In the Gospel for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (Mark 4: 35-41), we see quite a contrast. The violence of a storm contrasts with the inner calm of Jesus, asleep in the stern of the boat that is being swamped. The terror of the disciples contrasts with the peace of Jesus. As Jesus addresses their fear and cry for help, his inner peace calms the storm.
We all experience storms in our lives. Our first response is usually to try to handle them on our own. Only when we feel our helplessness do we turn to God in prayer.
Then we pray and pray and nothing happens. The desired result of our prayers doesn't come. Last year I prayed and prayed for Fr. Will Prospero, S.J.--a personal friend and strong supporter of the Apostleship of Prayer--and he died of cancer at the age of forty-nine. (Here is a video tribute that friends of his put together after his death.)
The response to situations like this is often, "God doesn't hear my prayers." No. God is not hearing impaired. Or we say, "God doesn't answer my prayers." No. God answers every prayer, but sometimes the answer is not the one we want. Sometimes the answer is "no."
Behind these responses is the question of the disciples in the Gospel: "Teacher, do you not care...?"
Yes, God cares. Do we believe that? Jesus asked the disciples (and us): "Do you not yet have faith?"
Faith is a virtue. I like to say that the virtues are spiritual muscles which require exercise in order to grow and remain healthy. We can pray "Lord, give me faith," or "Lord, increase my faith," but get ready. Faith won't come out of the blue, just as physical muscles don't. God answers this prayer with storms and challenges that require us to exercise faith.
We don't like the stress and hard work that this exercise requires. I once saw a cartoon that showed a jogger running past a park bench. On his T-shirt was the slogan: "No pain, no gain." On the bench sat an overweight man with a can of beer wearing a T-shirt that said; "No pain, no pain." We don't like the pain that goes with exercising the virtue of faith in the midst of life's storms.
Blessed Mother Teresa once said: "People say that God will never give you more than you can handle. I just wish God didn't trust me so much."
God trusts us. God wants more for us than we can imagine. God trusts that we can handle the storms that can lead us to exercise faith and grow in holiness.
In his Apostolic Exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel" (#275-9), Pope Francis has some challenging and consoling words about faith and the prayers and sacrifices we make:
"Christ, risen and glorified, is the wellspring of our hope and he will not deprive us of the help we need to carry out the mission which he has entrusted to us. Christ's resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world. ... Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty.
"Faith ... means believing in God, believing that he truly loves us, that he is alive, that he is mysteriously capable of intervening, that he does not abandon us and that he brings good out of evil by his power and his infinite creativity. ... Let us believe the Gospel when it tells us that the kingdom of God is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, and in different ways: like the small seed which grows into a big tree.... Christ's resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world....
"Because we do not always see these seeds growing, we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks.... We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others. No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force."