Knowing & Loving Jesus
NO ABSTRACTION, HE
A much-loved Gospel passage reports an incident in which Peter and the other apostles set out one night by boat to cross the Sea of Galilee, leaving Jesus to catch up with them later. Our Lord joins them, somewhere in the middle of that vast and tempestuous lake, by walking across the water. In St. Matthew’s version of the incident, Peter experienced two kinds of fear. Fear of the unknown struck him first. Peter was hardly expecting the arrival of a visitor there in the middle of a raging sea, and he took Jesus for a ghost. The disciples would eventually learn that our Lord always turns up at unexpected times, when He is most needed, but the apparition on the sea was startling, and Peter was terrified. That fear subsided when Jesus announced who He was: “It is I; be not afraid.” Peter’s second fear was different. He had said to Jesus, “Lord, if it be really you, bid me come to you on the water.” Jesus did. And then Peter did. He did the incredible thing. Believing, he imitated Jesus, and he too walked on the water. Soon, though, Peter became conscious of what he was being called to do; the result was again fear, but this time fear of his own inadequacy.
There is a way in which all converts to Christ must struggle with the same fears that unsettled Peter — first the fear that arises when Jesus or the Church, His body, is seen at a distance and appears to be something strange and menacing, more threatening even than one’s own personal storm; second, the fear that arises later, when Jesus is dear and familiar and has made you His disciple, and then calls you to perform some task that seems quite beyond your capacities. When I was asked to craft an essay that would explain how one moves from believing in Jesus to loving Him, I was delighted — until I realized I was out of the boat and in the water right up to my neck!
Well, the passage from Matthew suggests a starting point. Whatever the difficulty — Peter’s, mine, yours — one had better grasp Jesus’ hand. How do you make the leap from believing in Jesus to loving Him? There is only one answer — with His help! The most practical step in that direction would be to implore Him to allow it. And though it is seemly to be humble in your petitions, there is a difference between being humble and being feeble. The Canaanite woman of Matthew 15, who had the humility to consider herself as unworthy as the hounds who received crumbs from the Master’s table, was hardly feeble in her prayers. St. Matthew tells us through her example that continued prayer, incessant prayer, prayer even in the face of a shattering rebuff, is always answered. Such prayer bespeaks faith, and Jesus consistently rewards faith. Implore Him, then, with her words: “Lord, help me.”
Of course you can make it difficult or easy for Jesus to answer your prayer. You can merely pray, and then go on with your busy life, too absorbed to notice His attempts to attract you. I’d like to suggest a few practical steps that might make it easier for Jesus to grant you the grace you have prayed for. I offer these in the order that they were introduced to me, with the hope that He will inflame your heart through at least one of them, perhaps even through all.
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