By Denise Trull
I always think of two things when I read Noah's story in the Old Testament. That he was obediently building an ark in a desert place, and that his family helped and entered the ark with him.
The image of the Catholic Church as an ark has always been one of my favorites. The Church as a whole, sailing slowly and majestically through the turbulence of every age -- unperturbed, rudder ever steering to the east, tradition keeping her on course. We have known, with the certainty of faith, a comforting protection within this ark even as the waves threaten to send her dangerously teetering one way or the other, like Chesterton’s careening chariot that ever rights itself. It is sometimes a wild and frightening ride to be sure, but it carries the promise that all will be well even as we pitch and toss within. We are safe dwelling in this barque whose destination is ever and always Heaven, and Home.
This year I was struck by a different thought, though: there is an ark of smaller scale, which is no less important; and that ark is the Domestic Church we each build with our particular families.
I don’t think we realize how humiliating it might have been for Noah to be making a massive boat...in a desert. I am sure he drew a crowd. I am sure that crowd had many things to say, as crowds always seem to do. Perhaps there was laughter at poor Noah’s expense. Did people think he was out of his mind listening to voices which asked such things of him? Were his children embarrassed? Was his wife accosted by other ‘concerned’ women in the community and told that maybe she should face the facts and walk away from something so strange and demanding of her time -- maybe do something more fulfilling -- no one would blame her. She would rue the day she threw in her lot and her children’s with this idea, and, really, did she even hear the voice of God with her own ears? No. She had to simply believe Noah and she did. She stayed. His sons and their wives remained as well. And they all hammered, sawed, and nailed together even as the neighbors laughed. A boat in the desert.
As Domestic Churches, are we not the same? Building boats in the desert? We make crazy decisions in the eyes of the world. We have large families and call them a blessing. We may choose to home school our children, or sacrifice that big screen TV in order to save for a Catholic education. We don't allow certain games, watch certain shows, or maybe even have the latest in anything stylish. Our dining room table is covered in saint books. We have statues of a Man with a heart on His chest, we wait patiently for Christmas even as we walk through garish, tinsel-tired stores to buy our soap and toilet paper, keeping our eyes ever fixed on Advent though the world tries desperately to hawk its wares in our face and deter us from our purpose. We don’t eat meat on Fridays. We get up early and trudge up to that old Church that the world points out pragmatically is half empty -- and why do we bother with old, musty traditions, anyway? They are dying out, anyone can see that. But we quietly fill our pew with the faithfulness God has given us, no matter what the world sees or hears. We believe in the strength of remnants -- that God will do unto them a mighty thing, even if they be small. We guard our children like tigers from anything that could hurt their innocence. We break out a strange string of beads on a bus, or in the park as we walk, whenever and wherever anyone needs our prayers. We get the looks, the stares, the roll of eyes. We work to end the quick, worldly ‘fix’ of abortion and stand up for the glory of each and every child of God, and the dignity of their mothers.
And the world asks why? Why are we so weird? We are building boats in the desert. They shake their heads and ask: why so many kids? How will you educate them all? How will you pay for it all? What's with the statues and holy pictures in your house? And that old car? You actually believe in all that religious stuff?
And we just keep on hammering out our salvation, and smiling, and waving. We build this ark together. Husbands asked to lead and protect their families, wives asked to trust and believe that all will be well as they take their husband’s hand in their own, our children asked to learn the traditions we teach, and not to forget them.
When our children are small, we are all safely together in our ark when the floods come. The dashing waves of wars, hate, death, sickness, sadness, overwhelming despair at the emptiness of riches running through our fingers, lost even by one bad business deal. Sometimes the world will see and admit that we have something special to protect us from the waves of life that buffet them unmercifully. They will sometimes watch our ark rolling gently on the very same waves that crash into their own lives and leave them reeling and half-drowned with no hope. And they wonder at us. Some of them might begin to reach for wood of their own. We lend them our tools.
In our domestic arks we protect our children, we prepare them, we teach, we worry, we shield, we hold them close. But there comes a time when our own ark must come to rest on Ararat. We find our children are grown now and they exit our ark. They in turn will go out now into the world and begin to build their own arks in the desert. We give them our blueprints and our prayers and our blessing.
And thus is the whole Church is built up in love, with all these little domestic arks floating like a fleet -- rolling safely along together on the sea of the world, even to the end of time.