Many Christians feel homesick for a day when they could be fully Christian in public. A rejection of the Christian faith is solidifying in our laws. The implicit primacy of Christian faith which has spanned centuries in the West is fading. The modern-day followers of Christ cry out as in Palestine two thousand years ago, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
It’s tempting to be afraid, to lash out, to get caught in the weeds, to give up, to fear the waves. We know that God is the cause of our joy, the light in our own personal darkness, the answer to our deepest questions. Yet so many don’t see God in that way.
“Why are you so afraid?” Jesus says then as now, “Do you still have no faith?”
Christians cannot let the fear of the surrounding storm obscure what—or rather—who is right in front of us, just as in another maritime Gospel story.
“When Peter saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”
Jesus saved Peter and brought him back to the boat, and the storm ceased. The ship, sailing on uncertain seas, is a symbol of the Church, both in Scripture and the teaching of the early Church. The first letter of St. Peter—possibly recalling his own walking on water—ties the story of Noah’s ark to Baptism, the sacrament of salvation. Tertullian saw the boat in these Gospel stories as a symbol of the Church:
That little ship did present a figure of the Church, in that she is disquieted in the sea, that is, in the world, by the waves, that is, by persecutions and temptations; the Lord, through patience, sleeping as it were, until, roused in their last extremities by the prayers of the saints, He checks the world, and restores tranquillity to His own.
We often can do very little to change the personal or societal storms that rage about. The country is moving into uncharted waters. The Church has the map, if the powers that be ever want guidance.
Some of us have lived our whole lives on the ship, though we have possibly jumped overboard a few times. Others have come later in life, and know the blessing of embarking upon her, and the void that is the surrounding sea. Yet the cost of sailing on her is serving on a rescue ship: seeking out the lost. We can see those in the dark sea, those who have chosen lesser vessels that have shattered; we can see them and cast out to them salvation from their plight. Even if they curse us, even if they refuse at first, a Christian may not refuse to throw them the raft.
The little battles here and there that arise, amount to no more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic; not the ship of the Church but the Titanic that is the cruise of the promises of the world. That ship is headed towards destruction. It is no time to be fighting over trivialities; lives are at stake. The urgency of the times must not blind us to eternal realities. The ship of the Church sails on whether people want to accept her offer of a saving voyage or not.
Disputes about small matters with those whom we disagree about the foundations of life usually only end up in frustration and unhelpful anger. That’s why conservative religious people need to avoid those battles. The battle worth fighting cuts through the superficial and appeals to the most fundamental desires of each person and human society. The deep abiding joy and ontological happiness that come from a relationship with God need to be communicated by the way the Christian lives his life, the way he talks, even the way he disagrees.
This tension between our vain desire to control the present and see the future, and our attempt to remain faithful was captured by John Henry Newman, homesick for England, on a rough sea voyage. It is a hymn of confidence in the Teacher, whom even the wind and sea obey.
Lead Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom.
Lead thou me on.
The night is dark, and I am far from home.
Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see the distant scene.
One step enough for me.
Dominic Bouck, O.P., is a Dominican brother of the Province of St. Joseph and a summer intern at First Things.