The Bishop’s encapsulated advice to the Cadets at the US Naval Academy in his address Called Into The Depths?
Bishop Robert Barron’s brilliant address to the Navy Cadets serves both as metaphor and method for the upcoming forty days known as the Great Fast by our Byzantine Catholic friends.
In case you are not familiar with the auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, here are a few facts about this unusually gifted man. Fluent in four other languages than English, German, French, Spanish and Latin, Fr. Robert Barron wrote his master’s thesis on the political philosophy of Karl Marx.
His is the mind of a scholar: unafraid of delving deep into the mind of opposing doctrine. Rare at any time but especially our own. A mind which equips this adroit man to venture into unusual- maybe even enemy-territory. Like the Amazon headquarters on Arguing Religion. And then there was Religion and Opening the Mind, a talk given at Google.
He is, of course, a Roman Catholic Bishop. But the ease with which he dives into controversial, and polemical subjects makes him something more. Much more.
Fittingly, the context of this address to the US Naval Academy is the sea, Called Into the Depths. Barron organizes his address around two famous old testament sailors, Noah and Jonah, and the Master of the seas and all of creation: Jesus.
He begins by explaining what the sea represented to the ancient people: Tohuvavohu or the Hebrew term for confusion, emptiness, and/or chaos:
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.Genesis1:2
It’s a splendid word for the awfulness of desperate illness, loss, betrayal, unexpected death and all the horrors implicit in each of our lives, isn’t it? Tohuvavohu.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God…I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them…So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out…
Is this story just allegory? Bishop Barron rhetorically asks his listeners:
NO, he almost shouts and proceeds to discourse on the urgency with which me must listen to the Higher Voice. Of the reality of its existence.
Each of us knows what he means with the statement, “Listen to the Higher Voice.” It’s the whisper we hear about doing what we know is right. Like leaving our contact info on the car we mistakenly backed into, or telling our boyfriend that going for an abortion is wrong…that we cannot do it, or dating the really good-looking married guy who has been coming on to us at work.
” they can never figure out who backed into them, or “I cannot have a baby right now” or “his wife will never find out,” we lower not just ourselves, but all of humanity. Barron points out what making an ark means: pitch on inside and pitch on outside. If not made correctly we sink down into the depths…Tohuvavohu. The analogy to our souls is made crystal clear.
But are there consequences to making yourself an ark? You betcha!
We can readily imagine how weird Noah looked while building his ark in the middle of the desert. How people laughed, probably attacked him. As some do us when we pray in front of Planned Parenthood.
Peering at his audience of twenty-something-year-olds, Barron issues an evangelical challenge because, he declares soberly, 40% of those under 40 claim no affiliation with religion.
Never are we called only for ourselves. We know Jonah’s tale well. To some it is the stuff of kids summer Bible camp. Surely not relevant to 2021 or to our individual selves. But to the founder of Word on Fire Ministries, the story of Jonah is your story, his story and mine. On-going and personal.
Jonah was sent alone into the capital city of Assyria: Ninevah. To the Jew, Assyria was enemy territory
Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.
The reluctant prophet lives out- in the delicious prose of Bishop Barron, our egodrama or theodrama.
Will we follow our will or the will of God?
Will we dare become the person we were created to be?
Or will we live someone else’s life, safe in the basement of a three story house?
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”Gospel of Mark
These men were fishermen. To fear drowning had to mean that the waves were humungous. And yet, Jesus slept…on a cushion.
Or better yet, listen yourself to this splendid address.