Homily for 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Job 38:1, 8-11; Psalm 107:23-24, 25-26, 28-29, 30-31; 2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41
20 June 2021
In today’s gospel, the disciples are terrified. They’re in their boat out on the lake being buffeted by the waves during a dreadful storm. Jesus is with them but he sleeps. They rouse him: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Jesus wakes, rebukes the wind, and says to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceases and a great calm descends on the whole scene. He asks them, just as he asks us, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
The disciples were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” The disciples and the first readers of Mark’s gospel would have known well Psalm 107 which we have prayed at mass today:
They cried to the LORD in their distress;
from their straits he rescued them,
He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze,
and the billows of the sea were stilled.
They rejoiced that they were calmed,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
Just as Yahweh is the one who rescued the Chosen People in the Psalms, hushing the storm to a gentle breeze, stilling the billows of the sea, bringing them to their desired haven, so too Jesus rescues the disciples; so too he rescues us. The scripture scholars John Donohue and Daniel Harrington tell us: “Jesus possesses the same power over the forces of chaos that characterizes the Lord of hosts. Mark’s readers would be led to see that Jesus is the agent of God’s power who ultimately triumphs over the forces that threaten the community with extinction”.
No doubt we think we have our share of upsets and disturbances to confront in church, society and the world. Mark was writing for a community who experienced the full catastrophe. They “had experienced the upsurge of the power of chaos and evil during Nero’s persecution and the civil turmoil in Rome following his death in 68 and during (or shortly before) the Jewish War of 66–73 c.e.”  Mark’s first readers and listeners were like the disciples, crying out “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” We like them are invited to continue the journey toward a deeper and more profound faith in the midst of chaos.
What are the signs, if any, of the storm being calmed and of the Lord bestowing his peace upon us? What are the signs of hope for us as Church, as the community of believers moving towards a deeper and more profound faith? I name three: the strength of our tradition and the leadership of our Pope confronting the problems of the Age, the history and commitment to service of our church agencies, and the sacramental life and community we share.
A word about each.
Tradition and Papal leadership
In his book Superpower: Australia’s low carbon opportunity, the leading economist Ross Garnaut writes: “The most rigorous, comprehensive and influential treatment of the ethics of climate change is Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’. In this work he applies Catholic, Christian and general ethical teachings and intellectual traditions to climate change.” Later in his book, Garnaut observes: “Of more importance in the public discussion has been the clearer understanding of the importance of the non-economic values affected by climate change ….Here the leading contribution has been by Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ “.
None of us has all the answers on how to deal with the really big issues like climate change. But how good it is to be part of a universal Church with a strong tradition in theology, philosophy and the sciences. How blessed we are to have a Church with a structure that allows one person, the Pope, to convene the brightest minds in all relevant disciplines and to craft a response and a call to conversion, true to the tradition and attentive to the lived experience of the poorest and most marginalised people on earth.
History and commitment to service
This week the US Supreme Court unanimously upheld the right of Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia to provide child fostering services consistent with their religious beliefs. It’s quite something to have all nine of those justices with their diversity of philosophical world views agreeing on the Church’s right to maintain its traditional approach to foster care, particularly in the contested space of same-sex marriage. Chief Justice Roberts delivering the opinion of the Court wrote:
“The Catholic Church has served the needy children of Philadelphia for over two centuries. In 1798, a priest in the City organized an association to care for orphans whose parents had died in a yellow fever epidemic. During the 19th century, nuns ran asylums for orphaned and destitute youth. When criticism of asylums mounted in the Progressive Era, the Church established the Catholic Children’s Bureau to place children in foster homes. Petitioner Catholic Social Services (CSS) continues that mission today. The religious views of CSS inform its work in this system….For over 50 years, CSS successfully contracted with the City to provide foster care services while holding to these beliefs.”
When there are kids in need on the margins of society, church agencies are there and always have been. Please God, they always will be.
Community and Sacramental Life
As Church, we are a group of sinners at prayer seeking direction and food for the journey. During COVID, we’ve all had cause to revise our thinking about Sunday obligations and liturgical routine. But many of us have missed the food for the journey which is so much more than a slim white wafer. I’ve been privileged to experience people’s hunger for the Eucharist when doing the occasional hospital rounds during times of lockdown. Particularly in end of life situations, the priest is not there to judge, determining who can and who cannot be granted access. You can sense the real presence.
How blessed we are to be part of a church where sacraments in their stark simplicity and divine grandeur speak to the experience, needs and yearnings of the simplest Catholic and the most sophisticated of thinkers.
How good that each of us, with joy, delight, grace and some trepidation, can respond to the invitation, approaching the table of the Lord receiving and becoming the Body of Christ. At the table of the Eucharist we experience the awoken Jesus in the boat calming the storm and our nerves.
Let’s never lose hope in our grounded sacramental church which is also an engaged thinking church and a committed service provider. No matter how storm-tossed we be, let’s remember that Jesus is always in the boat with us. Don’t deny the fear. Don’t pretend the waves aren’t breaking in. But let’s hear those two questions afresh: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
 Ibid, 162
 Ross Garnaut, Superpower: Australia’s low carbon opportunity, La Trobe University Press, 2019, p. 23
 Ibid, 48-49
 Chief Justice John Roberts in Fulton v Philadelphia, 593 U. S. ____ (2021), pp. 1-2
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA).