Saturday, September 17, 2005

Natural disaster and a distracted Church

An ancient tradition of the Faith holds the Church to be a type of rescue vessel. Pope Boniface VIII described the Ark of Noah as a prophetic symbol of the Church, each vessel adrift in an endless sea as a sign and offer of rescue for souls floundering in the chaos. As early as the second century, Tertullian writes of the Church as navis, as ship. This tradition lies behind the name of the space in which we worship: the Nave. The Church can well be understood as a ship of salvation, driven by the windy motion of the Spirit of God, and propelled by the collective energy of all in it steadily pulling their weight. It’s an inspiring image. But the practical reality of a close fit aboard even as noble a vessel as the Church would lead to problems, and this seems to have been on Jesus’ mind.

‘If your brother, your sister, a member of your family in the Faith, a kindred in Christ should wrong you, then there is a way to handle this.’ And though few take time to notice, there is a first condition that must be met before one person may address the sin of another. The ‘sinful behavior ’ must be directed at the person who claims the status of one offended. It’s worth considering how much discord in the Church might be laid to rest if this qualifier were applied. But supposing an offense truly exists, then step after tedious step is to follow. And if resolution still proves elusive, the offended party is then simply be done with the offender if need be, and move on. All this said, and in order to adhere strictly to the text, we should note that when Jesus says, ‘if your brother,’ the ‘you’ is singular. There is nothing in this prescription that calls for a collective dismissal of a supposed offender. It is a personal, even intimate, process. And it is ponderously slow. It imposes patience. One wonders if perhaps Jesus intends the tedium to bring perspective in order to challenge his followers not to indulge in being too-easily offended; and perhaps to discover a better way.