Two things are striking about today’s Gospel. The first is Jesus’ prayer: “Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side of the sea, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.” We should be struck by the time Jesus sets aside for prayer. It’s a significant, personal, prolonged period of time, and we all know his greatest secret is hidden precisely in this time.
The most obvious effect seems to be the continuation of the story. Jesus catches up with the disciples, but he does so by walking on water. It’s a powerful image that shows that prayer keeps Jesus from getting overwhelmed by events. He can master them and traverse them, without letting them literally drown him.
Yet the disciples are frightened by it all: “When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost,’ they said, and they cried out in fear.” Here, Peter then makes himself—as always—the spokesman for all: “‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come!’ But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”
Peter, and each of us, could also walk like Jesus on the waters of life’s events, but to do this we must trust, we must believe that Jesus can obtain this grace for us. We remain standing in the midst of storms only if we pray, because prayer is the secret source of all faith and all ability to trust. Without it, we drown, without many ways out.