Steerage on Peter’s Barque

Since its founding, Christianity has employed imagery to capture the reality of the Church. Consider St. Paul’s reference to the Body of Christ, or subsequent references to the Bride of Christ, the Lord’s flock, or the People of God. One particularly poetic image which can be found in the dusty annals of ecclesiology is that of Peter’s Barque, that ever buoyant vessel carrying God’s people through the perilous seas of time toward the eternal destination of salvation and piloted by the successors of St. Peter. An intriguing question would be: Is there steerage on Peter’s Barque?

A fundamental part of Jesus’ ministry is devoted to coaxing the hearts of his listeners to take an interest in their marginalized, landless, and impoverished sister and brother Jews. Metanoia, or conversion, includes the recognition of our shared responsibility for one another.

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus tells his listeners that the poor will always be with them but that they won’t always have him. The clear implication is that attention to God comes first. It’s no coincidence that the first of the two Great Commandments is to love God. But, in his riveting remarks in Matthew 25 about the judgment at the end of time Jesus is also very clear that what we do or do not do for “the least of these,” the poor, we do or do not do for him. If the poor are always with us and if Jesus identifies with the poor we will always find him among the world’s most disadvantaged. We will always find him through the eyes of compassion.

JustFaith Ministries (www.justfaith.org) offers parishes the opportunity to “experience a spiritual journey into compassion”. Founded in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1989 by Jack Jezreel, its dynamic executive director, JustFaith has developed an impressive array of programs that help parishes become more vital and more life-giving by guiding parishioners into a commitment to social ministry, a ministry based on Catholic social teaching. It is a commitment that arises from personal conversion.

As its website states: “A fundamental part of Jesus’ ministry is devoted to coaxing the hearts of his listeners to take an interest in their marginalized, landless, and impoverished sister and brother Jews. Metanoia, or conversion, includes the recognition of our shared responsibility for one another.” Social ministry is the work of every believer. The programs are effective in changing lives.

In twenty years over 18,000 people have participated in more than 1,000 churches around the country. JustFaith’s effectiveness is enhanced by its partnership with organizations like Catholic Relief Services, the Campaign for Human Development, Bread for the World and the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. Among its many teaching modules, for instance, is one based on the Catholic Bishops’ Environmental Justice Program. Any parish interested in becoming more vital and in transforming the hearts of its members would do well to acquaint itself with this vibrant organization.

There is steerage on Peter’s Barque. Those voyagers occupying the top deck may not at first be aware of their travel companions below or of the less than dignified circumstances under which the latter journey. These first class passengers may be so intent on the joy they anticipate at the end of their “crossing” that they pay no attention to the plight of their fellow travelers. But, something may jolt them out of their obliviousness – perhaps it’s the ennui of the long crossing or the violence of threatening seas – which prompts them to recognize and address the discomfort of their fellow travelers.

Then they begin to experience the joy they thought they wouldn’t know until the end of their journey, the joy of “seeing” and knowing the Lord. They will have learned the lesson St. Lawrence taught the imperial officials in ancient Rome when, ordered to hand over the Church’s treasures, he presented the authorities with an assembly of the poor.

As it advances the Kingdom, Peter’s Barque sails on with its precious cargo.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s a telling image to reclaim at this time as the “barque” finds itself in very troubled waters. This metaphor reminds us first that Peter’s vessel itself has been left, by God’s grace-filled faith in us, to a captain and crew who at this point bear only a vague resemblance to able “seapeople.” To take the metaphor a bit further: since our earliest days God, always true to God’s own commitment to us, has supplied the captain and crew, afloat on this too often stormy sea, with charts and maps and wise navigators to advise us. One such chart would seem to have been the Second Vatican Council. While certainly short on particulars, these documents provide clear indicators for landmarks to look for along the way. It would seem that much of our trouble is that those at the helm of Peter’s bark have decided to throw those charts overboard. They prefer the old charts.

    That is not wise and will likely (God forbid) land us on more rocks until we take out once again those precious “charts” that will see us safely home.

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