May 17: He is Never Far! (Easter 6 A)

“Beloved: Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to explain to anyone who asks you for your reason for hope.” First Letter of Peter, 3:15-18. 

Peter’s hope — he is joyful in the Lord, despite the fears of persecution, in an upper room with his band of friends as they shelter in place.

Something to consider as we face our challenging health crisis, in the last few days of a Spring Semester, with the foreboding of “high school in the time of C19.”

One year ago, I came across an article by religious educator Margaret Felice, who asks, “Where do you see God on your life’s journey? What part of your life feels dark and shut out from the Lord? Do you struggle to see God’s grace at work? Invite God to give you the vision to see grace in all things.”

To see grace in all things, that’s a gift of a lifetime!

As we move closer to the feast days of Ascension and Pentecost, let’s remind ourselves of these reassuring words from the Acts of the Apostle that “He is never far from any of us.”

Despite our closed churches and little access to our sharing of the Holy Eucharist, we need to recall that Jesus comforts us and reveals himself in his saving word. 

Here’s a sea saga, a history lesson, and an example of how God’s word has the power to save us.

In April of 1789, Lieutenant William Bligh, the commander of HMS Bounty, was awakened by his men, and, along with eight others, he was set adrift on the Pacific.

This dramatic course of action was an act of mutiny on the high seas — and amazingly, Bligh and his companions in their small vessel navigated some 3,000 miles to the Dutch West Indies.

Later Bligh returned to England a hero, where he won much notoriety as the Royal Navy attempted to locate the Bounty and its crew.

Of course, this story found its way into history, legend, and five movies, the most famous, 1935 version “Mutiny on the Bounty,” featured Charles Laughton, playing a cruel William Bligh, and actor Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian, a handsome leader of the mutiny. 

But, what of the Bounty and its crew?

Fletcher Christian feared that he and his crew would be discovered. For a time, they remained in Tahiti where some of the men stayed; later, Christian set sail again with seven mutineers, twelve Polynesian women, and six Polynesian men who were mainly slaves to the English crewmen.

After months of exploration, they found the remote and uninhabited Pitcairn Island — halfway from New Zealand and Panama, some 6,500 miles from Panama on the open ocean.

Even today, the trip can take ten days to reach Bounty Bay. To further ensure the group would not be detected, Fletcher Christian ordered the ship destroyed. Together they lived on this tiny island of 18 square miles — with its abundance of coconuts, breadfruit, and other crops.

Soon those on Pitcairn realized this island was no paradise — open sexuality provoked mutual jealousy and rage. The Ti plant was distilled into liquor, and there was rampant drunkenness.

After four years, all of the Polynesian men and half of the English, including Fletcher Christian, had been murdered. And after a few years only two Englishmen Edward Young and Alexander Smith remained with ten women and the children.

Now here’s the part that the movie left out.

While looking through the items saved from the ship, Alex Smith located a Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. These were the only printed books on the island, and these became the source of wisdom and the powerful tools for learning English. Alexander Smith did not read, but Edward Young taught him to read.

Smith studied the scriptures and convinced everyone that to survive on the island, they needed to live according to the Bible’s principles.

Once, he dreamed that the angel Gabriel showed him the wickedness of his past life, so Smith repented of his sins.

He began Sunday worship and offered petitions like this,

“Suffer me not O Lord to waste this day in sin or folly. But let me worship thee with much delight. Teach me to know more and serve thee better than ever I have done before that I may be fitter to dwell in heaven, where thy worship and service are everlasting. Amen.”

Scriptural teaching alone didn’t make Pitcairn into a “heaven on earth.” These people struggled with their day-to-day problems; nonetheless, Alex Smith’s emphasis on the word of God provided order, survival, and redemption to people on these distant shores.

By 1808 an American ship, the Topaz, discovered Pitcairn Island and its crew were surprised to find a community of 35 English-speaking Christians.

Six years later, a British ship arrived at Bounty Bay to seize the mutineers. By this point, Alex Smith had changed his name to John Adams, after the American president, to avoid capture, and he died there in 1829.

The British crew went back to England empty-handed but flush with stories about the exotic south sea island. 

Later, the Seventh Day Adventists came to the island from Oakland, California, to minister to the people of Polynesia, so far off in the Pacific.

Here is the moral of this story: the “Word of God” provided order, survival, and redemption to people along these distant shores.

A reminder: “To see grace in all things.” No place is so desolate or remote, for wherever people find themselves, we cannot shut out the presence of God.

“He is never far from any of us.”

A sermon of Archbishop David Moxon inspired this homily of mine; as well as a meditation of Father James Turro, in his collection “Reflections as Path to Prayer” (Paulist Press)

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

For a recent article of mine — highlighting our second season of Sunday to Sunday, please visit America Magazine:

Congratulations to the Class of 2020!




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