for help and began the formation of other young men who would devote their lives to lifting people from the poverty of ignorance in which they were drowning. Like Jesus walking on the water, Marcellin did what should not have been possible: he walked an uncertain and unpredictable path to bring education, comfort and hope to youth, virtually forgotten and abandoned by society. The Marist Brothers have grown to an international religious brotherhood over these 200 years and many thousands of young people have been given a hand up to become proud of themselves and proud contributors in their respective societies.
The prophet Elijah was looking for an assurance of God’s presence and in our first reading today his prayer is answered. Now, Elijah is depicted as a fiery prophet who had harsh words for those he saw as the enemies of God. He demanded obedience and had no sympathy for his opponents. He might have expected God to take a similar stand: to be like a powerful wind or an earthquake or a raging fire, destroying all in its path. But he learns otherwise.
God is in the gentle breeze, cool and refreshing, who could pass by almost unnoticed. The God Elijah came to recognise was gentle, loving and merciful.
This is the God who came among us in Jesus, who does not want to see us drown in our own foolishness or pride, so comes, reaching for us, assuring us there is no need to be afraid. Marcellin found this God as he experienced the loss of dignity in the young people and families he encountered in his parish. Their silent cry for recognition was like the “gentle breeze” that disturbs and awakens and urges you to action.
It was the same for Mary MacKillop, a more recent saint and closer to home, whose feast was last Tuesday. She too founded a religious teaching Order, the Sisters of St Joseph, responding to illiteracy and lack of opportunity born of poverty among Australian migrants and aboriginals; she came to New Zealand with a similar mission. For Mary MacKillop, the “gentle breeze” was the whisperings in her heart that convinced her God was speaking.
Over recent Sundays we’ve heard Jesus explaining the kingdom of God as something that grows from small beginnings – like a seed becoming a tree, or a little yeast creating a large loaf, a small pearl worth a great deal. Neither Marcellin nor Mary MacKillop set out to build an empire; they simply responded to a need they felt deeply about.
Like Elijah, they left the shelter and protection of their “cave” and let the “gentle breeze” of God’s love and presence pick them up and accompany them. Like Peter stepping from the boat they had a simple trust that was not without fear. But the hand that held them gave them everything they needed.
Let yourself be called from the cave that shelters you; step out of the safety of your boat. Open the gift that is yours and see the need this gift will help. Let the gentle breeze carry you; listen to the whisperings of your heart. And, do not be afraid. The hand that has held so many is there for you, too.