No question about it, Catholics like blessings. It’s part of our faith and culture. We regularly bless people, places and things – religious things and secular things.
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The official Book of Blessings of the Church has nearly 900 pages with 71 chapters containing blessings for almost every conceivable situation. The Church explains that the purpose of such blessings is to praise God, implore his protection, encourage holiness of life, and ask God to grant the favors we’ve requested.
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So, it’s in that context that I recently blessed my new car, a sporty little episcopal-red 2012 Chevy Malibu. With only my faithful companion Molly in attendance I went to the garage, stood by the car and said this prayer: “All-powerful God, Creator of heaven and earth, in the rich depths of your wisdom you have empowered us to produce great and beautiful works. Grant, we pray, that those who use this vehicle may travel safely, with care of the safety of others. Whether they travel for business or pleasure, let them always find Christ to be the companion of their journey.” I then made the Sign of the Cross over the car and sprinkled it with holy water. Blessing complete.
What occurred to me during the blessing, however, was that the safety for which I was praying would depend as much on human cooperation as on divine intervention. And in light of the many bad habits drivers have acquired these days, that’s a risky presumption. Sometimes I suspect that God jumps out of the car as soon as I pull onto the Wampanoag Trail, delegating St. Christopher, Patron Saint of Travelers, to take over.
Driving safety is an important issue these days. I recall that a few years ago the Vatican issued the “Ten Commandments for Drivers,” and although this new Decalogue was met with considerable ridicule in the secular world, in fact it offered some very important reminders and exhortations. I cite the following examples: (The parenthetical comments are mine.)
-You shall not kill. (That seems, obvious, huh?)
-Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events. (A far better approach than the vulgar words and obscene gestures we usually encounter these days.)
-Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin. (An occasion of sin in a car? Use your imagination!)
-Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so. (Or, just take the keys and call a designated driver.)
These are just four of the Ten Commandments for Drivers. You can Google the term if you want to see the rest.
In the practical realm, these fundamental tenets of driving morality are implemented by appropriate legislation and law enforcement. But perhaps even more, their effectiveness depends on drivers using good judgment and common sense.
It’s crystal clear that driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is totally unacceptable these days. Even one mistake can end lives, destroy families and ruin reputations and careers. And repeat offenders need to be strictly punished and restricted lest they cause more suffering and grief.
But there are other major challenges to safe driving today as well, and here I think of the frequent distractions caused by drivers talking or texting on their mobile phones, or equally distracted by others activities – eating, grooming, or reading come quickly to mind.
The prevalent use, or misuse, of cell phones these days phones is especially dangerous. Telephone conversations or texting demand mental concentration that takes away from the primary task at hand – driving.
A little common sense goes a long way here. How often I see a person backing out of a parking spot or onto a busy highway, already on their phones, driving with one cigarette-filled hand, trying to merge into a steady stream of traffic, oblivious to other vehicles. If a call is truly that important, couldn’t the driver make it while still safely parked in the lot? And if a call comes in – does it really demand immediate attention?
I don’t use a cell phone very much, and hardly ever in a car or public place. But I confess to getting distracted on occasion by tuning the radio, adjusting the temperature, or checking directions, and I know that even these mindless activities can lead to careless driving.
Speeding and aggressive driving are other violations of the driving commandments and a frequent cause of accidents. Road rage incidents are becoming more common and can turn ugly, very quickly. Speed limits and traffic laws are there for a reason and shouldn’t be ignored. And of course, one of the easiest of safe-driving habits is the use of seatbelts. I don’t know why some people refuse to use them, especially when statistics are so clear that their use reduces injury and death whenever accidents occur.
As the Ten Commandments for Drivers suggest, driving safely is sign of charity and justice for others, and an expression of our respect for human life. It’s a habit we should develop for our well-being and safety and out of respect for others.
So, if you have the opportunity to have your car blessed, by all means, do so. It’s a nice devotional practice and an expression of faith. But remember, God will be your passenger only as long as you’re safe and careful while on the road. St. Christopher, pray for us!