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Faith: the antidote to despair

“The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us,” St. John Chrysostom once preached. “But we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus.” Many of us need to hear such words in these trying times, when we are torn apart by the sins committed against innocent children and teenagers, and also confronted with the temptation to despair.

On the recently launched Promise website, in my most recent column, and in several other writings, I have focused on what the Church in northern Colorado is continuing to do to prevent the abuse of minors in the archdiocese. That work is essential and must continue to be carried out with constant vigilance. But there is another effort that is important for the Church to undertake during these turbulent times. We must remember and live in the truth that “the boat of Jesus” cannot sink, even if it appears to be in peril.

Certainly, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which we celebrated on Sept. 14, gives us some insights into enduring difficulties with faith. As he faced the prospect of his death in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus declared, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). We know that shortly after this, Jesus, trusting in the Father, allowed himself to be betrayed by Judas and eventually to be crucified. Human nature tends to recoil from suffering, but enlightened by God’s grace, it can strengthen and deepen our faith when chosen out of love.

I think, too, of the time when Jesus told the disciples to cross the lake and they were overcome by a storm that made the waves so high that they filled the boat with water, endangering everyone in the boat. The disciples “went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’” (Lk. 8: 24-25).

Jesus calls us to ask for the gift of deeper faith in times like these, not to despair. This is not an easy teaching of Christ’s, but it is essential. Jesus does not invoke the strength of the ship’s construction or the closeness of the shore to assure the disciples. No, he points them to their faith, to his saving power as the place to find their security. Similarly, our faith is not true because of the strength of its institutions, the members of the hierarchy, priests or lay people. Our faith is in Jesus Christ and the saving power of his Cross. He is the cornerstone of our faith!

Reflecting on the Cross, St. Andrew of Crete stated, “Rightly could I call this treasure the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, in fact as well as in name, for on it and through it and for its sake the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us.”

The Church is going through a period of intense purification, and during this difficult time, it is important for us to place our hope in the right place — in Jesus Christ and his eternal sacrifice for us. “The cross,” in St. Andrew of Crete’s words, “is honorable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of his victory. It stands for his suffering because on it he freely suffered unto death. But it is also his trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the cross became the one common salvation of the whole world.”

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Only Jesus can heal the wounds of those sexually abused, only Jesus can bring the Church to what she is meant to be, and only Jesus can make both clergy and laity holy. In our encounter with Jesus, he desires each one of us to be healed, to be forgiven. He desires us to receive his love and mercy for us. To receive the gift of his love, mercy and healing, we must put our complete trust and confidence in him, in his power and authority as God. He desires only our good; he is our Lord and God, our Savior, our friend. May the Holy Spirit grant each of us a greater faith in these times, one that recognizes the rock on which we stand, Jesus Christ. Amen!

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).

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