Omitting and texting sins

[re-post 2014, updated]

Recently, my wife and I watched a documentary with our children on texting and driving, From One Second To The Next, that told the heart-wrenching stories of victims and victimizers whose lives were turned upside down by one person’s decision to text while driving. It withered any temptation I may have had in me to text while I drive.

It reminded me of a Sunday homily I heard several years ago by a priest who spoke of what he called, “the sins I am surprised I never hear confessed.” It was a sobering homily.

He highlighted two sins that are, he said, “especially conspicuous for their absence from Confession.” Here’s some of what he said (as I wrote in my journal later):

… Yet it’s crucial that we also consider, as we examine our conscience, the ways we have failed to do what we can or what we ought when circumstances call for action. For example, sometimes we’re obliged to speak up for someone as others bad mouth them when they’re not there to defend themselves. We often sin in this way through cowardice — we are afraid to face the heat, to get criticized or shunned. Or maybe it’s just laziness, just too much energy expenditure for us to be confrontational. Or maybe we want others’ approval and can’t stomach the thought that they might not think well of us; and this might even compel us to join in their toxic speech.

As people of faith, we confess it is, in those cases, Christ whom we deny, whom we slander or fail to shield. He is always joined to the victim of every sin and injustice, present in every person unfairly maligned. He awaits us, the members of His Body, to come to His defense. Christ takes very personally what is done, or not done, for the least of His brethren. The implications of Matthew 25 are much greater than feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. And according to Matthew 25, judgement is primarily about sins of omission. “You did not…did not…did not…”

There’s a wonderful poem by Studdert-Kennedy that powerfully captures this:

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,”
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.

Then the priest took a surprising direction in his homily, one I’d never previously heard preached. He said:

But one of the most surprising omissions in Confession is the sin of breaking traffic laws, reckless driving. Did you know the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

“Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air”?

Grave guilt! Let me ask you — please, though, don’t raise your hand! — how many of you have sped, had too much alcohol and gotten behind a wheel, texted while you were driving, blown through stop lights or done other irresponsible things while driving? And how many of you have confessed this to the Lord in His Sacrament of Reconciliation?

This is, the Church tells us unequivocally, a grave matter. “Graviter” in Catechism’s Latin — which means it’s a serious matter, the matter for mortal sin. In fact, the Catechism takes it so seriously that it places this consideration under the 5th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”

If Jesus says to harbor hateful anger against your brother in your heart is already murder, the Catechism adds this: Reckless driving contains an implicit consent to murder. So it can, in this sense, already be considered murder. Whether you get caught by the cops or a camera, or not, is absolutely irrelevant.

I beg you, as your father in Christ, respect life by driving safely. Be a witness to temperance and justice, call others to be accountable and responsible. Maybe put a “Choose Life” bumper sticker on your car so that you become more conscious of being a witness to others. If someone sees you texting and driving, and then sees your bumper sticker, they may wonder: “Whose life are you choosing?”

You are your brother and sister’s keeper, a disciple of Christ the giver of life.

There’s a stunning bumper sticker I’ve seen, “Honk if you love Jesus! Text if you want to meet Him!” [congregation laughter]. But I would add, on a much more serious note, that for me, personally, I would not want my last deed before entering the presence of Christ the Judge to be the violation of the 5th commandment. Destroying lives, all to send a stupid text.

It’s a very powerful human skill to rationalize sin away. And especially to rationalize reckless driving away. I am exempt; I can handle it; just this once; nothing’s gonna happen. The families of victims of traffic accidents caused by texting or drinking or disregarding traffic laws would have much to say to you in reply. As would the Lord.

So I encourage you: Go to Confession if you haven’t and unburden your sins before our merciful Lord, the Lover of life. And then, choose life every time you get behind the wheel.

