Most anyone who spends much time with children learns to distinguish between a whole range of different ways young children cry. There is the cry of surprise when a child stumbles and falls without really getting hurt, as well as the whining cry that comes from some children when they don’t get what they want. In most groups I’ve ever been a part of, you have some adults who go right away after every crying child, and some who take a more relaxed attitude toward juvenile tears. I’m not a great one for launching out of my chair every time, myself.

But there is one cry that brings every adult to attention, makes the paternal or maternal heart in each of us heart pump harder, and sends a fleet of adults racing in the direction from which the cry seems to be coming. That is the cry of a child who is really hurt, and that cry is unmistakable.

I don’t think we ever quite lose the ability to cry out like this, even as we grow up and become adults. There is still a way we instinctually cry or yell with an urgency that cuts through the air like a knife. Anyone around us knows we are in trouble or are hurt and need help.

That is the kind of urgency with which I think St. Peter cries out in this Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 14:22-33), “Lord, save me!” And Jesus, knowing Peter was in danger, “immediately … stretched out his hand and caught Peter.” Jesus saved Peter, they got into the boat, and the disciples “did him homage, saying, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’”

Now, it is easy, and it makes sense, to contrast Peter’s failure with ideal faith. Jesus makes it clear that Peter should not have doubted, and that his faith is still “little.” So it is right for us to meditate on the strength our faith ought to have, how resilient our faith needs to be even in the face of life’s storms.

But it is also important to contrast Peter’s response to his failure with what would have been immeasurably worse, despair. Peter rightly fears for his safety after he fails to persevere in faith while walking on the water. He knows he is sinking, and that under natural circumstances he would be sinking to a quick and painful death. But instead of giving up and despairing, Peter cries out desperately to Jesus. And, as Robert Frost once wrote, “that has made all the difference.” Peter was saved instead of drowned.

I want to offer a very practical example of how this applies to our lives. All of us who struggle to live as faithful Catholics face many temptations. Sometimes, we face temptations toward lots of different sins, but often we are fiercely tempted to commit one particular sin.

Peter rightly fears for his safety after he fails to persevere in faith while walking on the water. He knows he is sinking, and that under natural circumstances he would be sinking to a quick and painful death. But instead of giving up and despairing, Peter cries out desperately to Jesus. And, as Robert Frost once wrote, “that has made all the difference.” Peter was saved instead of drowned.

One of the graces of baptism is that we take on the kingship of Christ, meaning, God gives us the power of self-possession, the power to resist temptation. There is enough power in your baptism to keep you from ever committing a mortal sin, if you fully cooperated with that grace. Yet we often don’t cooperate the way we should, and many of us do fall to these sins, sometimes over and over. 

We fall into sin because we don’t cooperate enough with God’s grace, and also because we give in to discouragement or even despair. The “storms” of temptation seem so strong, so violent, so much more powerful than we are. Remember that the devil is a bully, and discouragement is his chief weapon. Once he gets you on your heels, he’ll keep hammering away until you do one of two things: surrender, or cry out to Jesus to save you. 

We must never surrender to Satan! His attacks are violent, but only God has absolute power. God is our Creator, and Satan is a creature. That means that an infinite gap exists between God’s power and the power of evil. We do not live in a world in which good and evil compete on equal terms. Jesus stands above the “storms” of this world and wants us to stand with Him. We are called to walk with Him perfectly, but when we stumble and begin to sink, at least we can cry out to Him for help! At least we can have that much faith.

In Sunday’s responsorial Psalm, taken from Psalm 85, we pray, “Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him.” Anyone who has really fought to avoid sin knows that the “storms” of temptation can make it feel like God is pretty far away. But by faith we know He is close to us, just waiting to help us. Jesus has died to save us from sin, so don’t think He is going to let you go easily! You need to reach out to Him, to cry out to Him urgently, and He will help you.

Two of the “fruits” of Holy Communion, listed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are wiping away our venial sins and preservation against future mortal sins, which includes grace to help fight against all temptations. When we offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and approach Jesus to receive His Body and Blood, it may be that we are shaking inside, feeling like we’re in danger of being overcome by the storms of temptation. 

But Jesus is here to save us, to strengthen us, to help us say “no” to sin and “yes” to Him. We need first to call out to Jesus, and to do so with real urgency, praying as if our lives depended upon it. Because they do.

Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.