Growing through Trials like Peter

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday of Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

It has been said that we have a crisis every year and a major crisis every decade. Hopefully during every trial we grow and mature so that we are better able to cope with the next trial. The disciples of Jesus in the Gospel today suffered a crisis when they thought they saw a ghost walking towards them on the lake (Matt 14:22-33). They did not cope well with their crisis, they were terrified and cried out in fear. Peter also endured a crisis when he began to walk on the water and felt the force of the wind and took fright. Jesus addressed both of these crises. Firstly to the disciples Jesus said, “Courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matt 14:27) Then to Peter after rescuing him Jesus said, “Man of little faith why did you doubt.” (Matt 14:31)

Jesus helping the disciples on the Sea of Galilee in our Gospel was not just an event that happened once in the past. That event was included by Matthew in his Gospel to teach us that Jesus is with us as a Church and as individuals in every trial. Just because as a Church and as individuals we endure a crisis it does not mean that we have been abandoned by God. God is with us especially when our faith is tested. The words of Jesus in the Gospel are words that he addresses to men and women in every trial, “Courage. It is I. Do not be afraid,” “Man of little faith why did you doubt,” “Woman of little faith why did you doubt.”

When we endure a testing the important thing is to learn from it and grow and mature from it. If we don’t learn from a crisis the first time then perhaps the Lord will allow us to experience that same trial a second time to make sure that we mature and grow. Imagine the disciples battling against a headwind during the fourth watch of the night the following week and seeing Jesus walking towards them on the water. We would not expect them to take fright or cry out in fear because they would have learned the previous week that Jesus was coming to rescue them during a storm. Life is a journey to God, a journey of growth and maturation and there is often more growth and maturation in the valleys than on the mountaintops. Trials are an opportunity to grow closer to God and if we don’t learn our lesson from a trial the first time it comes I would not be surprised if God were to allow the same or a similar trial to come our way again so that we learn the next time and grow closer to him. So when a trial comes our way some of the questions we can ask ourselves are, “Are you trying to say something to me, God, during this trial?” “What are you trying to teach me during this crisis, God?” “What do you want me to learn, God?” Someone has said that when a trial comes our way we should milk it for meaning. Trials are opportunities if we want to succeed spiritually and really grow close to the Lord.

One of the things learned during a trial is that we cannot do by our own strength what we can do with the grace of God. What we cannot do by nature we can do by grace. We see Peter failing the test in our Gospel today. From what we see of him in this passage in Matthew we would find it hard to imagine that Peter would be represented by statues in Rome. But during all of his trials and with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost Peter grew and in the Acts of the Apostles we see that Peter had matured and grown enormously. When we read the Acts of the Apostles we can understand why Peter is represented by statues in Rome. In Acts we see that Peter is relying on the Lord and the Lord is working powerfully through him. In the Gospels Peter speaks first and thinks afterwards, but in Acts Peter relies on the Lord and allows the Lord to speak through him. For example Peter denied the Lord three times in the courtyard of the high priest but in Acts Peter is sent to prison twice for preaching in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:3; 5:17). In the Gospel Peter did not want Jesus to go to Jerusalem to endure his passion but in Acts Peter and the other apostles were glad to have had the honor of suffering for the sake of the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). Not only that, but in Acts 5:15 the sick even hoped that the shadow of Peter would fall on them. We never read in the Gospels that the sick hoped the shadow of Jesus would fall on them. In Acts Peter has become monumental. If Peter did not endure all the trials we see him experiencing, especially in the Acts of the Apostles, he would never have grown to become the great person he became.

What about us? When a trial comes our way do we ask the Lord, “Are you trying to say something to me, God, during this trial?” “What are you trying to teach me during this trial, God?” Can we learn to trust God especially during our trials? Are we allowing grace to do in us what we cannot do by nature? During our trials do we allow the Lord to say to us, “Courage. It is I. Do not be afraid,” “Man of little faith why did you doubt,” “Woman of little faith why did you doubt.” Can we learn to rely on the Lord as Peter did and so grow to become monumental?

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More Homilies for the Nineteenth Sunday Year A

Trusting in Jesus when Problems Occur

Amazing Grace that saved a Wretch like Me!

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