19th Sunday A
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
13th August 2023
“The Barque of Peter”
The symbol of the ship with St. Peter at the helm has often been used to give us a sense of the Church as a people sailing the ocean of life under the sure guidance of (St.) Peter, the Fisherman to whom the Lord Jesus entrusted the task. So Peter is deemed to be the first pope and all who have followed him have inherited the task of leadership of the Church. We still speak of the Pope, Pope Francis, as exercising the Petrine Ministry, the servant of the servants of God. And so, the Church has often been referred to as the “Barque of Peter”.
To-day ‘s Gospel begins “Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side, while he would send the crowds away”. After taking some time for prayer the apostles were out on the lake in turbulent waters when they encountered Jesus in their fear
“Courage it is I. Do not be afraid”
Then Peter, ever the bold one accepts the invitation of Jesus to come to him across the water. We know he got frightened and began to sink Jesus heard his cry to “Save him” – “Man of letter faith, why did you doubt?”
That image / symbol of the Church as a ship at sea in turbulent, choppy waters is a deeply rich symbol of the Christian life. To-day where confusion, doubt, pride and self-absorption can take possession of our minds so easily, and blow us off track in the rip tides of doubt about the presence of God to us and to the world. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. The minds and hearts of many especially young people can be seized by anxiety and fear like Peter but unlike him remain unsure who to call out to in their need.
‘When love conquers fear’ is a phrase you might recall. It has its roots in the Letters of St. John – the realisation that, in Christ Jesus Our Lord, we have an assurance that fear will never have the last word. Across the centuries, despite its sinfulness, the Church has been the voice of that love especially in our individual experience of God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is easy for critics of the Church to castigate it for its failures – because they are so many. “Sin darkened the life … of the Church – my sin and the sin of others” (Sr. Catherine of Siena) But it calls for humility and magnanimity to accept that in the fragile minds and bodies of sincere believers, great goodness abounds – a good that’s a reflection of God’s providence to each of us.
In many parts of the world the Catholic Church is on its knees as it copes with diminishment and criticism. Yet in so many other corners of the world that same Church serves as a spark of hope and justice for the meek of the earth.
So my friends, though we may sail in turbulent waters we are sure in hope and in our destiny. Whereby the words of Jesus to Peter in his fear are also spoken to me and to you to-day.
“Courage, it is I. Do not be afraid”.