[re-post 2014 — a pre-Lenten re-examination of my conscience. Kyrie eleison.]
Recently, my wife and I watched a documentary with our children on texting and driving, From One Second To The Next. It detailed 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 in Chicago by a priest who spoke of what he called “the sins I am surprised I never hear confessed.” It was a really 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).
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… It’s crucial that we also consider the ways we have failed to do what we can, or ought to do when circumstances call for action. For example, sometimes we’re obliged to speak up for someone when they’re not there to defend themselves. We often sin in this way through cowardice — afraid to face the awkwardness, or get criticized or shunned. Or maybe it’s just laziness, just too much investment of energy for us to be confrontational. Or again, maybe we value others’ approval over what we know is right and can’t stomach the thought that they might not think well of us. And maybe we even laugh at or join their ridicule or slander or gossip.
As people of faith we see that in these cases it is Christ whom we deny in them, Christ that we slander or fail to defend. He is always identified with the victim of every sin and injustice, he’s present in every person unfairly maligned. And he looks to 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. Here, the implications of Matthew 25 are much greater than feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty — and Matthew 25 makes clear to us judgement is primarily about the sins of omission. “Whatever you failed to do to the least of these, you failed to do to me…”
Then he took a surprising direction in his homily, one I’d never 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 — but please don’t raise your hand! [laughter] — how many of you have sped, had too much alcohol and then 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?
If you haven’t, I’ll be available after Mass for at least an hour.
These things are, the Church tells us unequivocally, grave matter. “Graviter” in Catechism’s Latin,- which means it’s a most serious matter, the matter for mortal sin. In fact, the Catechism takes it so seriously that it places these things under the 5th commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”
Jesus says harboring anger against your brother in your heart is already the capital crime of murder. But 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 on camera 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!” [laughter]. But here I would add on a much more serious note that for me, well, I would not want my last deed before entering the presence of Christ the Judge to be texting in the violation of the 5th commandment. Destroying lives, and my own, 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’m 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.
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If you can, the ~35 minute film is worth the watch. With your family, friends. But it is graphic.