The Gospel for this weekend will have a certain appeal to those of us who live in the Diocese of Green Bay. With Lake Michigan, Lake Winnebago and hundreds of other smaller lakes dotting our landscape, we know all about boats. Be it a yacht coming out of Sturgeon Bay, a motor boat skimming across a lake or a canoe being paddled down an inlet, we love going out on a boat. We seek out the sense of calm and relaxation found drifting along on a boat, and we understand the sudden storm at sea that can send a freighter into watery depths.
I remember Sr. Praxedes telling my second grade class about the “barque of Peter.” I was so excited to think that St. Peter had a dog and still recall the disappointment I felt when Sister explained that barque was a fancy word for boat. The boat is a significant image to the Christian Church and has served as a hidden symbol of our faith. During the time when Christians were under persecution, they could gaze upon a cross by looking to a ship’s mast, which took on a cruciform shape. For centuries, the boat has come to represent the church, a place in which we can take refuge when we feel tossed on the sea of despair, worldliness and persecution.
In our time, what is most important to remember is that the church remains a boat; we have not up graded ourselves to a cruise ship. A cruise ship carries passengers who go about doing their own thing, enjoying a variety of dining rooms and a myriad of entertainment. Rather Jesus challenges us to board a boat where we are required to be the crew working together, raising sails, tying knots and pulling oars. On this boat, we eat at a common table and receive from the same bounty of grace. On this boat, we experience moments when the sea is terrifying. And all we can do is trust in God and in each other.
When Pope Benedict XVI gave his final public audience, he made a beautiful reference to the church as boat when stating “I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the church is not mine, not ours, but his — and he will not let her sink.” Pope Francis, speaking at the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus, challenged us with “… the boat of Peter can be tossed about today. The night and the powers of darkness are always near … row then! Row, be strong, even with the headwind! We row in the service of the church. We row together!”
So indeed, we do row together. Each time we gather in the church we board the boat, the barque of Peter, because we the assembly sit in the nave of the church, the central part of the interior. The word nave finds its origin in the Latin word navis, translated as boat. Here we encounter Jesus, the captain of our ship, who urges us “Be still.” Here we receive Jesus in the Eucharist that we may be strengthened and sustained as we row into the headwind. Here we remember that we are on a journey of faith and that the church in holiness and love of Christ transports the faithful through the seas of this earthly life to our heavenly home. This weekend, “all on board” for the church is a steady vessel that will bring our soul into a final safe harbor.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.