We who keep the Faith, who keep to the laws of the Church and believe everything that the popes have taught, the councils have promulgated, we who do not solicit sacraments from dubitable priests, labor under a terrible burden. We do not have holy orders. We are not members of the hierarchy. We are not teachers and preachers with authority or jurisdiction. What are we, then? What is our place in the Church? How do we exist as members of the Church at all, if, by all accounts and reasoning, the hierarchy is no more? To answer these questions, I propose an ancient metaphor, which at a certain space in the intervals of time was much more than a metaphor.
As you all may know, I am a veteran of the United States Navy. I served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as a photographer and journalist. An aircraft carrier is a floating city. There is a post office, chapel, library, gas station, grocery and convenient store, coffee shop, gyms, even an airport (of course!), a police station and jail, and a newspaper office—which yours truly worked at. Now these places of business are all manned by enlisted sailors, and overseen by commissioned officers—let me say that again, commissioned officers! The metaphor is becoming apparent, no? Okay, well let’s continue.
The head of the ship is the captain. His word is law, and his command is the natural forces directing the energies and activities aboard ship. All the wills of the crew and officers are directed by the captain’s will. From the flight-deck officer directing a helicopter landing to a lowly deck-swabbing petty officer like myself, our wills were that of the captain’s. True, the captain’s will is directed by higher forces still, but that only emphasizes the parallel and metaphor. What metaphor? Oh, yes. I haven’t quite stated it, have I? Well, here we go.
The captain is the pope. The officers are the hierarchy. The enlisted are the laity. What happens, you think, if there were no captain, or, better yet, if the officers mutinied and the captain was killed? What would happen to all the activity aboard ship? What would the enlisted do? Follow the orders of mutineers? Go along to get along? I cannot answer for the moral compass of a boatload of sailors, but I can tell you what I would do. I would do what I am doing now: cry “Mutiny!” and patiently await my execution.
All metaphors limp. I’d say mine hobbles in one important respect. The officers who mutinied would not be on the ship anymore. They would be deep-sixed by their apostasy. Were I to perfect the metaphor, I would have you imagine that all the officers on board were thrown in the brig by the faithful crew who wanted to uphold their oath. Without officers, the operations of the ship would come to a stand still, and the only thing to do would be to cast anchor and await rescue, all the while conducting life-preserving operations, such as cooking, cleaning, and writing newspaper articles.
What you wouldn’t do, if you were a good sailor, is pretend that you could direct flight operations, or pilot jets, or navigate the vessel to safer waters. These are activities proper to officers. Likewise, if you were a good Catholic, you wouldn’t get yourself consecrated, open seminaries, ordain priests, or offer sacraments. These are the proper activities of the hierarchical Church militant, or the commissioned officers. These operations are vital to the mission of the aircraft carrier as well as the Church, but they are not vital to the survival of either! It is not necessary for an enlisted man to pilot a jet, just as it isn’t required of a layman to pretend to be a priest.
So, what exactly is required of us enlisted laymen? Though militaristic operations utilizing the weapons of the sacraments is altogether out of the question, I think God would have us bring aboard the aircraft carrier as many as may be floating about in the waters who are willing to be saved. The warship that is the Church has become a lifeboat as in the time of Noah, and no one needs a commission to throw a life-saver into the sea.