Alter your course

Several weeks ago, at an information night for those discerning their call to the permanent diaconate, Father Bob Oliveira told a story of a captain of a battleship doing maneuvers. It’s the perfect story to illustrate what I’d like to share with you this month.

In the story, it’s a dark, foggy night and off in the distance there is a light and the captain’s battleship is moving towards this light. And it’s on a collision course! The captain tells the signalman to send a signal out, saying, “We are on a collision course. Alter course 20 degrees.” And a signal comes back, which says, “You alter course 20 degrees.” The captain of the battleship gets a little incensed at this and decides to pull rank and says, “I’m a captain. You alter course 20 degrees.” The response comes back, “I’m a seaman. You alter course 20 degrees.” The captain is now really furious and he says, “I’m in a battleship. You alter course 20 degrees.” The response comes back, “I’m in a lighthouse. You turn!” 

Sometimes we think we are on the right course, don’t we? Sometimes when we are on what we think is the right course, we are often unwilling to listen to others or to see things in a different way. If this were not true, how do we explain why many people who are on a destructive path, cannot see it? People in their lives tell them to “change your course,” and yet they still keep on the course until they run aground? If you’re in a battleship heading toward a lighthouse, disaster lies ahead of you if you don’t begin to see things differently — and not only will you go down if you don’t see things in a new way, but you’ll take the whole ship down with you. 

Fortunately for all of us there are many “lighthouses” in our lives. These “lighthouses” are placed at all of the dangerous areas of life to help us steer around them. However, if we are unable or unwilling to accept that the “lighthouse” is there to protect us from danger, we may very well, as the captain of the battleship did, ignore the warnings and sail a course that will ultimately lead to destruction and loss. God places those lighthouses out there to help us steer a safe course. But the lighthouse alone would not save the battleship. It took “someone” to do that.

Many times we ignore the warnings and run aground. Sometimes we are able to get underway again and if we learned our lesson we could avoid other groundings in the future. If not, eventually we lose our way and ultimately sink. We see this around us every day. Some people make what looks like bad decisions over and over again! Drugs, greed and other vices may very well blind us to the dangers even though everyone knows that these are bad for you. As I’m writing this article, the news of a guilty verdict in the Hernandez murder case is hitting the Twitter and Facebook feeds. Guilty, with a sentence of life in prison without chance of parole. A young man dead, a young man, who by the world’s standards had everything going for him, now in prison for life. All thrown away. How does this happen? Where were the lighthouses in his life? Where was the somebody, who might have made a difference.

When we get on a path and don’t see the warning signs is when we head on the wrong course and we’ve gone too far to steer out of the danger zone. We think we know what we are doing and we think we know the other light is another ship and we try to get them to change. It’s only when someone like the seaman states,” I’m in the lighthouse, you turn!” that perhaps we “wake up” and see where we are going and are able to steer clear. 

That “someone” or seaman is you or me. We are the seaman manning the lighthouse that God has placed out there lighting the way. The lighthouse on its own wasn’t able to get the captain to change directions. It took the seaman doing something that got the captain to turn in a new direction. We are the ones who are called to help others steer the way around the dangers. We are called to be active. We need to do something. Parents do that for their children and hopefully we do that for those around us. Sometimes they get the message and make the course correction and sometimes they don’t and run aground. Hopefully, when they do go aground, someone is there to pluck them out of that sinking ship and that too is us! 

We all know we need to be there for one another. We need to help our fellow man discover the way. That Way is Jesus. Have we taken the challenge to be men and woman for others to heart or do we just say, “Well, the lighthouses are out there, they can steer a course on their own without my help!” Easier, but not what is expected of us!

What have you done lately to develop your relationship with God? We need to be active followers of Jesus Christ. That means we need to take the time to develop our relationship with Him. Learning about Jesus doesn’t end at Confirmation. It is a lifetime process. Just as your relationship with a friend, or spouse doesn’t end the day you meet, you have to work at the relationship. Even a seaman needs to be prepared to be able to do the work they are called to do. Likewise, each and every one of us needs to be prepared so that we know what is expected from us. Before we can help steer others on the right course, we need to know the way ourselves. 

Deacon Lucca is a youth minister at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea, and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is chairman and a director of the YES! Retreat Program and the director of the Christian Leadership Institute. He is married to his wife of 35 years, Kristine, and a father of two daughters and a son-in-law and grandson. Comments, ideas or suggestions? Please email him at

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