Is the Church a Cruise Ship or a Battleship?

Some years ago, Fr. Patrick Smith, a friend of mine and a priest of this archdiocese, preached a sermon in which he asked if the Church was a clubhouse or a lighthouse.

It seems that many people want the Church just to be a friendly place where people can gather. Many of these same people get angry when the Church shines the light of truth on something. They declare that the Church should just be open and inviting. They object when She is challenging or points to the demands of the gospel.

The Church must be more than just a clubhouse; otherwise, She is no different than a bowling league or the Moose Lodge. She is most certainly meant to be a lighthouse, warning of danger and giving light to those in darkness, but She also must risk that some who are accustomed to the darkness will complain of the Light of Christ She reflects.

It was indeed a fine sermon, and its message is essential and profound. I was mindful of that sermon when I ran across the video below from, which asks if the Church is a cruise ship or a battleship.

Many people surely think of the Church as a cruise ship, existing to provide pleasure and entertainment. “Peel me a grape!” seems to be the attitude that some bring to Church.  The video does a good job making its point by listing the questions often asked when evaluating a luxury cruise ship:

  1. Do I like the music they play in the ballroom?
  2. Do I like the captain and his crew?
  3. Is the service good?
  4. Am I well fed?
  5. Are my needs met promptly?
  6. Is the cruise pleasant?
  7. Am I comfortable?
  8. Do I want to cruise with them again?

Our parishes ought to work very hard to ensure that the faithful are effectively served and are helped to find God. Good sermons, reverent liturgy, good music, a beautiful church building, and dedicated clergy and lay staff are all important. God deserves the very best and so do His people.

However, it the world does not exist merely to please us. No parish we attend will ever be exactly the way we want it. No priest preaches perfectly every Sunday. The choir does not always sing our favorites.

Some people stay away from Church, calling it boring or saying they aren’t being “fed.” But in the end it’s not about you! We go to Mass to worship God because He is worthy, because He deserves our praise, and because He has commanded us to do so. God has something important to say to us whether we want to hear it or not. He directs us to eat His flesh and drink His blood, whether we like it or not. We must eat or else we will die. Holy Mass is about God and what He is saying and doing.

The video goes on to suggest that a better image for the Church is a battleship. I was less impressed with the way they compared the Church and a battleship, so I have added my some of my own questions as well:

  1. Is the ship on a clear and noble mission?
  2. Is the ship able to endure storms at sea?
  3. Does the captain submit to a higher authority?
  4. Are the tactics and moves of the enemy well understood by the crew?
  5. Does the crew have proper training and experience?
  6. Are the crew members equipped to succeed?
  7. Does the crew cooperate with the captain and other leaders?
  8. Are they taught to be disciplined and vigilant?
  9. Are they at their posts?
  10. Do they take the battle seriously?
  11. Does the ship have adequate first aid and medical help?
  12. Is the crew properly able to distinguish lesser threats from greater ones?

Some dislike any military imagery in reference to the faith. One person angrily told me that the Church is not a battleship; She is a fishing vessel. Perhaps, but one image does not preclude another. Pugna spiritalis (spiritual battle) is simply a fact. We are besieged by the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are called to engage the battle and by God’s grace win through to victory.  Our weapons are the Word of God, the teachings of the Church, the Sacraments, and prayer. We cannot win on our own but must work together under the authority of the Church, which is herself under God’s care and authority. We are rooted in the wisdom of tradition and guided by it. A certain pontiff emeritus suggested that the Church is taking on water lately but will not go under because the Lord is sleeping in the back quarters.

The Barque of St. Peter has endured many storms yet has never sunk. She is a sure a steady ship on a clear and noble mission. She is a well-armed battleship, armed with grace and truth.

5 Replies to “Is the Church a Cruise Ship or a Battleship?”

  1. “Does the captain submit to a higher authority?”

    This is the tough one for me. Many to whom I have a duty of obedience are themselves disobedient to those to whom they owe obedience. What am I to do then when I am asked/required to do something that in turn represents a disobedience to a higher authority? This is the quandary that many of us who wish to know how to be a faithful Catholic find ourselves in. How do we submit to the authority of captains who don’t submit to the authority of their superiors?

  2. Those who dislike military imagery in reference to the faith may not remember the three states of the Church: the Church Militant (we on earth who struggle as soldiers of Christ against sin, the devil, and “the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places”); the Church Penitent (those currently in Purgatory); and the Church Triumphant (those who have the beatific vision and are in Heaven).

  3. I can’t help not replying given that a similar name was the original author. As Pope Francis is credited with the metaphor of the Church being a field hospital where we who are sinfully injured seek help, we should also know we can become repaired enough to return to duty, and as I learned from my US Navy days diving under battleships as a deepsea diver, continue the mission regardless of the weaknesses and perhaps differences of the crew and platform. Thus we share commonalities as shipmates to help and pray for each other in the shared mission. Go forth and share the good news as we learn how to properly use the resources of the Church in order to “fight the ship” as is the saying of USNavy Surface Warfare personnel. We fight the Evil One as shipmates and members of the community. Msgr. Pope’s effective leadership as evidenced in the Institute of Catholic Culture is an example of a good Helmsman. Amen!

  4. Home run. And we don’t even have to ask, “where are the lifeboats?”

  5. Do I know anything about my fellow crewmates? Do they know anything about me? Are there any onboard activities where we can all socialize for the overall benefit of the fleet? Or do we just (at best) give an expressionless nod as we board ship and take our stations?

    OK, maybe it’s a bad analogy but this article tries to dismiss the social benefits of parish life as a mere “cruise ship”. Msgr Pope, how many marriages did you perform last year vs. at the start of your priesthood? You’ve written on this topic (although not recently); you KNOW that this is a survival-of-the-church issue. But the Captains are asleep at the wheel. Ooh, that’s a good analogy.

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