We lurch when we turn or stop because of an interesting thing called inertia. In physics, this property is all about the tendency of objects to resist any change in its state of motion. Don’t ask me why. No one ever really bothers to ask why. This inertia is associated with matter, about which we still know little despite the alphabet soup of quarks and strings and other things we suppose to be the stuff of matter. All we know is that if an object is at rest, it will stay at rest; if in motion, it will keep moving.
This flies in the face of everyday experience. Aristotle and the classical theorists of his time held that to keep something moving, you’d have to keep pushing. Stop pushing and the object will stop. That works until of course an arrow (or bullet) whizzes past you and you wonder what in the air was keeping it in flight.
It took a Galileo and some geeks around his time to propose that inertia was what kept projectiles and planets going. If you had to constantly push to keep things moving, well, that was only because something was impeding their motion. Nudge a bowling ball and it will keep moving even without you having to push it constantly all throughout. The reason why it stops eventually is something that retards its motion, a counter-push called friction. Take out friction, and that ball will keep moving merrily on till kingdom come. In the absence of any force, an object at rest will resist being moved, while an object that is moving will resist being stopped. Inertia, in short,is just an exotic word to describe the built-in physical tendency of things to resist change.
Now imagine if inanimate objects by default have this innate resistance to change, how much more then the animate heart? I believe it is inertia (of the animate kind) that is uppermost in Jesus’ mind when he speaks these words today: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
The one who has power to calm the waves and walk on them is telling us he is whipping up a storm. And that he himself will be the epicenter of a great upheaval when he at last is raised on the cross. Great is his anguish until that harrowing baptism outside Jerusalem is done. So much for that tame trickle of water we pour on babies’ heads. So much for the angelic hosts singing peace on earth and to all those on whom God’s favor rests. The favored one is the one whose heart is restless and pierced. The one who can soothe us is here to disturb us.
This is all so unsettling to us who turn to faith to find peace. In the shade of the cross, we come to realize that faith is not so much an analgesic pacifier or solvent of tension as it is a force that jolts us from our inertia, a counter push or pull that generates heat and ignites sparks within our soul. Understood this way, faith becomes a source not so much of calm as of courage. From faith and its assurance of love and of all that we hope for, we draw courage to resist sin “to the point of shedding blood.” From faith and its decision to return love with love, we draw courage to keep giving our lives in oblation amid all the turbulence and uncertainty. From such courage, we find astonishing serenity.
Let our faith then be a source of true courage. Let our faith in Jesus Christ be forceful enough to dislodge us from our“self-referential” orbits. Let this same radical faith be the force that moves mountains and overcomes inertial resistance to change and conversion. In these difficult yet promising times of reform and renewal within the Church, in government, and even in our selves, let the words of Sir Francis Drake be our prayer:
“Disturb us, O Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves,when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little; when we have arrived in safety because we sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, O Lord, when with the abundance of the things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the water of life; when having fallen in love with time, we have ceased to dream of eternity, and in our efforts to build the new earth, have allowed our vision of the new heaven to grow dim.
“Stir us, O Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms shall show thy mastery and, when losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes and invited the brave to follow Him, Amen.”
[Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ]