“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)
This summer I had the opportunity to travel more than I expected. Everywhere I go, I try to find the presence of God. I was in Italy where I saw the Pope and obviously felt the Spirit move in that square, and then was able to celebrate Mass in the Vatican and in basilicas and very sacred places each serving as a different encounter with the Almighty. I was in New York where in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, undergoing a major renovation, amidst all the scaffolding and workers, there was the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the main altar. I spent a week at the beach with my family and every day as I gazed out over the water was a new reminder of how great God is during those glorious sunsets. But out of all these magnificent places I visited over the summer, nowhere did I experience the presence of God more profoundly than I did when I visited Assisi two months ago. There, where St. Francis first heard the voice of Jesus telling him to rebuild his Church, on the side of a hill overlooking a magnificent green valley, at the church of San Damiano, I was overwhelmed with a profound sense of peace that I had not felt in a very long time. Yes, I feel peace every time I visit the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and when I pray and when I sit on the beach and watch the sunset as I listen to waves softly crashing on the sand, but there in that most sacred place, I was like Peter during the Transfiguration: I did not want to go. It was there at San Damiano that I could not help but think about all of you, my future parishioners who at the time I had not met yet. I kept thinking about the challenging mission that God set before me when I returned home. But I was at peace. It was as if Jesus was reminding me of his constant presence and telling me the same thing he told the disciples in the gospel today: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
I’d like to think that the only thing that tore me away from the peace that I felt on that hillside was the running meter on the taxi that had taken us up and was waiting for us or else I would probably still be there. They had told us that the small little church that St. Francis helped rebuild with his own hands would be closed, but when we arrived there were young people inside that little church worshipping the Lord with four Franciscan Friars who were adoring the Lord during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” When I had prayed for this parish, for all of you, and for my ministry, I reluctantly started to make my way down the path back to the taxi and saw a beautiful statue of St. Francis sitting on the ground overlooking that majestic valley. It had been raining for most of the day, but now it was early evening, the sun was maybe an hour from setting and the valley looked serene. One could imagine St. Francis sitting in that very spot contemplating creation which he so eloquently wrote about. I did not want to leave because when you find God in a certain place, you want to stay with him and continue feeling the embrace of his peace.
The first reading today tells us of Elijah waiting for the Lord. The prophet did not find the Lord in the earthquake or the violent wind or the fire, but found God in a tiny whispering sound. We are surrounded by so much noise that it is very difficult to hear the whispers of our God. This is why I ask you this morning: where do you find God? Obviously we find him here in church, but Elijah found him in a whisper, the disciples found him amidst the storm walking on the water. We must see past the storms of our lives to fix our eyes on Jesus as Peter did when he was actually walking on water like the Lord. When we find God, when we train our eyes intently on him, we must never look away or become distracted by the lures of the world lest we begin to sink like Peter when he becomes more aware of the strong wind and the storms rather than realizing that Jesus is right there. He never abandons us. He gives us the strength to do the impossible. All we have to do is find him amidst the storms of our lives and once we do, never let our eyes wander from the beautiful and protective gaze of our Savior.