Early next month, it will be one year I had my swim test in the US Navy. For those who do not know me that well, swimming was never part of my upbringing. And I really did not think about my not knowing how to swim when I joined the Navy. Shortly before my commissioning, it became real to me that I needed to sign up for private swim lessons, which I did. After a few days at the Naval Officer Development School in Newport, RI, the day finally came for swim test. Each officer in my class was expected to pass four stages of the test. The first was to swim a given distance; the second was to jump from a twelve-foot high platform into the twelve-foot deep pool; the third was to float on water for five minutes, and the fourth was to jump into the deepest end of the pool in your coveralls, then you come up to the surface, partially unzip your coveralls, then with your palm, scoop some water into your coveralls to turn it into a floatation device, then you float. The most challenging for me was the third stage, to float on the water for five minutes.

The first day, I got into the water, with my face up, I tried to float, but after about seven seconds, I began to sink. The lifeguards came and rescued me. I was taken to the shallow end of the pool to practice more and to return the next day. On the second day, I tried to remember all I practiced, and I was floating for a little over a minute, and then I began to sink and gasp for air. The lifeguards came and rescued me. I spent the rest of the day and night downcast. I thought of the shame that could accompany my disqualification. I began to question my decision of joining the Navy. Then, I remembered growing up, whenever I asked my parents for anything, let’s say, to buy me a new toy, they would say, “Do you have your rosary beads? Have you used them lately?” It was their way of telling me to go pray about it. I must confess that it always worked for me. So, on the third day, I got into the water, I tried to remember all I was taught, no panicking, focus on your breathing, chest out, etc, then I added the words of my parents, “Do you have your rosary beads? Have you used them lately?” I then began to pray the Hail Mary, breathing gently, taking my attention away from the water. One Hail Mary led to another one, until I heard, “Ochigbo, ten seconds more!” I could not believe it. I was really enjoying it, I felt like going beyond the five minutes. Yes, that was how I floated for five minutes for the first time in my life. I took my attention off the water, I focused on the Hail Mary, and I passed the test.

In today’s Gospel passage, the disciples of Jesus were in the boat that was being tossed about by the waves as the wind was against it. Then Jesus, who was earlier on praying on the mountain, began to walk on the sea. They thought he was a Ghost, so they were terrified. Jesus said to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” When Jesus told them, “It is I,” he was appealing to his track record; he was appealing to his credentials. When he said, “It is I,” he meant, “Have you forgotten the one you are dealing with?” He meant, “Look at my track record, look at my credentials: Did I not just feed the crowds with only five loaves and two fish? Did I not heal the sick? Were you not there when I changed water to wine? Why can’t you trust me for this one?” “It is I” was a way of saying that the same “I” who did it before is still present and will do more.

Whenever God tells us, “Do not be afraid,” He is not inviting us to deny the source of our fears; instead, He is asking us to acknowledge the presence of the Power that is higher than the cause of our fears. When Jesus said to them, “It is I,” he was inviting his disciples to focus on him, the Strength that is higher than the source of their fear. Peter challenged Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water,” and Jesus said, to him, “Come!” As long as Peter was focusing on Jesus, as long as he kept consulting his faith and not his fear, he kept walking on water.

There is power in the object of our focus. In Catholic spirituality, we have silent adoration of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, where we silently look at Jesus.  We believe that when we look at Jesus long enough, we begin to look like Jesus. Peter kept walking on the water like Jesus as long as he was focusing on Jesus. But as soon as he took his attention away from Jesus and started consulting his fear, focusing on the wind and the sea, he began to sink. But to his credit, he took his attention back to Jesus and cried out, “Save me, Lord!” and Jesus rescued him.

 My dear friends, how is your boat behaving on the sea at this moment? What kind of wind is challenging your life? Is it the wind of emotional imbalance? Financial challenges? Unfavorable report from your doctor? Academic problems? Marital struggles? Troublesome children? False allegation? What is keeping you awake all night? No matter what the wind is, Jesus is saying to you, “It is I.” Jesus invites you to remember how he saved you in the past from the troubles you never thought you would ever overcome; how he saved you even before you knew you were in trouble. He is not a project-abandoning God; whatever he begins, he perfects. My mom and my dad also have two questions for us: “Do you still have your rosary beads?” And “Have you used them recently?” Peter looked at Jesus, and he began to behave like Jesus, walking on the water. At every Mass, we have the privilege, not only to look at Jesus, but to consume Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. The priest also reminds us not less than five times that the Lord is with us. As you go to face the world at the end of this Mass, bear in mind that you are not alone. No matter the waves/winds that will come at you, the Lord is with you; the Lord is in you. Remember, sometimes, the Lord calms the storm, other times, He leaves the storm and calms His child, and He says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)!

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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