When I’m sitting in a plane that has just accelerated for take-off it is my practice to breathe a short prayer and then as a sort of “good luck charm” I add a line from my early convent days. One of the elderly Sisters would always add it as we prayed at the start of a trip in the car. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, although born in Italy, was recognized as the first saint of the United States (not to be confused with Elizabeth Seton, the first American-born saint). At the end of our departure prayer, Sister Jean would pipe up with “Mother Cabrini, take care of us in the machinie.” I have a difficult time now not saying that at the beginning of each flight. It isn’t that I think that will keep the plane from crashing but rather reminds me of Jean and a custom of “real” prayer for safety that is part of my heritage. I would always say I am not afraid to fly. Quite the opposite! I love it! But I would have to admit of a bit of fluttering in my stomach the time we jettisoned most of the remaining fuel because the landing gear was being temperamental (the landing was fine) or on days of high winds when I see the land coming up to meet us on our approach. My faith in God is not shaken at times like these; it’s more my faith in the skill of the pilots and the weather that are at stake.
In today’s gospel (MT 8:23-27) the disciples are in the midst of a violent storm at sea and Jesus appears to be sleeping in the boat in spite of it being “swamped by waves.” They cry out to him to save them and when he responds he appears displeased that they lacked faith in him in a dangerous situation. The end of the section gives the clue that their experience of him is still rather new as they say in amazement (after he has calmed the storm): “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?” I always think of this as rather ironic since they woke him asking him to save them and then are amazed when he does. In some senses I think we are better off since, although we do not have the physical presence of Jesus, the man, with us now in our lives, we do have the consciousness of the power of Christ to keep us safe – in whatever happens. We may even die as a result of a catastrophic event, but we can remain safe nevertheless, because our final goal is the direct presence of God. Thus, having faith transcends what happens to us physically and allows us to rest always in the knowledge that we are never outside of God’s concern and love.