Mother Theresa was a woman who constantly took leaps of faith. She was born in 1910 in Albania and grew up dreaming of becoming a missionary. In 1928 she took a leap of faith as she joined the Sisters of Loreto. In 1929 she arrived in India.
In 1937 she became a teacher in the Loreto Convent School in Eastern Calcutta and was made headmistress of the school in 1944. She became disturbed by the abject poverty that she saw in Calcutta.
On September 10, 1946 while traveling by train to the place of her annual retreat God called her a second time. Now she was called to leave the convent, to live among the poor and to assist them.
She took a second leap of faith. In 1948 she left the Loreto Sisters and began her missionary work in the slums of Calcutta. In 1949 she was joined by 13 young women who were former students. In the first years she had no income and had to beg for food and supplies. She was tempted to go back to her former way of faith but believed that this was the life to which God was calling her.
Mother Teresa’s entire life became a leap of faith.
During the last 50 years of her life she experienced what has been called a Dark Night of the Soul. She did not experience the presence of God and it became difficult to pray. While she felt abandoned by God, she knew that God was with her. While it was difficult to pray, she at least sat in God’s presence. In the midst of these trials her entire life was a leap of faith. She continued to do the charitable work for which she is famous as she knew that God had not abandoned her.
Mother Theresa’s life helps us to understand today’s Gospel as Peter takes a leap of faith.
In today’s Gospel the disciples are fighting a fierce storm on the Sea of Galilee early in the morning. During the storm, the disciples see Jesus walking across the sea and in their fear, they believe he is a ghost. Jesus says to them, “Take Courage. It is I. Do not be afraid (Matthew 14:27).” In Hebrew, “It is I” is a title for God. Jesus is saying that he is God and that he does what God does. In the Old Testament God is shown as one who controls the chaos of the seas and who saves those who are in peril. In his power over nature, Matthew shows that Jesus is divine.
Peter stands on the side of the boat and asks Jesus if he can come to him. Jesus says “Come.” Peter leaps out of the boat and begins to walk on the water toward Jesus. Soon Peter focuses on the storm and takes his eyes off of Jesus. Faith is keeping one’s eyes on Jesus in the midst of the challenges of life. As he was sinking Peter cried out, “Lord, save me (Matt 14:30)!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him. Peter shows faith even as he seems to be faithless. Our Lord is always there to save us as well.
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out that a mature faith includes both hearing the call of Jesus and taking risks. Bonhoeffer was an outspoken critic of the Nazi Regime and was hanged for his witness in 1945. For Bonhoeffer, Peter had to take a leap of faith and leave the boat in order to learn the meaning of faith. Our faith is often about making difficult decisions in order to follow Jesus, such as when we are called to forgive, to love or to be generous.
Faith is a relationship with God. Relationships can only be sustained through communication. In our first reading Elijah the prophet is hiding in a cave on Mt. Horeb. While hiding the prophet hears a strong wind, an earthquake and finally a fire. The prophet knew that God was not present in these powerful events. Elijah then hears God’s voice in a tiny whispering sound. The scene reminds us that we are to open our hearts to hearing God in silence. In so doing our relationship with God may be strengthened.
Faith is also about taking risks. May we, like Peter and Mother Theresa, be willing to take risks in following God.
Finally, Peter does not only leap onto the water. Peter actually begins to walk on the water. After we take leaps of faith may we keep our eyes focused on Christ so that we will be able to faithfully follow him.
May we stay in relationship with God through prayer, take risks in order to follow Christ and remain always focused on Christ.