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47. Why Do We Doubt? (Matthew 14:22-36)

August 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Meditations, The Better Part

“If I try by myself to swim across the ocean of this world, the waves will certainly engulf me. In order to survive I must climb aboard a ship made of wood; this wood is the Cross of Christ. Of course, even on board ship there will be dangerous tempests and perils from the sea of this world. But God will help me remain on board the ship and arrive safely at the harbor of eternal life.” – St. Augustine

Matthew 14:22-36: Directly after this he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’

Having made the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret. When the local people recognized him they spread the news through the whole neighborhood and took all that were sick to him, begging him just to let them touch the fringe of his cloak. And all those who touched it were completely cured.

Christ the Lord A few hours earlier, Jesus had demonstrated his divine power by the miraculous multiplication of the loaves. As his disciples struggle to keep afloat in the midst of one of the Sea of Galilee’s characteristic storms, which arise suddenly and progress violently due to the peculiar geography of the region, Jesus gives them more signs of his divinity: walking on the water, enabling Peter to walk on the water, and calming the gale as suddenly as nature had stirred it up. The reaction of the astonished Apostles leaves no room to doubt the extraordinary quality of this encounter: they “bowed down before him” and acknowledged him as the Messiah. If we take enough time to contemplate the episode, we will find ourselves doing the same.

Christ the Teacher The incident overflows with lessons for the attentive Christian.

  • First of all, the Church has long viewed the back-to-back miracles having to do with bread (multiplication of the loaves) and with Christ’s body (walking on the water) as a preface to the mystery of the Eucharist, the ongoing miracle involving bread and Christ’s body. Just as the Apostles share in these two miracles – they distributed the miraculously multiplying loaves, and Peter walks on the water – so through the Eucharist all Christians will come to share in the transforming power of divine grace. Christ proves he has power over elemental objects and material forces; why could he not have that same power to turn bread and wine into his own body through the hands of his Apostles?

for post on Matthew 14:22-36

  • Secondly, Christ teaches us by example the importance of spending time in prayer. St Matthew notes how Jesus went up into the hills by himself to pray. Before the miracle of the loaves, Christ had received news of John the Baptist’s martyrdom and had attempted to go off by himself to reflect and pray in its aftermath, but the needs of the crowds deterred him. Nevertheless, here we see that although he delayed his time alone with his Father, he did not let his busy schedule crowd it out altogether. As soon as he could, he retreated into the quiet of prayer. Jesus teaches us to keep first things first; if he who is the Son of God needed time alone in prayer, how much more do we!
  • Thirdly, Christ uses Peter’s impulsiveness to teach us the secret of navigating through the winds and waves of life. As long as Peter kept his eyes on Christ he was able to walk unhindered through the stormy sea; as soon as he let his eyes wander away from Christ to examine the intimidating waves, he began to sink. Just so, as we strive to make our way to Christ through the stormy temptations and challenges of life in a fallen world, focusing on Christ is the only way to keep afloat.

Christ the Friend Christ never abandons us in our need; he only asks us to believe in him. In his words to Peter, tinged perhaps with disappointment, we catch a glimpse of his heart, longing so deeply for us to trust him without limits: “Why did you doubt?” And when he steps into the boat, the storm dies away and peace resumes. Christ wants to be our peace, our strength, and our solution to all of life’s troubles. As the continued healings St Matthew mentions at the end of the chapter attest, he wants to accompany us on each stage of our life’s journey. St Peter learned this lesson well; in his first Letter he put it like this: “cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).

Peter: How could I ever forget that night? We were terrified. Have you ever seen someone walking across the stormy waters right next to your boat? When we heard his voice telling us to take courage, I felt a surge of recognition and confidence, but when I looked into the others’ faces, I could tell they didn’t know what to think. That’s when I got the idea to have him call me to walk on the waters with him, to put everyone’s fears to rest. And I did! I walked on the stormy sea. Who had ever heard of such a thing? After a few steps, as the boat retreated farther behind me, I began to notice how great the storm really was. That’s when I took my eyes off the Lord. Whenever I took my eyes off him, I always got in trouble. I started to sink. The whole world was caving in on me. I could barely even cry out for help. But he was there. He was always there. He never gave up on me. He believed in me even when I didn’t believe in him, or in myself.

