A few years ago, the press carried the heartrending story of a young father who shot himself in a tavern telephone booth. James Lee had called a Chicago newspaper and told a reporter he had sent the paper a manila envelope outlining his story. The reporter frantically tried to trace the call, but was too late. When the police arrived, the young man was slumped in the booth with a bullet through his head.
In his pockets they found a child's crayon drawing, much folded and worn. On it was written, "Please leave in my coat pocket. I want to have it buried with me." The drawing was signed in childish print by his blonde daughter, Shirley Lee, who had perished in a fire just five months before. Lee was so grief stricken he had asked total strangers to attend his daughter's funeral so she would have a nice service. He said there was no family to attend since Shirley's mother had been dead since the child was two.
Speaking to the reporter before his death, the heartbroken father said that all he had in life was gone and he felt so alone. He gave his modest estate to the church Shirley had attended and said, "Maybe in ten or twenty years, someone will see one of the plaques and wonder who Shirley Ellen Lee was and say, 'Someone must have loved her very, very much.' " The grieving father could not stand loneliness or the loss so he took his own life. He felt it better to be dead than live in an impersonal world.
How Can I Help?
The question which raged in my mind when I heard the story the first time was, "How many James Lees are there in this world?" Even today, this question still pops up inside me - I wonder how many James Lee are here around me?
They don't wear buttons saying "I'm lonely . . . will you help me?" How is it we do not see them? They say that we blink twenty five times every minute. If each blink takes about one-fifth of a second, then in a ten hours drive, averaging forty miles per hour, one would drive twenty miles with his eyes CLOSED. What is more surprising is the fact that some people go through LIFE with their eyes closed. They look but don't really "see" . . .they observe the surface but omit the underneath.
Even deeper, if I ever see them, how can I really help them? Just by being somewhat nicer to them? Just by smiling or hugging them? Just say some pleasant words to them?
Many times we cannot help others for the simple reason that we ourselves have our eyes close. We ourselves are scandalized with suffering. We do not understand the God-reason behind suffering. We feel lost in front of cancer, marriage breakdown, willful hurts of people who should know better. Since we do not have an answer in ourselves, we cannot offer an answer to others.
The Mighty Valiant Hero
It is very odd that Jesus Christ forces his apostles to get into the boat ad go ahead to the other side. The Greek word - anagkazo - is very emphatic. 'Constrained', 'compelled', 'forced' would be a better translation. He himself put them into the storm!
This storm came because they were in God's Will. If they had disobeyed Jesus and stayed on land, they would have been in the crowd enjoying their popularity. They would have been treated like celebrities because of their relationship to Jesus. After all He had just fed a crowd of five thousand with five loaves and two fish.
But because they obeyed Christ, they were now in a boat all alone, in the midst of the sea, in a storm. "By this time, the boat was battered by the waves, far away from the land, the wind against them."
God sends storms. Gosh! Yes, He sends storms. AND the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12 tells us specifically why. He is a Father, a good Father and hence he corrects his children. He send storms to discipline us, to put us on line. He treats us as sons and daughters.
Storms bring out all our limits and teach us lean on what is solid. How many people, in suffering, discovered that God who otherwise they would never have even bothered to look for. And once one discovers God, one has discovered everything.
Two very important observations.
Where was Jesus while they were in the storm? Was he idle, unconcerned? Guess what He was doing? He was praying "up on the mountain". It is good to keep this in mind this when life threatens us with its predicaments. Jesus is praying for His people today, too. Saint Paul says it so clearly in Romans 8,34 - "Christ Jesus ...is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."
But, even if this would have been good enough, Jesus does not only intercede for us. He does more. He comes towards us, walking on the sea. Moses divided the sea and walked through. Jesus simply walked over it. The sea is the symbol of problems. He comes walking towards us, victorious. Conqueror. A trial blazer. A mighty valiant hero, as the prophet Jeremiah calls him.
"Why did Jesus walk on the water? To show His disciples that the very thing they feared was only a staircase for Him to come to them."(Warren Wiersbe)
Jesus here becomes the very epiphany of God. As Psalm 89 says, "You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them."
The Daring Adventurer
Peter jumped the boat. He was full of doubts and fears "If it is you...." After all the storm was heavy, the time was ominous - 4 o'clock in the morning, the wind was strong... But he came out of the boat, a risk obviously... but it was a risk which paid. Peter is so much like us. A constant roller coaster of doubt and faith. And love also! Love was the Lord where others saw a ghost!
Peter walked on the sea. An amazing feat! As long as his eyes did not wander, he made it. As long as he remained focused on Jesus Christ, he walked and walked on his problems.
"By faith he had strength to do what human weakness could not do. These are the strong ones of the Church. Mark this, hear, understand, and act accordingly. ... The presuming on their own strength keeps many back from strength. No one will have strength from God, but he who feels himself weak of himself.... " Saint Augustine
At a certain moment, Peter took away his eyes from Jesus. Like us. When the odds are against us, we doubt, we waver. When human relationships become difficult, when marriage partnership becomes tense, we feel the weight and we sink. But not everything is lost. It is enough that we cry out like Peter "Lord, save me!" And sure enough, we shall see a hand outstretched to reach us and put us back into the boat.
"Let Peter cry out as he totters in the water, and say, "Lord, save me." For the Lord will reach forth His hand, and though He chide, saying, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" wherefore didst thou not look straight forward upon Him to whom thou wast making thy way, and glory only in the Lord ? Nevertheless He will snatch him from the waves, and will not suffer Him to perish, who confesses his own infirmity, and begs His help." Saint Augustine
Suffering is great because it helps us realize how much we need HIM.
If only James Lee knew this, he would still be alive today. If only someone told him these things....
Yes, if only!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.