The Authority of the Lighthouse

Frank Koch tells of the importance of obeying the law of the lighthouse.

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.”

“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.

The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ‘We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.'”

Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.”

The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.'”

“I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.”

By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ‘I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.'”

Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”

We changed course.

“Authority” is a loaded word these days. A entire generation has been raised with the words “question authority.” This has led to questioning everything, believing in nothing. Everything has become relative. We are not even willing to say that a man and a woman, are a man and a woman.

With what authority does the Church teach? Or to put it in words we hear so frequently these days, “what right does the church have to tell me how to live my life?”

In this week’s Gospel Jesus preaches in the Capernaum synagogue “as one having authority.” He did not teach as the scribes did, He had no conventional religious authority. The scribes would speak only when what they said could be backed up by past wisdom. The scribes drew stale water from closed cisterns.

But the words of Jesus were a fresh spring, clear and powerful. Where did He get His authority? The listeners were amazed at His teaching, a new teaching. They did not dispute His words, so we know they realized He spoke the truth but in a way they had never heard before.

The authority of Jesus is the authority of God. To hear Jesus speak is to hear God speak. The unclean spirit knew this, and obeyed the simple commands of God, “Quiet! Come out of him.”

Jesus passed His authority on to His apostles, and they in turn passed this authority on to their successors, and so it continued all the way down to today, to our bishops. This is what we refer to as the Apostolic Succession. When the Church teaches faith and morals through her bishops, it is not the voice of men telling us how to live our lives; it is the voice of God, the light grounded on the rock, telling us how to live.


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