This short film was made in 2013, so the texting and driving problem since then has grown exponentially. It’s almost ubiquitous. Just yesterday, a woman with children in her van was texting as she drove down I-10. I noticed she was texting because she was weaving in and out of her lane. And voice to text unquestionably makes the illusion of justification even more seductive. Here’s some stats:

Texting While Driving Causes:

1. 1,600,000 accidents per year – National Safety Council
2. 330,000 injuries per year – Harvard Center for Risk Analysis Study
3. 11 teen deaths EVERY DAY – Ins. Institute for Hwy Safety Fatality Facts
4. Nearly 25% of ALL car accidents

Texting While Driving Is:

1. About 6 times more likely to cause an accident than driving intoxicated
2. The same as driving after 4 beers – National Hwy Transportation Safety Admin.
3. The number one driving distraction reported by teen drivers

Texting While Driving:

1. Makes you 23X more likely to crash – National Hwy Transportation Safety Admin.
2. Is the same as driving blind for 5 seconds at a time – VA. Tech Transportation Institute
3. Takes place by 800,000 drivers at any given time across the country
4. Slows your brake reaction speed by 18% – HumanFactors & Ergonomics Society
5. Leads to a 400% increase with eyes off the road

If you can, the ~35 minute film is worth the watch. With your family, friends. But it is graphic.

3 comments on “Omitting and texting sins

  1. beads2rosaries says:

    Best thing that I have found is to put my phone on the back seat. If I cant reach it then i cant be on it in any way.

  2. DismasDancing says:

    Powerful! Hard-hitting! Spot on!

    Brother Tom: In July 1982, I was assigned to a squadron on the East Coast to serve as the Executive Officer. The following year, I was privileged to “fleet up” and serve as the squadron’s Commanding Officer for two years. During those two years, the Commanding General of the Wing was a fantastic Marine and leader of Marines, Major General Keith Smith. He earned profound respect of all of the wing because he was tough, but fair; a “head-of-the-column” leader; a man of great integrity who practiced it every day of his life through live and visible “action”, encouraging folks not only to “do as I say”, but always accompanied by the direction (and example) to “do as I do” as well. A couple of times a year he would visit all of the East Coast Second Marine Aircraft Wing Groups and conduct “mandatory” leadership training for all of his officers, while his Sergeant Major delivered a similar message to all the troops, especially the NCOs in leadership positions.

    His consistent message (and I paraphrase because we’re talking more than 30 yrs. ago), “You simply cannot be a credible, strong, consistent leader to whom troops turn and trust unless you have permanently inculcated into your daily activities principles of integrity, honor, trust, reliability, and knowledge!” Using the following analogy, he got those of us who listened closely to his wisdom, to monitor ourselves and the “tiny things” we do in public to make sure we avoided the least manifestation of hypocrisy, especially to those we love and lead. Using a bit of Shakespeare, he would say, “The Bard said it well, ‘to thine own self be true.'” What followed always served as the “gut” of his message and the use of that Shakespeare quotation: “If you are tempted to run through a yellow light, or worse a red one, you need to go home, seriously examine the face staring back at you in the mirror, and ask it, ‘what happened to your integrity today? Because what you think might be a bit ‘harmless’ because ‘everybody does it’ actually tells me whether you either ‘have’ an important level of real integrity, or you don’t. Plain and simple. Down and dirty. You can never be ‘a little bit pregnant!'”

    Not until his Marine son was tragically killed in the terrorist bombing of the barracks in Lebanon did I discover that General Smith was a very devout, practicing (in the “real” way) Roman Catholic. At the time, the General, then a Lieutenant General, was serving as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Aviation at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington. Upon hearing of this family tragedy, my bride and I wept with and for him and his family, because we knew them as really “good” folks. Through the events around that tragedy, I came to a beautiful and full understanding of where those leadership messages came 15 years earlier. The General has long since passed away. But your message today, crisply, clearly, and dramatically restored vivid memories of the lessons taught by that great man for whom I obviously hold the deepest respect. His example still makes me cringe when I sacrifice what integrity I think I have and run through a yellow light. “Guilty” says I; “Guilty” says He (both of them)!”

    While I have understood for years the threat to our personal integrity and our own and others’ lives by the commission of such acts, I honestly hadn’t given much thought to the “gravity” of such things vis a vis the priest’s beautiful homily on that subject. I shall return to remembering the General’s leadership and the priest’s encouragement to real honesty about things we rarely think of confessional issues. While your posts almost always do, today’s has really made my day!

    Frater, ora pro nobis!

    • Amen! DD, as ever, drilling down into a thought I put out there only to uncover for us the rich ore of your life experience that further illumines our/my faith.
      Thank you for punctuating what I say with your faith.
      What a remarkable story.
      Blessings on your last days of Lent, and on your family.
      Frater, ora pro nobis!

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