A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” (Mk 4:37-41)
On March 27, 2020, Pope Francis used this Scripture passage as the basis of his message during a special Urbi et Orbi blessing, when we were entering a time of great uncertainty due to the pandemic. In his reflection on the event, Pedro Gabriel wrote about how—to the pope’s critics and supporters alike—Pope Francis at that moment was recognized as “a much-needed beacon of hope in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.” In Pope Francis’s address he repeatedly returns to the refrain, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” to address the fear and angst many people were feeling at the beginning of the pandemic. This question can also be applied to a current source of fear in the US Catholic Church today.
In recent months we have witnessed many people express fear, angst, and despair about the Synod on Synodality, and have even reached the point of a cardinal saying it could lead to the destruction of the Church. On the other side, however, we have a very vocal contingent of the Church who is extremely critical about the USCCB’s three-year Eucharistic Revival, seeing it as an attempt to downplay and distract from the global Synod. Despite this tension, however, the two initiatives are both deeply needed and intrinsically linked.
The True Meaning of “Synod”
When one breaks down the original Greek meaning of the word synod, it literally means “journeying together” (from syn- —”together” and hodos—”journeying”). This is why the above scripture passage is an apt metaphor for the synodal process we are undertaking as a Church. We are all in the barque of Peter on a journey of faith together. Additionally, a proper understanding of the Eucharist shows that it is also a celebration of a journey that we are on together—one that we generally refer to as “communion.” As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor 10:17). A deeper understanding of the Eucharist ought to draw us all into the idea that we are united in the Body of Christ, and that to hate our fellow members of the Body is to hate Christ himself.
Secondly, we know that when Jesus gave us the greatest commandment he first told us to love God, “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 12:37). Then he says that the second—to love our neighbor as ourselves—“is like” the first (Mt 12:39). They are not two commands, but two sides of one commandment. As Catholics, the foundation of our great love for our neighbor is in seeing the image of Christ in them. We love Christ through our neighbor, and we love our neighbor through Christ. There is no greater expression of love of God and neighbor than when we partake of the Body of Christ at the same altar. In this sense, the Synod and the Eucharistic Revival should not be seen as rival initiatives, but as an expression of both sides of the greatest commandment.
The Eucharistic Revival
With the understanding that the Eucharist only strengthens our need to journey together, we may better understand the point in the passage when the storm begins and the disciples on the boat are filled with fear. Today, so many Catholics are filled with fear and doubt. Some are looking over the starboard side and see a huge wave of traditionalism threatening to tear apart the barque of Peter. Others are looking to port and see a wave of progressivism threatening to steer the barque off course. We cannot be naïve—these waves are very real and concerning—but an even greater problem is that so many in the crew are focused on the waves and forgetting who is asleep in the stern.
Originally, when reading the famous Pew Research poll indicating that many Catholics did not have a proper understanding of the Eucharist, I was not particularly convinced of its significance. After all, there are many Catholics who live deep lives of faith, prayer, and love for the Eucharist who would not necessarily give the correct theological answer. That said, the level of panic and fear about the Synod that I see among some Catholics suggests that the situation is indeed quite grave. However, the problem I’m witnessing is that many Catholics who likely would have answered the survey question in accordance with Church teaching on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist have shown by their words and actions that their faith is lacking in the reality of Christ’s presence in the Church.
In that March 2020 Urbi et Orbi address, Pope Francis said, “Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you.” Even though the disciples who were with Jesus in the boat knew he was a great teacher, they did not understand until that night that Jesus was one “whom even the wind and sea obey.” This is the same Jesus asleep in the stern of every one of our churches, in the tabernacle. The Eucharistic Revival has the potential to educate and motivate more Catholics to live and act like they truly believe in the enormity of this reality. This is the type of faith that will be vital to the success of the Synod. If Catholics begin to see that the Church—the barque of Peter—is truly the Body of Christ, rather than a purely human political institution, then their fear, anxiety, and anger will dissolve and be replaced with real faith and trust.
If you are experiencing fear and doubt about either the Synod or the Eucharistic revival, perhaps this is an opportunity to go before Our Lord in adoration and—like the apostles on the boat who said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”—bring your concerns and fears to our Lord. Jesus’ response to this plea is, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” This is not a reproach, but is the loving reassurance of a father to a child that he is in control and there is no need for worry.
Scripture texts, prefaces, introductions, footnotes and cross references used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
Image: Le Christ sur le lac de Génésareth – Delacroix – MET – c. 1853. By Sukkoria – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75265639
Adam Stengel started out studying to be a medical doctor, then moved to Honduras to start a family and pursue a love for missionary work. He now lives in rural Arkansas with his wife and three children and is employed as a custom cabinet maker in a family owned shop.