The Voyage of the SS Catholic

This poem is an allegorical reflection on my feelings of where the Catholic Church is today…

Mayday! The sailing ship Catholic has run aground,

After stormy passage through the Straits of Modernity.

Many on deck and those ashore think she’s done for.

What odds she’ll ever reach home port at Eternity?


An old hulk by this day and age, far travelled indeed;

Barnacled with centuries’ worth of dogma and ritual.

She excites admiration and detestation in equal part,

And even some crew question her continued survival.


Her mission: to carry His Gospel to a needful world.

She has touched many lands, and, as many will attest,

She has freighted pearls of wisdom and ferried hope,

But what dreadful rats have infested her manifest?


In her long history she has carried guns and soldiers,

Often fighting bloody wars with a righteous passion,

And struggled to remember her Owner’s command:

That she only sail trimmed for love and compassion.


Over two millennia’s span, she has sought to fill

Her holds with a rich cargo of faith and tradition,

And she has been steered by many great captains,

Bringing priceless cultural and material accretion.


Few vessels can match her size and displacement,

And although known across all the world’s oceans,

She is still a mystery to many, especially to those

Who prefer to navigate by purely secular notions.


How then did she manage to veer so far off tack?

Did the shifting sands of time confuse her course?

Perhaps a refit in the 1960’s was left incomplete,

And many deserting hands left her much the worse?


Did her officers sleep through a long voyage of abuse,

Failing to maintain firm discipline among the seamen?

Things long hidden under deck now exposed to view,

After international examen of her on-board regimen.


Rumours of irregularities within her ancient coffers,

And divers scandals afflicting those upon her bridge,

Together with a perceived moral hard line, have left

Even faithful crew despairing of reaching anchorage.


Now awash upon the Rocks of Scandal and Outrage,

Onlookers think she will break up with the swell.

Some fear a great disaster, while others yet rejoice:

Good riddance, and how fitting – scuttle her to hell!


Many believe the Owner has chartered newer ships,

And her time is long past done; how tempting then

To jump across to faster, sleeker vessels, and set sail,

Unencumbered, to better evangelise yet more men.


As I stand upon the deck, should I too abandon ship?

I am with Peter: to whom should I go? This old boat

Yet carries the sacramental payload that brings Life,

And I own a duty of witnessing to keep her afloat.


But I share anger in what has been done in her name:

Especially how women have travelled in second class.

Yet the women who still sail with her, with the elders,

Are her engine, never in His mind to be an underclass.


How then can she ever rise from off this jagged rock?

By jettisoning the ballast of hypocrisy and arrogance,

And rising on a huge swell of meekness and contrition,

To set course for the Port of Metanoia and due penance.


This huge craft must take care not to swamp other boats

With her mighty and all too often triumphalist wake;

Slower to steam into unknown waters with dogmatic

Certainty, preferring to proceed with humility’s brake.


A new captain, Francis, may yet set her compass fair:

To be a leaner, lighter, love-rigged vessel, that steers

For an horizon of pastoral involvement, while staying

Faithful to a vision that looks far beyond earth years.


The new man at the Vatican will surely do what he can.

Let those who wear the uniform of the Holy Spirit Line

Stay wide awake on their watch by prayer and fasting,

And being a lifeline to those who struggle in the brine.


For she sails to an eternal shore – no earthly harbour.

A servant and a service to that Kingdom which cannot

Be reached by purchase, patronage, or by graft alone.

A radical refit at Metanoia may help to stem the rot.


I love that old tub, but with an honest love that refuses

To paper over the cracks and excuse her wretched sins.

I pray that those who remain on board will rededicate

Their efforts that a new and Christward voyage begins.