Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 10, 2005
Seize Columbus' daring: Sail life's open seas
Cast your mind back to the early explorers and immerse yourself in their courage
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A long, long time ago, meaning when I was in school, Columbus Day used to be a pretty big deal.
Our local Knights of Columbus council would throw a grand party to celebrate the occasion, and in school we had the usual pageants appropriate to the day.
I was never chosen to play the admiral himself, or to intone those magic words: "Sail on . . . and on!" But the kid who did get the part enjoyed celebrity status, at least for a while.
Like a lot of other things, Columbus Day isn't what it used to be. Oh, we still have a wonderful parade here in Manhattan, and there's still a holiday to enjoy.
But political correctness has taken its toll. Columbus shouldn't be held up as a hero, his detractors tell us; the land he "discovered" was here all along, and the Indians who lived here were the real owners - First Nations people.
And we keep hearing that Columbus might not have been the first European to reach these shores, after all. Claimants we never heard of in the old days have been put forth in recent years, forcing everyone to take a second look, at the very least, at the Columbus legend.
For some of us, though, the legend dies hard. By any standard Christopher Columbus was a hero in his own day, and the thought here is that he should still be seen as one now. In a sense, he's something of a namesake for us, The Christophers, and his first name carries the same meaning - "Christ-bearer" - that defines who we are and what we try to do.
That makes all the more remarkable a passage that I came across in You Can Change the World, the best-seller written back in 1948 by our founder, Maryknoll Father James Keller. In a series of Reminders for Christophers that he used to close the book, Keller listed as number 12 "Be Daring, Not Timid."
To help make his point he cited Luke's Gospel passage in which Jesus dared Peter and his fellow fishermen to get away from the shallow, warm water close to the shore and "Launch out into the deep!"
"Taking Christ literally, he did 'launch out into the deep,' into the dangerous waters far from shore," Keller wrote. "And Peter carried that daring into everything he did for the rest of his life. Those who would be true Christophers will have to be equally daring, avoiding all timidity."
The application is obvious. I have no idea how familiar Christopher Columbus might have been with that particular passage of the Bible, or indeed with the Scriptures in general.
That's something else. Among those who go down to the sea in ships, he was the most daring sailor of his day, and perhaps of all time. No one in the history of seamanship is better remembered for listening to, and ultimately accepting, that most arresting of challenges: "Launch out into the deep."
As I say, Columbus Day isn't what it used to be. Try to remember, though, the epic daring, the courage that made it a holiday in the first place. As for me, I'm still practising "Sail on . . . and on!" Just in case.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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