Remember God in the Storm...
Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee captures wonderfully an episode in the Our Lord’s ministry that is related in all of the Synoptic Gospels. He and His disciples were crossing the of Galilee when a sudden storm blew up. Several of the apostles were men of the sea, so the storm must have been a serious one to have troubled them. Therefore they sought desperately for Our Lord, waking him and asking, “Master, doth it not concern thee that we perish?” (Mark 4:38)
Doubtless Christian have often felt the same way: Master, doth it not concern thee that we perish? We have faced many storms since Our Lord walked the earth: invasions, the fall of Rome and other civilizations, revolutions, famine, plague, and world wars, among others. Even in our own private lives, amidst the various individual challenges we have to face, we have felt thus.
Certainly, we find reasons to feel that way today. The storms feel especially fierce of late. Outside the Church, the world seems to have gone wrong in so many ways. While we rightly celebrate the end of Roe vs. Wade, we also can’t ignore that abortion still continues on a massive scale with no end in sight. A whole host of other cultural evils seem to overwhelm us: same-sex marriage is widely accepted, men mutalite themselves in an fruitless (and damaging) attempt transform themselves into women, and so on. Even now, these evils are targeting children with “drag queen story hours,” and gender ideology and “sex education” have made their way even into the youngest grades at schools.
Covid brought a new series of disasters, as Christians were denied even the freedom to worship according to their faith. Governments (and bishops who bowed to them) shut down churches for months and, in some places, even longer, as society seemed torn apart and enslaved by an utterly servile terror of death.
And even inside the boat, the barque of Peter, the storm feels fierce. Too often, the Church seems a poor refuge from the storm, for the storm has come even here. It is true that churches were forced by governments to shut down, but few protested and many went further and were more restrictive even than governments required. On top of that, a “synodal process” seems determined to force changes to Church teaching on a whole host of issues from homosexuality, to marriage and divorce, to the priesthood. And a harsh attack on the Traditional Latin Mass targets some of the most faithful Catholics the Church has.
We are perishing.
And yet, as strange as it may sound, there is also something cheerful in honestly acknowledging just how bad things truly are. The world genuinely seems to have gone quickly insane, as if planned: the attack on the normal and rational, such as the basic nature of marriage, men, women, seems both thorough and coordinated. It is so hard to imagine a more complete attack on the natural law, on truth and reality, on goodness and virtue, that it is hard to see such an assault as merely natural evil. Indeed, it is so thoroughly unnatural, one cannot but suspect an evil supernatural force behind it.
In regards to this attack, Father Zuhlsdorf recently referred to a rather stark message from the liberal feminist Naomi Wolf. Now, Wolf is no friend to religion and should not be seen as such, but it is still interesting that she has also noticed this same concern:
“Honestly at this point, these people are so evil and their attack on humanity and on the West is so comprehensive… so global in scale, it’s so well-coordinated, it’s so kind of demonic in its imagination, and so comprehensive. I have also studied politics and history my whole life; in no other — NO other circumstance — not even Nazi Germany’s ascent, have I seen such a supernatural amount of coordination….
I can’t understand this without reference to non-human, non-material reality. In other words, I actually think this is a satanic attack on humanity… I never talk about this kind of stuff in public but I think we have to face it. These are meta-human powers I think we’re up against.”
This seems make the case even worse. What is there to find cheerful in this? Where is the reason for hope?
First, the sheer scale, the sheer level of coordination, the inability to see the disasters today as merely natural evils, suggest an attack on something. The sheer level of evil suggests a target: goodness itself.
And if there is a supernatural evil, then there is supernatural Goodness.
We might be tempted to forget this when surrounded by the storm, as the apostles momentarily did, but that we must not do. The apostles saw the storm and it seemed overwhelming; but they had forgotten that they had God Himself in the boat.
Furthermore, we have hope in prayer and repentance. Fascinatingly, even Wolf suggests this:
“So I guess what I’m trying to say is if that’s the case, I don’t really think we have any hope (just us alone) but I do think if there is a metaphysics involved, maybe we have hope by prayer or repentance…”
Putting aside her awkward desire to avoid referring to God and to refer instead to “metaphysics” it is hard to argue with her sense. Christian leaders would do well to say it more loudly. Rather than trying to claim that we are living in some sort of golden age (as some have), we should take comfort in our own helplessness. We cannot calm the storm. It is well beyond our powers. And this is not a call to despair, but a reminder to rely on the God who is in the boat and to turn to Him in prayer and in supplication. For Christ tells us: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity” (2 Cor 12:9). When we know ourselves to be the weakest, and turn to God, it is then that His power shows forth its glory.
Finally, even with the storm and trouble in the world and even in the Church, we should draw comfort from the goodness and good people in the world. God has always sent saints and prophets where they have been needed. We are reminded that today as the Church, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, continues to produce martyrs of the faith. In our own lives, we all know good people who persevere through their own challenges: priests who continued to minister as best they could during shutdowns, traditional Catholics struggling to maintain worship and community even with all the hits they are taking, and faithful young men still joining the priesthood.
Master, doth it not concern thee that we perish?
If we are tempted to cry that (and who of us has not in the past two years?), then we ought to remember what came after. We need not deny the storm. Indeed, we must acknowledge head-on the sheer level of the evil that we are facing. And then we must remember, too, that Almighty God is in the boat. Such trust as we should have is expressed in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells”:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."