Windows of Salvation – Noah’s Ark
While last week’s windows may not have been immediately recognizable (the altars of Cain and Abel), today’s definitely is: it’s Noah’s Ark! The story of Noah, the ark, and all the animals (except the unicorns and dinosaurs) is one of the most memorable stories that most of us have from childhood. I remember going to my grandmother’s house and playing with a plastic ark with little animal figures that would fit inside the ark. Even today, there’s great nostalgia connected to Noah’s Ark, with movies like Evan Almighty, or of course, the old Noah’s Ark Restaurant in St. Charles, Missouri! (RIP)
Because it’s often part of our childhood, it’s easy to look upon the story of Noah and the Ark as a fairytale and forget that it’s an important part of the Old Testament. How “real” was Noah’s Ark? Why is it important to us today?
There are varying degrees of people’s belief in the story. Some people will say that it never happened, and is a legend used to explain part of the faith. Others will point to other “flood stories” like the Babylonian Epic of Gilgameshas evidence that there was a great flood. Others will say that geological evidence of melting glaciers near the Black Sea could have ruptured giant ice dams and caused huge, widespread flooding throughout the region. There are even those who are still looking for the Ark itself, even claiming Mount Ararat in Turkey as its final resting place. What are we as Catholics to believe?
Our Church doesn’t prohibit interpretations of the story that include a worldwide flood, but neither does the Church require us to believe a literal interpretation. Pope Pius XII wrote as much in his encyclical Humani Generis, when he pointed out that the Book of Genesis states both “the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people.” In other words, whether our interpretation is literal or not, the most important part of these stories is that they communicate the truth of God’s attitude toward sin, as well as his mercy and redemption.
Noah’s Ark also makes an appearance in our baptismal rite. We see in Genesis that flood cleansed the earth from wickedness and sin, recreating it fresh and new and establishing a new covenant with God’s people. The same happens in the sacrament of baptism! Through the floods of the waters of baptism, God cleanses us, wiping away that wickedness of Original Sin, while at the same time recreating us as his beloved sons and daughters. So really, that childhood story of Noah’s Ark should remind us of our own story, which was begun at our baptism!
Lord God, even when we feel despair because of our personal sinfulness and weakness, help us to cling to you and the promise you have made to us, to recreate us anew as your beloved children.