Today’s Gospel remains that one kernel of the Gospel that stays with me through most every day. After feeding the 5,000, Jesus had sent the crowds home and his disciples set off in a boat while he went to the hills to pray. A storm came upon the disciples, and Jesus walked over water to shore them up in the faith before calming the storm. Peter, bold and faltering as ever, says he will walk to Jesus across the water if Jesus supports him. The Gospel proceeds:
Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but then noticing the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord,’ he cried, ‘save me!’ Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘You have so little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ (Matthew 13:22-36)
How often do we feel like Peter, reaching out in confident faith and then doubting as soon as we notice the wind blow our way? I feel like I look up in faith and then down in doubt so often that I have spiritual whiplash!
For me, Peter is the most appealing of all the apostles. I identify with Peter. Peter was bold, fiery and intense. He exuded such strength, yet he faced fears. My love for Peter took root in a pivotal moment which led to our family’s conversion.
Accepting Peter as the first among equals and as the first pope was a vital part of my conversion. A pivotal moment in my conversion process came when Fr. Peter Stravinskas came to visit a sister Episcopal parish in a forum called “Which Way the Church?” held in Boston. The then Episcopal, now Catholic, pastor, Fr. Bradford, held this forum during his own conversion process in order to facilitate discernment among parishioners, many of whom joined him when he converted.
In his talk, Fr. Stravinskas captivated me when he adapted the Bible passage: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7) to indicate that Peter is the one knocking. We but had to open the door and invite Peter in to know the fullness of the truth.
I had my third child at the time; she was about 4 months old, and I was holding her in a little carrier in the back, after a long day of Church and travel. We had submitted questions at the beginning, and the baby was getting fussy. I knew I could not remain much longer, and I had given up hope that my question would be addressed. I walked outside and noticed that a door was open to the stairwell just below where the speakers were answering questions. I paused and poked my head in, only to hear my question read:“Do you think it is necessary for salvation for all to become part of the Catholic Church.”
I held my breath. Fr. Stravinskas’ answer was clear: “If you have come to believe that converting to the Catholic Church is essential for salvation, then it is essential.” My message was clear. My resolve to move forward with conversion proceeded, and within a little over a year my family was received at the Easter Vigil in 1994, just four days after my birthday. During the process of our preparation for reception, we had the privilege of reading through the entire (new) Catechism under the direction of a thoughtful priest, who tailored our conversion process to our needs.
In time I realized that Fr. Stravinskas’ explanation to my question consolidated complex theology in the Church. How do we hold at once the proposition that the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation — oft repeated by popes — with the reality of our fragmented age? How do we not alienate others and hold true to this doctrine? The Catechism clarifies:
“Outside the Church there is no salvation”
How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it. (CCC 846)
Peter had knocked at our door. With God’s grace, we opened that door. Peter brought with him our Savior’s very body and blood, the reception of our marriage, two more children baptised in the Church, the communion of saints, and Our Blessed Mother. It took a bit to get used to — this crowd of witnesses. The light was blinding. Crosses have preceded and followed.
But just as Peter could only hold forth walking the sea when he held steady gaze on Jesus, so the only certainty in the storm of life is beholding Jesus in the Eucharist and remaining in his Church, which has been build on a rock.
Like Peter, I trust in Jesus with such certainty that I can walk through what seems impossible — if only for that wind that always causes me to look down at all-too-frequent moments. Over time, I pray, that I hold my gaze on the Lord increasingly more steady and trust that the storms of life will never sink me.