During the summer of 2019, I served as one of the Totus Tuus teams for my diocese. In the morning, my team would teach younger children about the faith, praying the Rosary together, playing games together, diving into deep theological discussion with third graders. And then after dinner and prayer as a team, we’d teach the teenagers. Those were days full of work and full of prayer and full of grace, a total self giving, a total emptying. Totally the Lord’s, through the hands of our Blessed Mother.
My favorite part of the day was Mass prep, where right before the Mass, we’d explain to the kids the parts of the church building, why they’re called what they are, and what that means to our life of faith. It was a moment for dwelling on the stories that link past events—like the Israelites receiving manna in the desert—to the present reality, our own preparation to receive the True Manna, the Bread of Angels, Our Lord Himself in the Eucharist.
While teaching Mass prep, we would pull from images depicted in the stained glass of whichever church we’d been sent to that week, trying to anchor the space we worship in to the truth of Him Whom we worship.
The part of Mass prep I still think about nearly every day, every time I step into a church building, is one of the most basic parts of the lesson. The body of the church is called the nave, reminiscent of the term “naval,” which should remind us of a ship. And the nave, the ship, is oriented toward the sanctuary, where Our Lord becomes present on the altar, where (in most churches) He is dwells in the tabernacle.
Our true sanctuary is heaven, and the sanctuary in every Catholic church building is where heaven meets earth, where the King of Heaven comes down to earth to be with us, to dwell among us.
Heaven is the aim toward which we’re journeying. The world is our ship, not our home.
One of the lessons God likes to continually work at teaching me is detachment. It’s hard to pass through this world without picking up burdens, and some of those things we acquire on the journey are actually necessary for us to live—clothing, money, food. But the tricky thing is to continually examine whether we’re using the gifts God has given us for their intended purpose, or are we becoming overly attached?
To continue with the image of a ship, what are we anchored to? If we throw our anchor out expecting it to cling to loose seaweed, we’ll find ourselves drifting without much direction.
Our Lord is the Rock to whom we should cling. He is our hope. He is the only thing that should stop our ship, the only reliable grounding to allow us a place to rest on our course toward heaven.
Preparing for the Voyage
There’s this tension sometimes between comfort and discipleship. At Passover, God commanded the Israelites to eat their meal prepared to take flight, prepared to embark on a journey, prepared to be sent out. This is how we should approach our life on this ship.
We don’t know when it will be our time to disembark, but we must be prepared to enter that safe harbor when it comes.
I may be getting ahead of myself, since our theme for the better part of October and November deals with death and examining our lives, but the start of Pumpkin Spice Latte Season is as good a time as any to remember this one fact: we will die. Every person we meet is going to die one day and come face to face with God, with no longer any veil between Him and us.
If we try to take along with us extra baggage Our Lord never asked us to carry, we’ll only weigh down the boat. If we try to take it along with us to shore, we may find we’re not prepared to enter the safe harbor for which we’ve longed.
I’ve often heard those who sell all their possessions and enter into a religious community speak of the freedom in letting go of every worldly possession and embracing only God. Of course, most of us aren’t called to that extreme poverty. But we are all called, in some degree, to share in that freedom, to let go at least emotionally to those things we may be tempted to cling to.
The burdens a ship carries weigh it down and make it move more slowly through the waters. If we cast off those things we don’t need, if we only keep what is necessary to make our voyage, then we can be free to sail full speed ahead into the waiting arms of our loving Lord.
The world is our ship, not our home. So how will we spend this time of our voyage? How will we prepare to reach our final home? How will we anchor ourselves to the Rock, our Refuge, our True Sanctuary?