Unity. Isn’t that something we should all desire as the Body of Christ? It is one of Jesus’s most poignant prayers spoken in the book of John: “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me”. We are not only called to pray for unity, but also to pursue it.
Traditionally, Easter Vigil is a Mass of trumpet-blaring celebration. Not only are we celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but we are also celebrating a resurrection of another sort — the conversion of newly baptized and confirmed Catholics. So, what do new converts have to do with Church unity?
When one hears the call to become Catholic, the first response is not typically one of great excitement. It can commonly be one filled with angst, fear, embarrassment, doubt, confusion, and even anger. As time carries on, church convictions can grow into a stage of conversion full of zeal — I am talking about the zeal that may smack non-Catholics with much offense. During my own conversion, I was accused of being in the cage-stage. In other words, I should’ve been caged up for this stage of an uncontrollable need and extreme desire to talk all things Catholic. Like most excited converts, my zeal mostly came from a deep, heart-wrenching desire to share the faith with our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that we might all experience the beautiful and mystical reality of the historically orthodox one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Just knowing that we could be part of and worship as the early church did is something many believers already long for and we should share this with those seekers. If we love someone, we should absolutely and unabashedly desire them to have the fullness of faith.
As many Catholic converts are seen as having lost their faith or their ecclesial sanity, I am guessing many in Noah’s day thought he was crazy also. Noah, being called to unity and safety by building and entering into the one barque of salvation, despite the doubters, did just that. This man of great faith followed God’s command:
“And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it’:…” Genesis 6:13-15a
Through this covenant between God and Noah, the barque of salvation was built and mankind was saved. Everyone else perished. Noah couldn’t force anyone, proselytize, or guilt them in. He spoke the truth, followed his conscience, and lived out his own example of obedience.
The Church Fathers have always seen Noah’s Ark as a prefigurement of the Church. Salvation by wood and water, the dimensions and the shape of the ark, the window above, all the way down to the detail of it being God who closed the door of the ark: we see both signs of the once and for all sacrifice and also the incarnate Sacraments to come. This 2014 article, written by Stephen Beale is a succinct look at 10 of these fascinating arguments. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also illuminates this unity and prefigurement type seen in Noah’s Ark:
“To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.”Catechism of the Catholic Church, 845
I love the allegorical context of the story of the Ark. The imagery of a large ship handling each and every wave of the raging waters. She never gets capsized, and all that are tucked inside her hull are the sole survivors of the storm. I bet it got stinky in there with all the wildlife, yet, they were saved. This is exactly what the Church is for us — all of us: our safety in the storm. Our Home. Our ship of salvation.
As confirmed Catholics, with hearts aching for unity amongst all of our “separated brothers and sisters”, we must do as Noah. Regardless if others think we are crazy, or even if another’s strongly negative reaction gives us fear, we are to hear God’s call, say yes to that call, and then persevere in obedience. No zealous arm-twisting. No dragging others into the belly of the boat. Just lead by example and with love. Then and only then, can we joyfully proclaim hope for unity in the Body of Christ, the Catholic Church.
To all those who faithfully walked into the ark this Easter, welcome home.