Elementary, my dear Watson.*
1 Cor. 3:9-17;
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost.
The Holy Martyr Callinicus.
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11:39 AM 7/29/2012 ó Those of you who have had appointments with me in the rectory have, no doubt, seen my pipe rack containing all my Sherlock Holmes memorabilia. I read all of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories growing up; and, whenever thereís a new dramatization of one on TV or the movies, I always see it. But as Iíve gotten older, Iíve reread those stories with a more critical eye, and realized that Sherlock Holmes wasnít as smart as I originally thought he was. After all, itís no trick for a mystery writer like Doyle to make his detective seem brilliant when heís made every other character in the story an idiot. Holmes always solves the case, but he does so amid an entourage of bumbling policemen and his own friend and biographer, Watson, who canít seem to see the fog for the weather.
And it occurs to me that I get that same feeling whenever I read this passage about our Lord walking on water and calming the sea. Theyíre all amazed at this feat; and itís almost as if, up to this point, our Lord has given his disciples no indication that he is in any way Divine. Except that just prior to this, our Lord fed 5000 men on the hillside. Last Sunday we read that passage of our Lord feeding five thousand men with a handful of food. Thatís a pretty good card trick. And itís not the first time heís done that. You would think that, by this time, our Lordís disciples would understand that this Jesus fellow is different, and that they shouldn't really expect to be surprised by anything. And that passage ends, youíll recall, with our Lord sending his disciples in the boat to the other side of the lake, while he stays behind to pray. That verse is repeated in the beginning of todayís Gospel, which recounts our Lord walking across the lake to them and calming the sea.
So, why are they surprised to see our Lord commanding nature? Why haven't they gotten the message that Jesus is God, even in spite of our Lord continually showing them? And I think the answer might be a defect of our fallen nature which is shared by all of us: we resist accepting the reality of things which donít fit our predetermined view of the world. And this can be a real hindrance in our interior life; because, if thereís anything that makes a barrier to spiritual growth and union with God, itís the inability to deal with the unexpected. I donít think you could find a priest ordained for any length of time who will tell you that the priesthood is exactly what he thought it would be when he was in the seminary. And you can judge for yourselves how accurate was your prediction of what marriage would be like when you were engaged. Not to suggest that how it turned out is bad, but I think youíll admit that itís certainly different in many ways. But our ability to adjust our expectations is what enables us to persevere in these vocationsóand not only persevere, but make them even more special than we had imagined.
In the interior life, if our hearts are not open to accepting whatever the Lord chooses to throw our way, we run the risk of ending up bitter and frustrated, and in danger of losing our faith. As a priest I see this pattern repeated in peopleís lives again and again: the Church will teach something that pertains to what we must do or not do to be saved; and because it doesnít fit our planóbecause we view it as too much a burdenówe just reject it, as if we, ourselves, are the measure of all things. Maybe we tried but failed, and we donít like to think of ourselves as failures, so we declare that what the Church requires is wrong because we, after all, are perfect. But who is the person who tries something once then quits. We usually call that person a loser.
Failure in our duties to Christ and his Church are certainly serious things, but they are not totally unexpected, which is why our Lord instituted the Sacrament of Confession. Confession would have no place in the Church were it not for the fact that a certain amount of failure is expected. Whatís important is not that we never fail, but that our failures do not become occasions of bitterness and rejection of the truth, but rather of self-examination and improvement. Sherlock Holmes, if you remember from your childhood reading, failed in his very first case. If he had simply given up detection and become an accountant instead, that would have been the last story in the series, and a pretty lousy one at that. He chose, instead, to learn from his mistakes, and he never failed again. Peter, in the Gospel lesson, doubted our Lord and began to sink into the water; but, after our Lord bailed him out (no pun intended), he learned something, and made his confession of faith saying, ďTruly, you are the son of God.Ē And even then, we canít say that he never failed again, because he did fail when he denied our Lord three times on Good Friday. But even these repeated failures didnít turn our Lordís heart against him. And the Lordís heart will never be turned against any of us, so long as we never stop trying.
Maybe the Lord hasnít dealt with us the way we thought he should. Maybe weíve been surprised or even hurt by what we perceive to be the hand dealt to us by God. But the mind of God is not ours to know. The heart of God we know already; and, knowing that can make every obligation and burden for the sake of Christ possible.
Father Michael Venditti
* Those familiar with the canon of Sherlock Holmes stories will know that this phrase never actually occurs in any of the stories.