Steering the Ship
Trinity Sunday reminds me that my faith is not my own.
Sure, it is my own in the sense that the Spirit has worked in me a saving trust in Jesus Christ. But the substance of that faith - Scriptures, creeds, catechism, confessions - these are not mine. They were gifted to me. Preserved for me. Even defended for me. They only become mine because they were first passed on by someone else.
Ever since the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has entrusted my faith into the hands of faithful men and women - men and women who knew that by preserving the one, holy, catholic faith, they were serving not just themselves, but generations to come.
This was not and is not easy work. My faith is a faith that was passed down through emperor- mandated persecutions, crumbling empires, famines, plagues, and foreign invasions. It has overcome heresies and false teachers, as well as divisions and seasons of slumber. It has weathered ideologies, philosophies, and fads, and still come out clarified rather than compromised. It has even survived the multiple premature pronouncements of its death. As G.K Chesterton once quipped:
"At least five times, therefore, with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist skeptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died."
What stood behind the survival of the faith in each of these historical obstacles? Always ordinary, faithful people. From saints like Athanasius, who defended the divinity of Christ, to the grandmothers in the Soviet Union who whispered forbidden words of Christ in their grandchildren's ears - all of these people have played a role in handing down the faith.
On Trinity Sunday, I'm thankful for the prophets and the apostles who penned the Spirit-breathed words we read from lecterns and preach from pulpits each Sunday.
I'm thankful for the creeds we recite - even the really long one - and the unity I share with those who wrote them and those who share in them with me.
I'm deeply grateful for my parents, for my pastors, for my professors, and for my friends, who have all played a role in passing on the faith to me.
But on Trinity Sunday, I'm also reminded of a sobering thought. As a pastor, the church that I serve today will be the church that my children inherit tomorrow. The field that I labor in today will be the field that later servants apply the plow and sickle. The church has always lived in strange times, but these times seem oddly stranger. We're called to steer the ship of Christ's church through choppy waters, and choppy waters seem to be on the horizon. So, on Trinity Sunday, along with a prayer of thanksgiving for the faithful before me, I also pray a prayer of humility - that God would make us faithful with what lies ahead.
I'm reminded of these words, written long before me, penned by ancient hands that also steered the ship on troubling waters:
In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life's different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course.
The ancient fathers showed us how we should carry out this duty: Clement, Cornelius, and many others in the city of Rome, Cyprian at Carthage, Athanasius at Alexandria. They all lived under emperors who were pagans; they all steered Christ's ship - or rather his most dear spouse, the Church. This they did by teaching and defending her, by their labors and sufferings, even to the shedding of blood.
I am terrified when I think of all this. Fear and trembling came upon me and the darkness of my sins almost covered me. I would gladly give up the task of guiding the Church which I have accepted if I could find such an action warranted by the example of the fathers or by Holy Scripture.
Since this is the case, and since the truth can be assaulted but never defeated or falsified, with out tired mind let us turn to the words of Solomon: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely in your own prudence. Think on him in all your ways, and he will guide your steps. In another place he says: The name of the Lord is an impregnable tower. The just man seeks refuge in it and he will be saved.
Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. Let us wait upon God's strengthening aid and say to him: O Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations.
Let us trust in him who has placed this burden upon us. What we ourselves cannot bear let us bear with the help of Christ. For he is all-powerful and he tells us: My yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Let us continue the fight on the day of the Lord. The days of anguish and tribulation have overtaken us; if God so wills, let us die for the holy laws of our fathers, so that we may enter into eternal inheritance with them.
Let us neither be dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead, let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ's flock. Let us preach the whole of God's plan to the powerful and to the humble, to the rich and to the poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season...
Boniface, Letter 78 (from volume IV of "For All the Saints")