British ocean liner titles always begin with the prefix HMS: Her Majesty’s Ship—or now, His Majesty’s Ship. In a very real sense, we might also envision the Church as His Majesty’s ship (with apologies to those who prefer inclusive language.) God is Sovereign, and the Church belongs to God, even as it sails under the direction of human captain, operating at the direction of Jesus Christ, and officers.
Bishop David J. Bonnar, writing for The Priest, sets this image in the context of Scripture, recalling how Jesus invites his disciples to “put out into deep water” in Luke 5:4. Explaining how these words give credence to the image, Bishop Bonnar goes on, “Given the size and complexity of the Church body, not to mention the deep and mysterious waters she finds herself in, The Church might be best described as a ship (emphasis mine).
While not the whole Church, the eyes of the world Church were focused on Pope Francis and the over 1.5 million Catholics at World Youth Day last week—making their way through those “deep and mysterious,” and sometimes rough waters. Now, it also seems appropriate to describe the sizeable wake left by that ship, fanning its way out in the typical vee pattern of wakes.
One vee of the wake has to be the powerful witness this mammoth gathering in the name of Christ had to make on the world. You or I can witness to the truth of the Gospel in our own setting; Bishop Barron can reach many through his Word on Fire; but World Youth Day makes it into the secular media. It can’t be ignored. We don’t know what impact the clergy and laity who attended will have when they return to their own countries, but at least some will feel the call to priesthood, religious life, or a more dedicated ministry as lay Catholics.
The other side of the vee featured some less positively moved by WYD—either critical of Pope Francis or finding fault with the liturgies. Like the waters of the ocean, where the wake of a ship simply stirs up whatever is already there, bringing attention to them, so this other side of the WYD wake brings attention to controversies already churning in the waters we cruise in. One can hope that this side also can lead to better understanding, as complaints are exposed to the actual events “on board” the time in Lisbon, and clarified by wise teachers back home, who can sort out the truth from fearful miasmas. One such teacher I often seek out is the Faith and Theology podcast from Michael Lofton, who sorts out orthodox teaching from confusion on either the right or the left.
Thanks to technology, we are not stuck with examining the contents of the wake of this great event, but can go back with You Tube or Vatican TV to see with our own eyes the unfolding of this, in many ways, magisterial event in our Church. It was magisterial in the sense that we saw there in the Pope, cardinals and bishops, along with priests, a good portion of the teaching authority of the Church, and saw teaching in progress, with, for English speakers, Bishop Barron as just one example.. Others have taken on the task of further extending those teachings for listeners and viewers who could not be on the scene. We saw the Church at prayer in adoration, and the Church at worship with outstanding liturgies involving over a million worshippers from all over the world. We heard the Church’s music, saw its colors.
Who can be discouraged when we see here one of the largest of all the World Youth Days, rivaling the first one, at Czestochowa in 1991 and almost doubling the size of the 1993 WYD in Denver? Let us hope that the witness of this event can shake up the complacent, heat up the luke-warm, and wise up the confused of our English-speaking world to go forth echoing the good news of Jesus Christ!