Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.
The passage from Matthew’s Gospel… takes us to the Lake of Gennesaret. The Apostles had entered the boat to go before Jesus to the other side. And it came to pass that as they rowed in the chosen direction they saw Jesus walking on the lake. Christ was walking on the water as though it were solid ground. The Apostles were afraid, thinking it was a ghost. Jesus, hearing their cry, spoke: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” (Mt 14:27). And then Peter said: “Lord if it is you, bid me come to you on the water”. And Jesus answered, “Come!” (Mt 14:28-29). So Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk on the water. He was just about to come to Christ when there was a strong gust of wind and he became afraid. As he began to sink he called out: “Lord, save me!” (Mt 14:30). Then Jesus reached out his hand, caught him and kept him from sinking and said: “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt 14:31).
This Gospel event is full of profound meaning. It concerns the most important problem of human life, faith in Jesus Christ. Peter certainly had faith, as he later magnificently showed in the region near Caesarea Philippi, but at that moment his faith was not yet solid. When the wind began to blow more strongly Peter began to sink, because he had doubted. It was not the wind that made Peter sink into the lake but the insufficiency of his faith. Peter’s faith had lacked one essential element—complete abandonment to Christ, total trust in him at the moment of great trial; he lacked unreserved hope in him. Faith and hope, together with love, constitute the foundation of the Christian life, the cornerstone of which is Jesus Christ.
In Jesus’ death on the Cross and in his Resurrection from the tomb God’s love for man and for the world was fully revealed. Jesus is the only way to the Father, the only way that leads to truth and life (cf. Jn 14:6). This message which the Church ever since the beginning has proclaimed to all men and all nations was proclaimed anew to our generation by the Second Vatican Council. Allow me to quote a brief passage from the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes: “The Church believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, and can through his Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved. She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point, and the goal of all human history. The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today, yes and for ever” (No. 10).
Dear young people, follow Christ with the enthusiasm of your youthful hearts. He alone can calm man’s fear. Look to Jesus from the depths of your hearts and minds! He is your inseparable friend…
Faith in Christ and the hope which he teaches enables man to conquer himself, to conquer everything in him that is weak and sinful; and at the same time this faith and hope lead him to victory over evil and the effects of sin in the world around him. Christ freed Peter from the fear which had seized him on the stormy lake. Christ enables us too to overcome the difficult moments in life, if with faith and hope we turn to him and ask his help. “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” (Mt 14:27). Strong faith, from which is born limitless hope, a virtue so needed today, frees man from fear and gives him the spiritual strength to resist all life’s storms. Do not be afraid of Christ! Trust him completely!
He alone “has words of eternal life”. Christ never lets us down!
...We look once more to the Lake of Gennesaret on which Peter’s boat is sailing. The lake evokes the image of the world, also the modern world in which we are living and in which the Church is carrying out her mission. This world is a challenge for man, just as the lake was a challenge for Peter. For him it was so close and familiar, as the place of his daily work as a fisherman, and on the other hand it was the element of nature which he had to face with his own strength and experience.
Man has to enter this world, in a certain sense immerse himself in it, for he has received from God the command to “subdue the earth” by work, study, creative effort (cf. Gen 1:28). On the other hand, man cannot shut himself up exclusively within the limits of the material world, neglecting the Creator. For this is against man’s nature, against his inner truth, since the human heart, as Saint Augustine says, is restless until it rests in God (cf. Confessions, I,1,1). The human person, created in the image and likeness of God, cannot become a slave to things, to economic systems, to technological civilization, to consumerism, to easy success. Man cannot become the slave of his inclinations and passions, sometimes deliberately aroused. We must defend ourselves against this danger. We need to know how to use our freedom, choosing what is the true good. Do not let people make you slaves! Do not let people tempt you with false values, half-truths, the fascination of illusions, which you will later leave behind with disappointment, hurt and perhaps with your life ruined…
In the address which I once gave to UNESCO, I said that the first and essential task of culture is to educate man. And that education “consists in fact in enabling man to become more man, to ‘be’ more and not just to ‘have’ more and consequently, through everything he ‘has’, everything he ‘possesses’, to ‘be’ man more fully. For this purpose man must be able to ‘be more’ not only ‘with others’, but also ‘for others’” (Address to UNESCO, Paris, 2 June 1980, No.11; in L’Osservatore Romano, English-language edition, 23 June 1980, p. 10).
...This truth has a fundamental significance for self-education, self-realization, for developing in oneself the humanity and the divine life given in Baptism and strengthened in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Self-education aims precisely at “being” more human and more Christian, at discovering and developing in oneself the talents received from the Creator and realizing the vocation to holiness.
Sometimes the world can be something threatening, it is true; but someone who lives by faith and hope has in himself the power of the Spirit to face the dangers of this world. Peter walked on the waves of the lake, even though it was against the laws of gravity, because he was looking Jesus in the eye. When he doubted, when he lost personal contact with the Master, he began to sink and was rebuked: “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt 14:31).
From the example of Peter we learn how important in the spiritual life is the personal bond with Christ: it has to be constantly renewed and deepened. How? Above all by prayer. My dear friends, pray and learn to pray, read and meditate on the Word of God, strengthen the bond with Christ in the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, study the problems of the interior life and of the apostolate in youth groups, Church movements and organizations….
Dear young friends! We are celebrating the Jubilee of the millennium of the martyrdom of Saint Adalbert [who] bore witness to Christ, suffering martyrdom for the faith. This martyrdom of the great Apostle of the Slavs challenges you: today too. It calls for the witness of the life of each one of you. It calls for new men and women who will make manifest in the midst of this world the “power and the wisdom” (cf. 1 Cor 1:22-25) of the Gospel of God in their own lives. This world, which sometimes seems like an untameable element, like a stormy sea, at the same time has a profound thirst for Christ, such a thirst for the Good News. It has such need of love…
Excerpted from JOHN PAUL II’s PASTORAL VISIT TO POLAND, YOUTH MEETING ADDRESS, 3 June 1997.