Hence the domestic household is antecedent, as well in idea as in fact, to the gathering of men into a community. – Pope Pius XI (Quadragesimo Anno)
Families, be what you are. Pope John Paul II
At the top of the last column of this magazine, there is a picture of a wooden sign with the words The Old Ship on it. Beneath the sign is an oak barrel with a block of cheese on top and an old double barrel shotgun leaning against it. I carved this sign, and it hangs at the end of my driveway. The sign has a blue sailboat emblazoned with a large red cross, St. George’s cross. The imagery comes from specifications outlined in Chesterton’s prophetic novel The Flying Inn.
In this novel, politicians are trying to re-define marriage and use “religious tolerance” as an excuse to outlaw beer and wine. The politicians say this is to appease Muslims, but in reality their goal is to re-engineer the form of marriage to include legal polygamy for the wealthy, who are also exempt from the prohibition of alcohol. The hero of the novel collects the sign that hangs at the front of his country inn along with a block of cheese, barrel of rum, and an old shotgun, and with his friend escapes in a motor car just one step ahead of the police. As these unmarried men travel the countryside, they rally the common folk to defend their own homes and marriages, serving rum to all who ask in Christian hospitality.
In Chesterton’s imagery, these things—rum, cheese, shotguns—symbolize some aspect of the domestic church, and each has as its rightful place a Catholic home. Curiously, in Canada today, each of these things has been the focus of recent government regulations and prohibitions.
At our house, we keep a bottle of rum and a block of old cheddar on hand, as promised by the sign, for anyone who might be familiar with Chesterton’s novel and drop in on the strength of the sign. This has never happened yet, though the sign has followed us from house to house for the past twenty years. But we still wait in anticipation for the visitor who will recognize the reference and approach our door. Of course, we are unlicensed to sell rum so I could take no payment for fulfilling such a request.
This is not the only such sign; I know of several other families with similar signs at their homes. We had an idea that this sign might act as a symbol for some sort of league, households which had accepted their inherent independence. I think that there is a need for such a league. Membership requirements are simple: recognize that the home and family by nature are free things and that the home exists as the basis of the larger community—not the other way around. Membership in the league is open to all who are willing to assert their uniqueness and independence, following the request of John Paul II—“families, be what you are.”
The imagery of The Old Ship works on several levels. The ship in question is a reference to Noah’s ark and the deluge, with the deluge being equated by Chesterton to the water of a self-righteous and imposed teetotalism, Chesterton’s symbol for those reform movements that only see vice in human freedom. The ship is the Bark of Peter; it is also the domestic Church. The Old Ship represents the sanity of a free home against the encroachment of those with an insatiable appetite for power in both government and business. And, since there are those in our governments who no longer believe in freedom (e.g. bullying of Catholic Schools, bullying farmers to install windmills, bullying pro-life MPs, lying about the March for Life), The Old Ship has become symbolic of the resistance in terms of keeping up morale against the fear that leftist fanatics will intrude into our lives.
The final level of imagery that I can find in the symbol of The Old Ship is that of the individual against the vicissitudes of fate. Perhaps this is the most human of meanings, going back to the Odyssey.Yet the point of The Old Ship is that the standard emblazoned on the sail is not the standard of a modern Ulysses charting his own path against fate but the paradox of the Cross, which guarantees hardship yet with the promise of a victory already won.
For the real temptation, now as always, is that we are too small and impotent to affect good when up against the enormity of entrenched evil. The Old Ship represents our reliving of the David and Goliath story, with the victory of David promised to us all and the seeming immovability of our Goliaths revealed as sham and illusion.
I am still waiting for the day that a wandering traveler, a reader of The Flying Inn, will call, and for all I know we will immediately begin to argue and disagree on everything that is unimportant. But we will argue from first principles, united in our belief in the real-ness of reality, the freeness of freedom, and the goodness of being.