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ANGELUS
from issue no. 07/08 - 2011

“With your strength alone you cannot rise. Hold tight to the hand of the One who reaches down to you”


St Augustine, imagining that he was addressing the Apostle, commented: the Lord “leaned down and took you by the hand. With your strength alone you cannot rise. Hold tight to the hand of the One who reaches down to you” (En. in Ps. 95, 7), and he did not say this to Peter alone but also to us


Benedict XVI, Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, Sunday, 7 August 2011


Jesus saves Peter from the waters, mosaic of the Cathedral of Monreale, Palermo [© Enzo LoVerso]

Jesus saves Peter from the waters, mosaic of the Cathedral of Monreale, Palermo [© Enzo LoVerso]

 

Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo

Sunday, 7 August 2011

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In this Sunday’s Gospel we find Jesus who, after withdrawing to the mountain, prays throughout the night. The Lord, having distanced himself from the people and the disciples, manifests his communion with the Father and the need to pray in solitude, far from the commotion of the world. This distancing, however, must not be seen as a lack of interest in individuals or as an abandoning of the Apostles. On the contrary, Matthew recounts, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat, “and go before him to the other side” (Mt 14, 22), where he would see them again. In the meantime the boat “was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them” (v. 24). And so “in the fourth watch of the night [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea” (v. 25); the disciples were terrified, mistaking him for a ghost and “cried out for fear” (v. 26). They did not recognize him, they did not realize that it was the Lord. Nonetheless Jesus reassured them: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” (v. 27). This is an episode from which the Fathers of the Church drew a great wealth of meaning. The sea symbolizes this life and the instability of the visible world; the storm points to every kind of trial or difficulty that oppresses human beings. The boat, instead, represents the Church, built by Christ and steered by the Apostles. Jesus wanted to teach the disciples to bear life’s adversities courageously, trusting in God, in the One who revealed himself to the Prophet Elijah on Mount Horeb “in a still small voice” [the whispering of a gentle breeze] (1 Kings 19, 12). The passage then continues with the action of the Apostle Peter, who, moved by an impulse of love for the Teacher, asks him to bid him to come to him, walking on the water. “But when he saw the wind [was strong], [Peter] was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Mt 14, 30). St Augustine, imagining that he was addressing the Apostle, commented: the Lord “leaned down and took you by the hand. With your strength alone you cannot rise. Hold tight to the hand of the One who reaches down to you” (En. in Ps. 95, 7), and he did not say this to Peter alone but also to us. Peter walks on the water, not by his own effort but rather through divine grace in which he believes. And when he was smitten by doubt, when he no longer fixed his gaze on Jesus but was frightened by the gale, when he failed to put full trust in the Teacher’s words, it means that he was interiorly distancing himself from the Teacher and so risked sinking in the sea of life. So it is also for us: if we look only at ourselves we become dependent on the winds and can no longer pass through storms, through the waters of life. The great thinker Romano Guardini wrote that the Lord “is always close, being at the root of our being. Yet we must experience our relationship with God between the poles of distance and closeness. By closeness we are strengthened, by distance we are put to the test” (Accettare se stessi, [Accept ourselves], Brescia 1992, p. 71).

Dear friends, the experience of the Prophet Elijah who heard God passing and the trial of faith of the Apostle Peter enable us to understand that even before we seek the Lord or invoke him, it is he himself who comes to meet us, who lowers Heaven to stretch out his hand to us and raise us to his heights; all he expects of us is that we trust totally in him, that we really take hold of his hand. Let us call on the Virgin Mary, model of total entrustment to God, so that, amidst the plethora of anxieties, problems and difficulties which churn up the sea of our life, our hearts may resonate with the reassuring words of Jesus who also says to us “Take heart, it is I; have no fear!”; and our faith in him may grow.



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