Christ in My Life Why did you need to pray, Lord? You were God! But you did need to pray. Do I feel such a need to pray? Am I willing to sacrifice other things in order to make sure I spend time with you? Why am I not more concerned about learning to pray better? Jesus, you want me to pray. I want to pray better, so that I can love you better. Teach me, Lord, to pray. Thy will be done…

That boat was the infant Church, with Peter at the helm. It struggled then, and your Church still struggles today. Lord, give strength and prudence to our Pope, to the bishops, to the priests and consecrated men and women, and to the laity. Grant saintly priests to the world. Take us by the hand, save us, increase our faith, calm the storms. Never let me be separated from you…

You always saw the needs of others and went out to meet them. Why I am so slow to do good, especially with those who are near to me? My heart goes in slow motion sometimes, weighed down by my immense selfishness. Your grace can change me. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, with the zeal of your heart inflame my heart…

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC


PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art for this post on Matthew 14:22-36: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Modified details of Christ walking on the water, Julius Sergius Von Klever, 1880?, PD-US author's life plus 70 years or less, published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Guest

    Jesus’ message to Saint Faustina inscribed on his Divine Mercy Countenance, covers all that we need. “Jesus I Trust in You” Truly Saint Peter is my hero. His love for Christ was instant, unpremendidated and impulsive. Is it any wonder Christ made him the Head of His Church on earth? Let us all pray to have total trust in God in all circumstances, always and everywhere. Thank you Dan. You continue to help us grow in our faith every day.

  • Karen Kamphaus

    Dear Fr. John,
    I need help! I have a spiritual director, who doesn’t like giving direction. He has told me so. He is my parish priest, with three parishes and a school. He is so busy. It is hard to get direction but maybe once in 6-8 weeks. I had no clue as to what was happening in my soul? I knew nothing about contemplation and “mystical theology” until my confessor who is also my director mentioned these words to me last month. I then looked it up. Still not understanding? I then went to the local catholic book store and found a Large book The Spiritual Life, a Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology, by Adolphe Tanquerey, S.S.,D.D., by TAN books. Suddenly I realized that I wasn’t crazy. I understood what contemplation was! The guilt and unrest in my soul was lifted. At one time I was told that I couldn’t pray like that? The Holy Spirit led me. Taught me, showing me things, telling me what to do. I wanted to run. The Lord let me know that I need the church, a shepherd to lead me. The consolations and ecstasy keep me united with my Love Jesus. The burning fire of Love in my heart is real! I pray for a spiritual director fervently. My parish priest wants me to find one. I have been even traveling miles, with no success. This is fustrating to say the least. I trust that Jesus will provide for my needs. The Lord must want me to continue with the one that I have? I need a human guide that can lead me? Help! This site has helped me tremendously. I could have benifited from it years ago. I thank my Lord Jesus for leading me here!

    God Bless!

    • Dear Karen in Christ,

      Forgive me for responding in Father John’s place. Due to travel and workload he is unavailable to respond at the moment.

      The book you purchased is solid and well worth the time to read. Your note prompted me to make a note to post a positive review in the future. I am grateful that you found it so reassuring. You would also probably enjoy St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography and “The Interior Castle.” Otherwise you are in a challenging situation. If you commonly experience consolations and ecstasy it is wise to seek a solid spiritual direction relationship to ensure that you receive solid ongoing counsel and direction on these matters. Even St. Teresa, without exception, subjected these experiences to her spiritual director.

      Check out our page here dedicated to all the posts on spiritual direction – I believe you will find help there. Thank you for your kind words and God bless you in your continued quest to love and submit to him.

      Pax Christi – Dan

  • Gerard


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