Wellington city is often defined by reference to its harbour – and rightly so!  Every day this spread of water presents us with a different colour or mood as wind or rain disturbs the surface.  The sea sparkles in sunlight and takes up a sombre tone on cloudy days.  The harbour influences the life of the city in quite spectacular ways.

Given this influence, and the fact that we are a nation isolated by and dependent on the sea, it’s appropriate that we pause in our worship to remember and pray for seafarers and others who make their living from the sea.  Theirs is often a lonely and dangerous life, the vastness of the sea unpredictable in its temper, exposed and vulnerable to nature’s wiles and mysteries.

Sound carries across water and Jesus often preached from a fishing boat off the shore of Lake Galilee.  Perhaps his reassuring words in today’s Gospel that we would find rest and peace in his company, were first heard across the “gentle and humble” lapping of the water playing with the shore!  Many of the apostles were fishermen, and a fish became an early symbol of Eucharist.  So, it’s not surprising that the Church has been described as a ship, with Peter as the helmsman.

The image hit home hard this week as the ugly spectre of child abuse by clergy raised its head again.  Australia’s Cardinal George Pell is returning from Rome to face historical abuse charges and the barque of Peter finds itself in stormy waters.  As Catholics we are stunned and embarrassed by this news.  Hurt and anger may cause some to leave the ship; others might question whether the Church is the Titanic and how big is the iceberg we’ve just hit.

No matter the outcome, our ship will have to ride out some heavy seas before it comes in sight of a safe harbour.  We must pray sincerely for our helmsman, Pope Francis, that he will continue to stand resolutely against the wind of criticism and unfaithfulness.  We need to look carefully at our own position: am I helping to steady the boat or is my attitude contributing to its instability?  Do I have a sailor’s pride in our ship, or am I half-hearted, not fully committed?

Statistically, the Church is not the worst offender in the world-wide sex abuse scandal, but the Church is a huge promoter and defender of moral values making her fall from grace the more terrible.  Even the hint of immoral behaviour in the Church, true or false, harms and scars the body of Christ.

It’s the pattern of every life that tragedy and disappointment, heartbreak and loss weave their way into excitement and gladness, contentment and success.  Our human ups and downs closely resemble the playful and dangerous ways of the sea.  The expression “making waves” indicates our ability to cause trouble can be very deliberate.  The sea is merciless to the foolish.

Rejoice, heart and soul…Shout with gladness – This is the cry of Zechariah in the face of hardship and opposition.  It’s our first reading today and echoes the constant theme of Jesus not to be afraid, not to lose confidence in him.  We stumble and fall; our humanity is prone to weakness, even betrayal.  But the victory is assured if we follow the way of the Spirit of God living in us [2nd Reading].

Today we pray for seafarers, for their protection from stormy seas and human exploitation.  And we pray for ourselves as people of faith and hope, travelling the sea of life in the ship of Peter: heal our wounds merciful God; keep us sea-worthy, help us find rest for our souls.