As many of you know I served on active duty in the Navy for a number of years and for three of those years aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower, the "IKE", as Catholic chaplain.
With all of the ship's crew and air squadrons aboard, the population of the ship numbered about 5,000 men and women: a veritable "city at sea". The mission? Catch and launch aircraft. In order to accomplish that mission all hands of the ship's company had to be employed in serving the needs of the ship, in protecting the ship. As a member of the ship's company I was expected, just like everyone else, to report to my battle station when necessary following the proper route in the required amount of time and reporting for whatever mission was necessary to defend and protect the ship. My prayers, the Mass, all of my duties as a priest had to be deferred in the event the needs of the ship and her mission required my cooperation in a fire drill, a man overboard drill or a damage control scenario. The contours, the rhythms, all of the aspects of our lives were determined by the needs of the ship because we were on board for that purpose.
Some of you may also know that the Church is sometimes called a "ship": the barque of Peter, so called. This image helps us to situate ourselves in today's Scripture readings which remind us that the world will one day end and God will judge the living and the dead, an article of our Faith which we recite in the Creed at every Mass on the Lord's Day and on other occasions. Faith can be lost because it is a gift freely given which must be freely received. Thus the life of Faith is often described as a battle. We need weapons with which to fight if we are to be successful in the battle for faith and to persevere until the end.
We wage with the Church against the powers of darkness because the Church is the Body of Christ in the world. The world as we know it is passing away. We have tragic reminders of this all the time, including the evil reality of war which we see brewing right now in the Holy Land where Jesus lived, died and rose again. We pray that lovers of peace will prevail in this and in every conflict so that further violence can be averted and lives may be protected from hate, violence and suffering. But self defense is necessary for nations just as for individuals, hence my mission on the IKE together with all my fellow Sailors on board.
"You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever."
In the Church, though in some ways much like a ship as we journey together from here to eternity, we see a different process at work: we do not live in the Church for the sake of the Church but, rather, the Church exists, as the Body of Christ our Savior in the world, for us: for the sake of our eternal salvation. Jesus Christ is at work in His Church through the sacramental life and the order of grace to serve our salvation through forgiveness of sins by speaking to us through the Spirit in the Word proclaimed and giving Himself to us truly and substantially present in the Eucharist. We need only accept the gift of Christ and His mercy in order to prepare with serenity and confidence for that final fateful day when the world will end the Lord will come as judge of the living and the dead.
"... they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and
glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect"
How do we defend ourselves and the gift of Faith in the best way? How can we prepare well and grow in the security that comes with God's mercy and holiness? Devotional love and the pious customs of our Church help us to give ourselves and to live our Faith beyond the minimum, investing ourselves in a deeper and more sincere manner and living our Faith in an intense way so that its power through grace will help us in temptation, in doubt, in weakness.
How much is it worth to save a soul? Every soul, yours and mine, is infinite in worth because every human person is made in God's image and likeness, which includes the gift of an immortal soul. How then do we effectively protect the infinite gift of the soul in cooperation with the gifts of Christ in His Church?
"But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God;
now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool. For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated."
Many of you already pray the Rosary, kneel in prayer before Mass or help to maintain an atmosphere of quiet and recollection so others may do so, as well as other practices. Why are these devotions worth keeping and handing on? Are there others that we can use which will help us? Prayer after Mass in thanksgiving for the gift of the Lord in the Eucharist, arriving early for Mass with time to better mentally and spiritually prepare before Mass begins, following the prayers of the Mass with care and making an attempt to pray along and to sing, bowing profoundly before receiving Communion if we choose to do so standing, dressing appropriately by avoiding use of our most casual clothing, all of these help us to celebrate the Eucharist worthily, attentively and devoutly.
There is no lack of helps for us through our Faith to prepare well for that great day when we will see the Lord Himself "coming on the clouds of heaven". Growing in love now through greater devotion assures us that we will see him look upon us with mercy because we are no longer strangers but His friends and welcomed as such into the heavenly dwelling place He has prepared for us.
"At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book." Let our names be written in the Book of Life because we have been found willing to defend our Faith with courage and to persevere until the end. Amen.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.