I recently stepped off of a cruise ship after seven days of sailing. We stopped frequently at touristy Alaskan towns replete with jewelry stores, souvenir shops, crab shacks and bars. If you didn’t stuff yourself with fresh seafood while on land, a frequent joke on the boat reminded you that a meal was only forty-five minutes away. Something that wasn’t discussed on the boat that I sadly didn’t realize until I attended Mass after the journey ended was that a relationship with Jesus is one thing not scheduled on a cruise ship. Meals, activities, shows, excursions, all occur like clockwork when you are at sea. Much to my chagrin, I knew I had not kept any schedule of spiritual discipline while on the beautiful boat. I felt shame, I felt weak, and I felt even anger at myself for being so easily led astray. Then I started thinking about why this happened and I stumbled across some thoughts that will help me in the future that you may find useful as well.
To no one’s surprise, master shipbuilders make cruise ships so travelers want for nothing and everyone forgets their sufferings. You can eat 24 hours a day. You can buy beverage packages to get an adult drinks at bars located every 50 feet with only your room key. You can see a show, participate in an activity, or visit a spa and be treated like royalty any time you want. They want you forget the troubles of the world, and I suppose most people go on vacation for that very reason. As a Christian, I realized that I don’t want to forget about the troubles of the world. Those troubles are my troubles. To live without suffering led me to live without my relationship with Jesus, and thereby my relationship to my neighbor. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the company of many of my fellow travelers, but I can’t pretend it was fellowship, merely shared revelry. This frightened me because while I made this realization, how many others would not.
What about our brothers and sisters who live their lives as if they had boarded a cruise ship and plan on never disembarking. I wish I could say I didn’t know anyone who follows this plan of life, but I know many and I surmise you may too. One of my favorite saints, St. Jose Maria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, knew the power of the spiritual discipline of mortification. He would call on his spiritual children to often make small offerings of suffering for the church, the souls in purgatory and for ourselves. Simple things like not putting salt on some eggs or not drinking that second cup of coffee can be efficacious ways to join ourselves with Our Lord. If you told your friends about this way of living, how many would think you were completely normal? Our culture trains us to do what we want, when we want, and on a daily basis. All suffering is wrong, except when it makes your body look better, which puts the correct order of spirit before mind before body on its head.
What happens when a culture does this without check or question for too long? I point to an oft forgotten Pixar film called Wall-E. In the future, Earth has been turned into a wasteland of trash, humanity has left on spaceships, and a robot named Wall-E does his daily job of collecting rubbish and making a wall of garbage. I understand the main “save the planet” message, but the message I took from the movie that all of humanity became fat and sedentary while floating around space on huge cruise ships looking for another planet to colonize. People were taken from one distraction to another on moving platforms and pampered by tiny robots and other automation. Is it inconceivable that modern society is headed in that direction? What will stop this progress? As Christians, can we convince a disinterested society that suffering is essential to a healthy spiritual life and not only should we embrace it but we should look for it? I pray that the next time I go on a cruise I don’t forget the lessons the Lord taught me when I returned.
© 2017 Mark Andrews