After the five thousand had eaten and were satisfied, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side toward Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd…He saw they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea…They had all seen him and were terrified. But at once he spoke with them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”
“Love is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action.” —Mother Teresa
You wouldn’t have to know a lot about rowing to guess it’s pretty miserable to be on the water in the rain. On a good day with no waves even the slightest mishandling of an oar or turn of the head can cause the entire boat to flip. If there is bad weather or any other sort of problem (getting caught by fishermen and having a duck crash-land in the boat are just a couple things that have happened to me…), the risk of flipping or damaging the boat or endangering the team skyrockets.
My heart goes out to those disciples in the boat because I know first-hand what it’s like to feel that vulnerable and afraid—at the mercy of the next major gust of wind or downpour. Everything is chaotic. A true rower knows to deviate from his or her training to try and adapt to the weather is the worst way to cope with inclement weather. The best thing to do is keep your eyes glued to the neck in front of you and row.
In the metaphorical boat that we’re all in on our journey with Christ, we (like rowers) must match our actions, or strokes, to those of Christ. As any rower knows, even if you are perfectly in sync with the leader of the boat, if your heart and power isn’t in it, your efforts are obsolete.
The first reading today comes from 1 John and tells us,
“God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world.”
And we do strive to be like him in this world. But a lot of the time, we fall into the trap of thinking just going through the motions is enough. Does it matter we often judge harshly those we are actively helping? That we can often interact with our loved ones with total selfishness? It should matter. Love is like a sport—it takes a lot of practice, and you can’t give up and expect to be good at it. Like the rowers who do the perfect stroke with no power to back it up, being Christians with no love for each other will get us nowhere.
When it would storm during practice, we would have to have faith our collective power output could match the intensity of the waves to get us safely back to shore. The world we live in has its own storms and crash-landing ducks. The only way to get through them is to allow our actions to be guided by Christ and powered by our love for him and for each other.
Consider St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Every action she ever did was 100% ordinary. What caused the world to be fascinated by her was her extraordinary ability to love. Mother Teresa did nothing in her life that millions of doctors and nurses around the world don’t do every day, but what she did, she did with great love. That’s what changed the world. It’s sad how people actively trying to love others can seem so revolutionary and foreign to their fellow Christians, and this is what we must work to resolve.
It can be difficult to really reflect on what motivates our ‘good’ deeds. We don’t like to consider how we can better love others. Isn’t it enough that I’m volunteering at 8am on a Saturday? Not if you haven’t said anything nice to anyone all morning. We manufacture excuses to not love each other. We don’t practice loving each other. This is why when, like the disciples, we find ourselves in the middle of a storm, we panic. We forget to model ourselves after Christ and try to rely on our own ideas instead of the power of love. 1 John reminds us,
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.”
Rowing requires a great deal of trust. You have to trust the other people and the person in the position of leadership in your boat. Since you’re not facing the direction you’re going, you have to trust those around you completely. In our life, we also can’t really see where we’re going. All we can do is try to pull our hardest and love as best we can. For, as 1 John reads, “if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” Challenging ourselves to love more people more diligently is our most basic calling and the best way to be close to God.
Erin is studying Communications at the University of Texas at Austin. She loves writing and the sport of rowing (or crew). When I asked her to write this meditation, I did not know the Gospel would be such a fitting reward.