[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.