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Death, disease, demons, and the deep

On the Readings for June 20, 2021, the Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Detail from "Jesus walks on water" (1888) by Ivan Aivazovsky (WikiArt.org)

Readings:
• Ez 2:2-5
• Psa 123:1-2, 2, 3-4
• 2 Cor 12:7-10
• Mk 4:35-41

Death, disease, demons and the deep. What do they have in common? Yes, they all begin with the same letter. However, it’s not the beginning, but the end, that is significant, for each of these is meant to end the life of man (or, in the case of death, to be the end).

Scripture is filled with stories of grim confrontations with cold seas, terminal disease, demonic oppression and possession, and, of course, death itself. These enemies, along with the continual assaults of foreign invaders, were ever present in the lives of the chosen people of Israel. Would there ever be deliverance from these ills and evils? How best to respond to the difficulties and dangers of life? Where was God in the midst of man’s trials? Job, Solomon, the psalmists and many others grappled with these daunting questions.

Mark the Evangelist provides the answer. Today’s reading is the start of a section (Mk 4:35-5:43) describing how Jesus confronts and conquers each of these four foes. The point of each of these narratives is to reveal both the power and divinity of Jesus Christ. “Throughout his public life,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “he demonstrated his divine sovereignty by works of power over nature, illnesses, demons, death and sin” (par 447).

Today’s Gospel reading recounts how Jesus calmed the storm while he and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee.Violent storms were common on that body of water because of how the wind funneled down the steep hills surrounding it. Even as the terrified disciples — several of them experienced fishermen — fought to keep the boat afloat, Jesus slept. In the words of the Psalmist, “In peace I shall both lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me secure” (Ps 4:9).

The one who had created the world and then divided the waters and the land (Gen 1:1-10) was fully aware and in control of the situation. Yet the disciples, much like the Israelites being chased by Pharaoh’s swift horse and chariots (Ex 14:10-12), cried out in fear and despair to the Lord. The sea, for them, was more than a mere body of water; it represented chaos and the presence of evil. God alone was able to control, contain and subdue it, as today’s reading from Job relates: “Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb.”

Christ’s rebuke of the raging waters was given with the same language as his rebuke of evil spirits (see Mk 1:25). Not only is he Lord over nature, he is Lord over supernatural powers and beings. After giving two sharp commands to wind and sea — “Quiet! Be still!” — he uttered two penetrating questions to the disciples: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” He was pushing and testing them, opening up their querulous, quivering hearts to the truth about who he was and what he was able to accomplish.

The early Church and the Fathers saw this dramatic event as a profound metaphor for the Christian life. The boat, of course, represents the Church, fighting to stay afloat in the dark waters of human history, oppressed by the Roman Empire and beset by persecution.

Many centuries have passed, but the crashing waves and fierce winds are ever present, physical and spiritual disease is all around us, and the chaotic forces of evil are still at work. Reflect, then, on the words and advice of Origen, who wrote the following:

“For as many as are in the little ship of faith are sailing with the Lord; as many as are in the bark of the holy church will voyage with the Lord across this wave-tossed life; though the Lord himself may sleep in holy quiet, he is but watching your patience and endurance: looking forward to the repentance, and to the conversion of those who have sinned. Come then to him eagerly, instant in prayer.”

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the June 10, 2009, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


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About Carl E. Olson 1162 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His new book Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021), is published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

4 Comments

  1. Demons? At first wonder then the article’s reference to demonic power afflicting Man. Bishop Fulton J Sheen in his retreat for priests made a remarkable connection of illness, disease with Satanic sovereignty over nature. Evangelists frequently give account in passages of healing where Christ is said to release the ill, physically, emotionally, and of course spiritually from Satan’s bondage. Illness? Sheen spoke of the legacy of the Fall and Satan’s sovereignty, called by Christ the Prince of this World. Bishop Sheen referred to sickness of all forms as Satan’s malevolent ‘grip’ on us, on the world. He explained what was an elusive mystery. Priests who are regularly assigned to spiritually care for the mentally ill have encountered this phenomenon. Cases that were diagnosed as mental illness were perceived by the priest as a diabolic grip as it were, frequently related to some religious deception, let’s say unforgivable sins. And with care and anointing released them of their bondage. Surely Christ gifts such priests with the perspicacity to apprehend this. Nature itself seems to suffer under this affliction evil manifest in various forms. Exorcists frequently say they appreciate Nature somewhat differently than they would previously. At any rate Christ our Captain encourages valor not fear, even commands, Do not fear anyone, nor him who can kill the body, except for Satan who can kill both body and soul in Gehenna. Today’s Gospel fisherman afright during tempest, Sea of Galilee Peter bravely tests the waters, perhaps impetuously as was his temperament. He fails due to lack of faith, Christ admonishes him for his lack, makes the identification of courage with faith. We might ask what comes first? If the strata of a living faith is love, perhaps we may say it’s that faith which inspires our courage.

  2. I believe that Jesus is God, and commanded the wind and sea, as testified by the evangelists and apostles.

    I marvel at the folly of the “contemporary-crippled-cult-of-the-McCarrick-establishment,” which has as its preferred “theologian” one Cardinal Walter Kasper, whom the contemporary Church leadership saw fit to promote as Bishop and then Cardinal, and titles him “His Eminence,” despite the fact that for nearly 50 years, before any such office was granted him, the same Walter Kasper published his disbelief in the miracle accounts of the evangelists and apostles, including “the stilling of the storm” we read in the Gospel today, in his book “Jesus the Christ.”

    The legacy of this 50-year-apostasy is now the decadent Church of the Personality cult of the Pontiff Francis, where idolatry can be orchestrated by the Pontiff in Rome in 2019, and the faithful are expected to act like cattle and pretend that this did not happen.

    Well, despite the insistence of the “McCarrick-Kasper-Francis-Personality-Cult,” reality is happening.

    The three men named above will soon face the God they subvert, and the jury will include the evangelists and apostles who gave witness with their very lives to the miraculous power of Jesus, accounts that Kasper says “we probably do not need to believe.”

    “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

  3. I don’t recall what scripture passage but it said there can be a point when there lies no more remedy within us. The cure can only come from an action of Christ himself and He is a warrior God and he is getting ready sending his martyrs forth and preparing for the renewal of His Church. Traditionalists, yes, there will be a new springtime, and the dawn is peaking.

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