Saturday, June 23, 2007

Driving me mad

I knew I wasn't on to anything novel by posting about the Vatican's so-called Ten Commandments for Driving. I heard about it from a major secular newsfeed, so I can hardly pretend I scooped the story. It is a fairly regular flap in the blogosphere, so there's no reason why I should have pretended my fluttering about it would add much of substance. As I said, though, I blogged about the document because it touched me. Indeed, the sheer fun of reading with Christian eyes about something so commonplace and "secular" as driving was half my motive.

But I was also aware many other Catholics might find it a dull, insipid and basically laughable excretion from a bloated curial ghetto with perhaps nothing better to do. This has been borne out by my scattered reading about the Guidelines in the blogosphere. One Catholic writer was mildly accused of trying to make a silk purse of a sow's ear by highlighting good aspects of the Guidelines, of which he found very few. Another blogger I greatly respect called the document an instance of self-important ecclesial fatuity.

I beg to differ, however.

Far from being fatuous, the document strikes me as very timely and indeed beautiful at points. (I am willing to grant that the Guidelines' prose is disappointingly, well, prosaic.) It may just be a testimony to my own theological dimness, but I found brilliant the Guidelines' preliminary reflections on pilgrimage and travel, not only because they illuminated a theme as plain (and as ignored) as the nose on my face, but also because they rejuvenated the link between ordinary human mobility and the biblical narrative of the ecclesia peregrina. Partially my favor for the Guidelines stems from the fact that I often struggle with road rage and "driver burnout". So I read the Guidelines as direct spiritual counsel. Who knows how many other people did too? or should? or will?

Also, I love the fact that the Catholic Church so concretely manifests its catholicity. The blogger I linked to (above) may have been seized into the Church by her philosophical wisdom. Others by sacred art and music. Others by the Church's charity and missions. Others, whom I know personally, by the rock-like security and quietude to be found in your average, even "ho hum," Mass. Now others, may God grant the grace, might be called to repent or grow by a new awareness of driving as an apostolate and a spiritual battlefield. As the document says upfront: because driving, and, more fundamentally, mobility, is a basic human reality, it is the Church's duty and privilege to integrate it into the Gospel, and vice versa.

As for the document's fatuity, I wonder how those mentioned in it -- street children, prostitutes, victims of reckless driving, tramps, those beset with rage while driving -- would react. The document is an explicit call from the world's most distinct religious voice for people to notice and love such people. Love is borne out by action. A Church that acts enough to release a 30-page document on caring for such people has great love indeed. Ultimately, the document is as fatuous as the objects of its concern. How one ranks them should influence how one judges the document, although hopefully the converse it not true.

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