In Wednesday’s Gospel, we read the familiar story of Jesus walking on the water. While certainly interesting on its own, an understanding of the broader context of events brings even deeper meaning to the passage.
Just before this gospel reading, Jesus fed five thousand men with just 5 loaves and 2 fish - an impressive feat! But there is no mention of the disciples' responses.
Immediate following this, Jesus goes off to pray while his disciples wait in a boat in the stormy night. When Jesus is done praying, he returns to the boat, walking on the water. The disciples know that Jesus had gone that direction to pray and after witnessing the miracle of the multiplication of loaves, they should not have been surprised to see him defying the laws of nature. And yet the disciples, who spend more time with Jesus than anyone, do not recognize him and are frightened. When Jesus gets to the boat, he tells them, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”, and calms the storm. They are completely astounded, and in Matthew’s version of the gospel, they do him homage saying, “Truly you are the Son of God”. Finally, they get it.
Interestingly, in the passage following the gospel, they bring their boat to shore in Gennesaret, and as soon as Jesus disembarks, “people immediately recognize him” and rush to him for healing. This perfectly juxtaposes the confusion and fear of Jesus' closest friends.
I think these passages speak to the desensitization that all Catholics experience at some point or another. The multiplication of the loaves foreshadows the miracle of the Eucharist which we celebrate every Sunday - and even every day of the week. If you are a regular church-goer, you have probably witnessed hundreds or thousands of instances of this miracle. And as with anything that we experience regularly, we start to become desensitized by it. At mass we may find our attention drifting or may become eager to just get it over with so we can go about our days. We forget that we are witnessing the most amazing miracle seen this side of Heaven! Our God becomes truly present in our midst and willfully unites Himself to us.
I have struggled with this complacency myself and I am working to improve. Before I receive communion, I ask Jesus to prepare my heart for the reception of his presence. After communion, I find that closing my eyes and kneeling down in reverence helps me to concentrate. This time is an intimate moment between dear friends. When we see our friends or family, don’t we rejoice and hug and catch up? This is what we have the opportunity to do in the Eucharist. I thank Jesus for his presence and his love, tell him about my troubles, and ask him for help. If you are also dealing with desensitization, perhaps my experience will be helpful in some way.
Jesus had a human nature just like ours, and so understands our struggles. But if our heart is in the right place, as his disciples' surely were, and we ask for his Grace, he will open our eyes.