Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs (James 3:4 RSV-CE).”

I have kissed my son and waved goodbye. The day finally came to for him, the youngest of the brood, to pull up anchor and sail off for college. As I’ve come to assess the condition of my mother’s heart, I find a contented peace, like a sunset after a long working day. My years of sailing a thousand smaller voyages with this young man now bring me here, standing on the shore of blessing.

The giant ship -- that is, an adult child’s college career or work life -- and the sails that are made to harness the winds of successful living, are, in the end, steered by the smallest rudder… for the conscience is hidden deep. It invisibly navigates every journey, guiding the course.

Such are the paradoxes of the Catholic faith. We can easily recall how the smallest Host of bread contains the greatest mystery and the holiest power. To consume it – to let it transform us – is to yield the tiller to Another’s gentle hand and influence. It never fails to reveal True North to the sailor.

My husband and I took pains to always start there, with the development of conscience: To shine a beacon on the truth, to foster a love not only for the gift of the sea, but for the Giver as well. We knew, one day, the still small voice of the interior man would be his ultimate Master and Commander. To know one’s identity and destiny, to serve it passionately with honor and duty, and to love above all else, is the secret to sailing freely. It cannot prevent storms or rough seas from affecting the ship, but it supplies steady fortitude against fear of capsize.

This is the plebe’s course to navigate now. And he is ready.

We’ve passed along what we know of compass and charts.

Under our watch, he learned the ropes, passed the tests, and developed a strong stroke. Countless practice maneuvers tested his mettle and his senses.  Years of hard training, straining in the whitecaps, are coming about. The emergency drills have been reviewed, the knots well tied, the rigging tested, and the galley is finally stocked. A trunk full of homeport reminders is also stowed aboard.

We who were charged with his progress and development watched him grow into a restless sailor itching to sail.

We could not deny that the wind was right.

Finally commanding his own vessel, we untied the lines and dispatched him to sail his ship, to learn the solo rigors of open waters. As the wind kicks up, we commit the youngest of our fleet to the care of the Ocean Maker and the Guardian of the Deep. We asked the Star of the Sea to be his guide and mistress.

And like so many before us, we stand on the shoreline and watch the horizon, eager for good winds and temperate seas.

Godspeed, Good Man. Send us word before too long.

Copyright 2011 Patricia W. Gohn