IMPELMAN: When transitions bring fear, Jesus brings peace

August 15, 2023

Working as a campus minister at Rice University, the start of a new school year is exciting as the older students return and the freshmen arrive to start orientation week. Although for many students the start of a new semester can be very exciting, for others, this transition can be difficult. Going to college means accepting changes in a challenging environment, and that can sometimes be stressful.

Even if you are no longer affected by the transitions brought about by the beginning of a new school year, we all must face changes in our lives. New jobs, moving to another city, sending your youngest child to college — so many transitions require an adjustment to new surroundings or circumstances. And change often brings about resistance and fear.

On Sunday, Aug. 13, our Gospel reading was from Mt 14:22-33, in which the disciples found themselves unexpectedly caught in the middle of a storm. Jesus was not in the boat with them, as he had stayed behind in order to go up a mountain to pray. They were caught unaware and tossed about by the waves. Suddenly, Jesus comes to them, walking on water. Jesus comes to them in their distress, but still they are terrified, thinking he is a ghost. He reaches out and comforts them with the words, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

When reflecting upon this same story in the Gospel of Mark, Pope Francis explains how “Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we flounder, we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to Him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with Him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God, life never dies” (Extraordinary Moment of Prayer, St. Peter’s Square, March 27, 2020).

There will most certainly be changes in our lives that are even more difficult than the start of a new school year. The death of a loved one, being laid off from a job, caring for an elderly parent who no longer can care for themselves — all these transitions challenge us at many levels, and sometimes they even challenge our faith.

In the midst of the storm in last Sunday’s Gospel, Peter tries by himself to walk across the water but becomes afraid and begins to sink. He cries out “Lord, save me!” Immediately, Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter.

Preaching about this part of Sunday’s Gospel, Pope Francis reflects how “Jesus is the Father’s hand who never abandons us, the strong and faithful hand of the Father, who always and only wants what is good for us... Having faith means keeping your heart turned to God, to His love, to His Fatherly tenderness, amid the storm. Jesus wanted to teach this to Peter and the disciples, and also to us today” (Angelus, St Peter’s Square, Sept. 8, 2020). Pope Francis wants us to remember that Jesus is always there to offer his outstretched hand in the transitions and storms of life. Despite changes and challenges, we can be confident that God will never forsake us or abandon us.

Part of my job as a Catholic campus minister is to help students grow in their desire to invite Jesus into the boat of their lives. And to remind them that when they try to walk on water and feel like they are starting to sink, Jesus is always stretching out his hand to catch them and surround them with his love. My prayer for you is that you, too, will always remember these truths. †

Mary Impelman serves as the campus minister for service at the Rice Catholic Student Center.

(Herald file photo by James Ramos)