without a doubt

Traveling through Providence –good practice for heaven

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Strengthened by the presence of Christ, the Church journeys through time toward the consummation of the ages and goes to meet the Lord who comes.

But on this journey, she proceeds along the path already taken by the Virgin Mary, who advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and loyally persevered in union with her son.

Pope John Paul II,

“Redemptoris Mater”

So...encounter any problems driving around Providence lately? If your answer is “no” consider yourself very lucky. If “yes” you’re probably still recovering from the nightmare. You can be comforted, at least a little, knowing that lots of other Rhode Islanders shared your fate.

Even in the best of times traffic in and around Providence is difficult, especially where the major highways converge, and especially during the morning and evening rush. And the normal gridlock was intensified exponentially recently when part of the new highway system, the long-awaited I-Way, connecting 95 North and 195 East, was opened. Because of some unforeseen patterns, I guess, traffic was snarled and large parts of the city were locked in an urban Rubik’s Cube no one could figure out. For days there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth as frustrated commuters related horror stories of sitting in long lines for an hour or more trying to travel just a few miles. The radio talks shows buzzed, citizens vented their anger, and officials of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation were tarred and feathered, battered and bruised.

Now, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist or brain surgeon to know that something went terribly wrong. And I too was irritated trying to get from downtown to East Providence that first Monday night – the usual fifteen minute trip taking almost an hour. (And I had to venture back into the city again that evening for another event!) Nonetheless, it does seem that there was a lot of hyperbole, second-guessing and piling on the highway officials in those difficult days. Hey, highway officials are people too. They’re our friends and neighbors. They’re dedicated to their work and usually do a fine job. And if I had never made a mistake in my life I’d be qualified to pile on too.

But, the evaluation of the RI Highway Department isn’t the point of this story. The point here is that the Providence traffic fiasco teaches us something about our most important journey – our journey from our temporary home on earth to our final destination in heaven.

Our life’s pilgrimage is a journey for which each one of us is responsible but that we make together in the Church. As Pope John Paul taught in the Encyclical cited above, “the Church journeys through time toward the consummation of the ages and goes to meet the Lord who comes.”

And the road trip we make to heaven can be perilous – it too is fraught with roadblocks and detours! Even though our destination is clear, and we have all the travel assistance we need, there’s always a danger that we’ll get stranded or lost along the way.

For example, we can get lost if we marginalize our faith and don’t trust in the Lord who always leads us in the right direction.

We can get lost if we get wrapped up in materialism, secularism or hedonism, worshipping the false gods of this world instead of the one, true God.

We can get lost if we don’t keep our commitments, whether it is our baptismal commitment or our vocational commitment in the priesthood, the consecrated life or holy matrimony.

We can get lost if we drift away from the Church, stop attending Sunday Mass and fail to receive the life-giving sacraments of the Church.

We can get lost if we violate the Commandments of the Lord and personal sin takes hold of our life, sin that can separate us from God forever.

In short, the road to heaven isn’t always easy but is often filled with pot holes, roadblocks and gridlock.

The good news, however, is that in our life’s pilgrimage we need never be lost if we travel with our Blessed Mother Mary at our side. Especially on long journeys it’s good to have a travel companion and that’s exactly what Mary is for us. As Pope John Paul suggested in the above passage, as the Church continues her journey, “she proceeds along the path already taken by the Virgin Mary, who advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and loyally persevered in her union with her son.”

The Season of Advent, beginning soon, is a perfect time to pause a little, check the map and be sure you’re traveling in the right direction. You want to arrive safely to heaven? One sure way is to honor Mary, the Mother of God and your mother. Imitate her virtues in your life. Turn to her in prayer and devotion. As you travel to heaven, Mary is better than “On-Star.” Mary is “God’s-Star.” She will lead you to Jesus and you’ll never get lost.