BEFORE THE CROSS | With God, there is nothing we can’t do

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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St. Thomas Aquinas sometimes likens God to a pillar. It's important not to misunderstand what he means by the comparison. What he means is this: whether we stand to the right of the pillar or to its left, the pillar itself doesn't change — we change in relation to it. Two episodes from the readings this week help us to understand what the comparison means for our lives.

On Tuesday, we hear the episode of Jesus walking on the water and St. Peter stepping out of the boat to join Him (Matthew 14:22-36). All through that episode, Jesus doesn't change. He is always able to walk on water, and He is always able to make Peter walk on the water. What changes is Peter. When he has faith in Jesus and stays focused on Him, he is able to walk on the water. When he focuses, instead, on how strong the wind is, he loses faith and begins to sink. With faith in Jesus, nothing is impossible for him. Apart from Jesus, he can do nothing — except sink!

On Wednesday, we hear the episode of the Israelites scouting out the Promised Land (Numbers 13). When the scouts come back they tell the people: 'This is a land flowing with milk and honey! But we can't enter it – the people there are huge, and will surely defeat us in battle.' One scout alone — Caleb — encourages the people to go. He says, in effect, "With God, we can do this!" But the rest of the scouts continue to spread discouraging reports, and that discouragement infects the hearts of the people.

As was the case with Peter, God doesn't change toward the Israelites. He is always with them, and always able to help them enter the Promised Land. With faith in God, they could take possession of their inheritance. Without faith, they will remain in the desert. And God allows them to make that choice. With God, there is nothing they can't do — their history shows that. Apart from Him, they can do nothing — their history shows that, too.

These episodes explain very well St. Thomas Aquinas' pillar analogy. He doesn't mean God is impersonal or static. Far from it! What he means is that God never stops loving us. God is like a pillar in that sense: He doesn't change toward us. But that doesn't take away the fact that we change toward God. We can accept His love in faith, or reject it — we can stand to the right of the pillar, or we can stand to its left. When we accept God's love in faith, heaven — the true promised land — opens up before us. But if we choose a life without faith, what can we do but sink?

So, as I often say: If God feels far away, guess who moved? 

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