Saturday, September 24, 2011

Batten Down the Hatches

Being a catechist to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders is proving to be a challenge. They are attentive, but lacking a strong Catholic foundation. I am concerned that many of them will likely abandon the Catholic Faith at some point. Some of their parents have already done so. We are following a good Catholic text book appropriate for their grade level, but I sense a major disconnect between spirituality and their everyday lives. I have talked to them about praying every morning and evening and at other times in between. I have talked to them about reverent behavior in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. They listen, but I have yet to sense any change.

I suspect they view the Catholic Church as just one of many denominations, one that many consider old-fashioned, boring and impossible to understand. I want them to know that the Catholic Church is THE Church and the others are knockoffs. I mean no disrespect in using that term. Sometimes knockoffs can look more attractive than the originals, but we should not be fooled. In what might be considered an act of desperation, I have tried to impress upon them how fortunate they are to be Catholic. If they get nothing else out of this class, perhaps I can convince them that the safest place to be if you want to get to heaven is in the Catholic Church. I told them the following story.

Imagine a huge ship crossing the ocean sailing toward its home port. Onboard is a captain and crew along with thousands of passengers. For a while, everything is fine on the ship. Despite the long voyage, passengers are patiently content to know they will reach their destination safely. But after a time, some of those onboard grow restless. They begin to murmur about certain conditions on the ship. Some do not like taking orders from the captain. Others complain that they are not being fed properly. Still others think they should not have to do any work.

One night, some of the protestors decided to leave the ship and set sail on their own. They commandeered materials and supplies from the ship’s hull and loaded them into a lifeboat. When they got everything they thought they needed, they boarded the lifeboat and cut themselves loose from the ship. At last, they were free of having to follow the orders of the captain and crew. By dawn, they had drifted some distance from the ship, but could still be heard singing merrily of their newfound freedom.

Everything was good on the lifeboat until it came time to divvy up chores. Disputes arose among those onboard, only this time, there was no one with the authority to resolve them. The biggest and loudest got their way and others became disgruntled. One night, the malcontents fashioned a raft from materials in the lifeboat, loaded it with necessities and broke away. A few took life preservers and actually set out by themselves.

All were doing okay until they encountered rough seas. The sky darkened as an approaching storm took aim on the homebound vessels. The huge ship battened down the hatches and maintained full speed ahead. Those safely inside were barely aware of the storm as the massive ship held its course. Some who chose to ignore the captain’s warning stayed on deck, and were swept overboard and lost.

Those in the lifeboat held on for dear life as the vessel yawed in the heavy seas. As they were tossed about, some lost their grip and were thrust overboard. Others managed to hang on until calmer waters prevailed. Very few of the raft dwellers survived and no one knows what happened to the others.

The Catholic Church is like that huge ship. Jesus commissioned the ship and gave authority to its captain and crew. He promised us that rough seas would not prevail against his ship. For a very long time, that ship was the only vessel. Much later, some did not like what they captain and crew were doing and rather than help fix the problems, they elected to jump ship. In doing so, they had to leave the sacraments behind. Now they are bobbing along in rough seas without a captain to lead them safely. They claim they have everything they need to survive, but do they? And where did they get it? Everything they have came from the ship. If they do not trust in the captain and crew, how do they know what came from the ship is trustworthy?

How fortunate we all are to be Catholic! We do not need to worry about being in peril if we stay onboard. Today, many swimmers are trying desperately to get back on the ship. We are already there. All we have to do is listen to what the captain is telling us. He speaks in our best interest. Those who remain firm will arrive safely. We pray that others may too. We would joyfully welcome them aboard.