August 13, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

On this eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Scripture Readings from the Mass extend a profound message of hope, especially in those times when life’s storms threaten to engulf us. Reflecting upon these passages, I see the echoes of my own life and those of many others I’ve had the privilege to accompany as a priest. They resonate with my personal journey through life’s tempests and my witness to God’s unyielding presence.

Growing up amid the Vietnam War’s chaos, facing the traumatic aftermath of those dark days, and the challenges of resettling in the United States as a teenager, I have endured many hardships that tested my faith. The sorrowful death of my father during the pandemic and my mother’s recent critical hospitalization have further marked my difficult path. As a priest, I’m called often to accompany many of you in our community through your own tempests, whether they be poverty, physical or mental illness, emotional or spiritual distress, or other challenges. People with profound needs knock daily on the Church’s doors, seeking solace and hope. I find myself deeply involved in these trials as a shepherd, feeling the weight of elusive and unreachable solutions, all the while striving to provide compassion and empathy, even when feeling burdened myself.

Yet, amid these personal and communal experiences, the reality that only God can truly calm life’s storms shines through. Our faith, tested in these moments of vulnerability, often emerges strengthened. Like Elijah, who heard God’s gentle voice amid chaos (cf. 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a); like Paul, who found consolation in sorrow (cf. Romans 9:1-5), and like Peter, whose faltering faith was met with Christ’s firm grip (cf. Matthew 14:22-33), I too have felt the Lord’s reassuring presence when needed most. Whether in the hospital room with my mother, in the confessional or before the Tabernacle of the Lord, or in quiet prayer with those in pain, Jesus’ calming presence has been a gentle reminder that even when problems seem insurmountable, He is there. Often, His presence is not in dramatic moments, but in silent whispers, an extended hand, a promise of prayer, or a small gesture of support.

I share these stories of my life not to dwell on my personal journey but to illuminate our shared human experience of navigating stormy times. It’s a reminder to lean on Christ, not just in crises but at every moment of our lives. Reflect on your own experiences and recognize where Christ has been present. Recall those instances when you reached out to Him, feeling His steady hand just as despair seemed to take hold. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus’ walking on water is more than symbolic; it’s a divine promise of control over life’s chaos. Peter’s faltering walk on water is a lesson that even when our faith wavers, Jesus’ immediate response to our cries is an assurance of His readiness to guide us to safety, regardless of the storm’s intensity.

So, what is our hope amid life’s storms? It lies in our trust in Jesus, in our attentive listening for his gentle whisper, assured that he is always nearby. Christ is our anchor, and our faith in him, along with the love and support of our Church community, will guide us through any tempest.

I feel a profound sense of gratitude to God that, despite the storms I’ve faced, none has managed to dim my general positive outlook on life or my joyful spirit. Rather, these trials have only strengthened my faith that Christ is on the boat with me, guiding me through the tumultuous waters.

May these words, strengthened by the prayerful support of our Church family, fortify you in the same way they have me. Together, anchored by our faith in the One who stills the waters, we will navigate life’s storms, confident that with Christ, we can weather anything.

United in prayer and love,

                                                                                        Msgr. Cuong M. Pham