Tuesday, June 19


Reflections from Another Whapster on Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road

Today at work, my supervisor turned to me and asked, with good-humored incredulity, "Did the Vatican really come up with Ten Commandments for drivers?"

"Well," I explained, "it's really more about good road etiquette. They haven't gone and come up with any new sins." (I rather doubt anyone could invent a new sin, whether pope or Antichrist.)

"But the Vatican?" He was, quite respectfully, puzzled by the idea that the venerable office of the paparchy would have anything to say about something so topical as Road Rage.

In retrospect, I think I simplified things a bit too much--the document did make very clear that our actions have moral consequences, and a car, like anything else from a tub of Ben and Jerry's ice cream to the sight of a beautiful woman can be an occasion for both good or evil: your choice. That is news as old as the world, or probably older. I've been surprised, as a consequence, that so much has been made over this spiritually useful but otherwise unremarkable from an overlooked department of the Holy See, treated in many places less as an opportunity for spiritual growth than simply news of the weird. I guess it means people are listening--it is amazing how pope-watching has become so popular of late, even more than in the days of John Paul II.

But back to the Vatican's rules of the road. You'd think it would be easy to accept that that operating a multi-ton hunk of metal on wheels--capable of smashing itself to pieces against a concrete wall, capable of plowing into crowds and mowing down anything in its path, capable of bringing families together and bridging unbridgeable distances, capable of ruining or enriching life on so grand a scale, and in such a graphic and quotidian way--would be a matter that brought both rights and responsibilities. Certainly we would be shocked if someone didn't think drunk driving a crime--but the idea that it might be a sin is so distant as to be beyond quaint but simply puzzling. Maybe we resent the intrusion of another purported set of moral rules--but to see this document, or any document, as mere moralism misses the whole point of the Church's joyous guidance.

Perhaps it is the idea that the Vatican--or rather, a small department of it, at a distant remove from the Pontiff--might have anything to say at all at such a worldly activity, seemingly so separate from the spiritual life, is what surprises us. We forget, then, that the Vatican and the various national councils of bishops have many things to say about many topics, from genetically-modified organisms to grain subsidies. But, more profoundly, this also points to a bigger truth--that the Catholic Church is truly catholic, and as Chesterton once remarked, not only does have something to say about everything but must and can have something to say about everything and anything because it is her business to be involved in everything, and thus sanctify the world in which we live today.

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