It’s time to get going, to set out on the journey. That’s the message of our Gospel today, and I think it’s a timely one, coming as it does as some of us are preparing for, or maybe even returning from, our summer vacations. I have fond memories of taking vacations in the summer with my family when I was growing up. Dad loved to drive even long distances, so he’d be up and ready to go at like five in the morning! We had packed the car the night before, and got started early to avoid any rush hour traffic. Even though I’m not really a morning person, I used to look forward to those early-departure journeys. I think it’s just fun to be going somewhere else, no matter what time of the day it is.
The point of a journey is often to set out and begin something new, to reach out to new horizons. Jesus was always doing that in John’s Gospel. The reading we have today is at the end of chapter four, in which Jesus has been standing next to the sea, teaching the people by means of parables. He has told them the parable of the sower who went out to sow seeds, the parable of the mustard seed, and the lamp placed on the lamp stand. He is explaining the kingdom of God to them, but they don’t quite get it. Even the disciples have to have it explained to them. When he’s done the best that he can with them, he is ready to move on. There are other people that need to hear the Good News, others who need to know Jesus’ power and authority.
And so he sets out on the journey, and the reading says that the disciples take him with them in the boat “just as he was.” That’s a curious detail, I think. But it makes me remember those trips with my dad. It’s time to get going, no time to change clothes or freshen up, just get in the car – or in this case, the boat – and let’s get started on the journey. But the journey isn’t always without its problems. On vacation trips we may run into traffic, or if in the air, perhaps turbulence. On the sea, the disciples experienced the raging waves of a fearsome storm. So they wake Jesus up, because apparently these storms don’t really affect him, and he rebukes the storm, and then rebukes the disciples for their little faith.
We’re all on a journey. That journey, like that of the disciples, is from fear to faith. We very rarely have time to thing about it; we just have to get in the boat and get moving, just as we are. The journey is not always smooth: storms arise, and when they do, it often seems like our God is sleeping, seeming not to care that we are about to perish. I’m not going to fill in the blanks for you – you can all do that well enough. You’ve been on many journeys in your life, and sometimes the ride has been bumpy. But if we stay on the journey, we definitely get to experience this One whom “even wind and sea obey.” Even when our God seems to be sleeping, he is never unaware of our situation, and his love for us is never on pause.
The thing is, sometimes the storm doesn’t seem to stop so quickly as it does in today’s Gospel reading. Would that Jesus would stand up in the boat of our uncertainty and yell out: “Quiet! Be still!” But maybe he is. Maybe the “Be still” is directed at us and not at the storm. There is a contemporary Christian song which I like that has a wonderful line in it: “Sometimes he calms the storm, and other times he calms his child.” That song has given me peace in many situations. Because as frightening as the storms of our lives can be, they are no match for the grace of God. Even if God allows the storm to rage in our lives, if he is with us, calming us, we have nothing to fear. And maybe that is the occasion when we make progress on that journey from fear to faith.
I want to talk about two other journeys today, because they are heavy on my heart. The first one was the final journey of my dad. I think of him not just because of our vacation trips together, but of course, because this is Father’s Day. On the last day of his life, I gave him the last rites, which I had done countless times before and since. But that was the hardest thing I have ever done as a priest, and also one of the most significant. When I was done, I went down to the chapel and cried for about half an hour. Finally, Jesus came to me and gave me some consolation. He wasn’t going to calm the storm this time, but he did calm me. He reminded me that dad prepared me for so many journeys in my life, and I just had the incredible honor of preparing him for his most important journey, the journey home. Dad kept saying that day, “It’s almost time to go.” And he was right. This man who got up early for every vacation we ever went on was not going to get a late start on the journey home.
Today we remember those fathers who have gone home and we honor those fathers who are still with us. The example of their lived faith helps us all to make our own journey from fear to faith. Today we pray for God’s blessing on all fathers and on the institution of fatherhood in general. We are grateful for their heroic witness to faith that places value on God, virtue, and family when our society would sooner ridicule those three.
The last journey I want to talk about today, is of course, my own personal journey. This is my last homily here at St. Raphael, and it’s time for me to move on to whatever lies ahead for me. This one will be a little harder to talk about, so I’m going to begin with a little humor.
The new priest arrived at his parish, and found a note attached to three envelopes in a little bundle. The envelopes were numbered one to three. They were from the priest he was replacing and the note said that if ever things got bad and there was a little storm, he should open an envelope, beginning with the first. He chuckled a bit, and set them aside, and things went so well that he almost forgot about them. Until there was a controversy. Things were getting ugly, and he remembered the envelopes and decided to open the first. It said, very simply, “Blame me, your predecessor.” So he did. He blamed the priest before him, and everyone accepted that, and they moved on. But eventually there was another controversy, and so he decided to open the second envelope. It said, “Blame the pastoral council.” So that’s what he did. He blamed the pastoral council and things blew over and they moved on. But, after a little while, there was a third controversy, so in desperation, he opened the last of the envelopes. This note was a little longer than the others, but the first line really got his attention: “Prepare three envelopes.”
Well, Father Dennis didn’t leave me three envelopes and I won’t be leaving any for Father Dindo either. But I did want to take a moment and express my gratitude for three things. First, I am grateful for the ways you have cared for me. I know that many of you pray for me and all priests every day, and that is a powerful thing. But you have also brought me soup when I was sick, you’ve stopped to tell me how a homily touched you, you’ve written me an encouraging note. Your love for me and your nurturing of my vocation has been so powerful in these first years of my priesthood, and I will always remember that.
Second, I am grateful for the ways you have cared for my family. In a very real way, you have been part of my family. You have been there for me during the illness and death of my dad. When my family has been here for Mass on occasion, you have been so welcoming of them. After three years, it seems like we’re just getting to know each other, but in some ways, some very important ways, it seems like we have known each other forever and I love that. It has been wonderful to be part of your families, and wonderful to have you as part of mine. Family may move away physically, but spiritually, we will always be part of each other.
And finally, I am grateful for the ways you have cared for others. I have enjoyed serving with you on Service Day, raking leaves in the cold but having a great time helping others. I have enjoyed serving with you on various commissions and committees here at the Church – even though meetings are not my favorite thing! – we have accomplished so much together in Christ’s name. Whether it was worshipping together for 40 Hours Devotion, or helping out the food pantry with donations on Holy Thursday, or whatever it is that we’ve done together, what we did became so much more by doing it together. Your willingness to pray and to serve and to witness is what makes St. Raphael such a great parish, and I will always love that.
So thank you for the great blessings you have been to me these last three years. We now set out on a new journey. Me to St. Petronille, and you to welcome Fr. Dindo. The ride may be smooth, or it may be bumpy. But however it is, we know that Jesus will be with us through it all. He may calm the storm, or he may calm his children, whichever is most appropriate. And we know that the journey from fear to faith will lead us back one day to the place we really belong, at the banquet table in the kingdom of everlasting life. May all of our life’s journeys end up in that same, great place!