by Chris Beneteau
For the past few months, my faith had been lukewarm. Prayers that I had once said with joy and fervor were now severely lacking in both sincerity and enthusiasm. I was simply going through the motions. I would make excuses to avoid saying my prayers. My thirst for holiness and knowledge of the faith was replaced by a general sense of apathy. The last thing I wanted to do was to read the bible or even browse through a Catholic periodical, for that matter. During the holy sacrifice of the Mass, I suddenly found myself going through the motions. I was walking through a desert in a search for water. Once I found the water, I ignored it for fear that it was nothing more than a mirage.
Unfortunately, my lukewarm attitude affected my heart much more seriously than my head. Temptations and sins that I thought had been put behind me long ago suddenly crept back into my life. At first I noticed juvenile things such as a swear word here or there. My eyes seemed to have a mind of their own and were once again finding the female form with spiritually lethal precision. I even found myself lingering around questionable television shows. Fuel was being poured on the fire. Worst of all, my attitude was beginning to take its toll on my family relationships. My sense of optimism and goodwill was replaced with cynicism and negativity. My wife and children became targets of irrational bouts of non-aggressive anger, moodiness and depression. This "woe is me" attitude affected how I felt about other relationships as well. I started to whine about my family, my friends and my job. It felt like everyone was involved in a conspiracy to make my life miserable. This self-pity was built on a foundation of self-absorption and self-centeredness. I tried to do a number of things to snap out of it, but nothing worked. At this point, I started to get angry with God and even blamed him for my miserable state. During this period, I noticed that my driving behavior had begun to get a bit reckless. I drove a little too fast, ran a few yellow lights, and cut some drivers off. I even wore my seat belt sporadically and would even forget to buckle my kids on occasion. It was as if I were re-visiting that feeling of teenage invincibility.
Every so often it takes a minor crisis to snap us out of this lukewarm state, and some time ago, it finally happened to me. I was involved in a minor fender bender. This may not have been a crisis of monumental proportions, but it seemed to get my attention and re-energize my spiritual life. It all started in typical fashion. My wife and I were rushing to get our kids in the van for a five o'clock tee off time at the local public golf course. Before I backed out of the driveway, I checked my rear view mirror, but my new found recklessness prevented me from looking over my shoulder. As any good driver knows, the rear view mirror does not provide a complete perspective. It did not take long after the sound of the "thud" to figure out what had happened. I got out of the van and noticed a nice fresh crease on the driver side passenger door of a brand new Lincoln Continental. My initial reaction was one of shock and anger at myself. As I was about to fall back into a "woe is me" attitude, I noticed that my children, who had never been in an accident before, were very frightened. Suddenly, I felt this overall sense of peace and tranquility. It was as if the Holy Spirit was telling me that my period of trial was over. With a look of reassurance, I turned to my kids and said, "Dont worry, everything is going to be fine". A look of relief came over their faces. It was now time for me to confront the owner of the car. Thankfully, the good Lord cut me a break. The driver of the car was not the owner and she didnt seem that upset. After exchanging information and apologizing, I got back in my van which, by the way, was spared from any damage.
During the drive to the golf course, the kids had a number of questions. I had to assure them that it was an accident and that daddy was not in trouble. I used the opportunity to teach my children about accountability. I asked the kids if it would have been acceptable to hit the car and then leave. Kids are really amazing. They tend to see things very clearly in black and white. Their inability to "nuance" or to fill their answers with all kinds of sophistry provides them with a moral clarity that is lacking in many adults. One of my boys answered my question with a resounding "no". Two of his brothers agreed as we discussed the consequences of a hit and run. Many Catholics see the teaching of the Church as rules that serve to oppress them. This helps explain why so many Catholics dissent from Church teaching. They do not understand that the rules are there to prevent us from getting into minor fender benders and major collisions (i.e. venial and mortal sins). God wants us to spend eternity with Him in heaven and He even gives us a road map in the form of the sacraments, sacred scripture and sacred tradition. Imagine for a moment if drivers were allowed to pick and chose the road rules and traffic laws that they could follow. Anarchy, chaos, and disunity would soon follow. Protestantism and Secular Humanism provides us with the clearest evidence of what happens when we dissent. In terms of the fender bender analogy, if I had just looked over my shoulder, I could have avoided the embarrassment, not to mention the increase in my insurance rates. I believe that God occasionally sends us little warning signs to remind us that we need to get our spiritual life back on track.
We all know Catholics who have persisted in grave sin and have not sought forgiveness. Their hearts have become hardened and their souls calloused from the loss of Gods grace. If I did not reexamine my driving habits, the consequences of my negligence would have been greater the next time. To persist in a state of tepidity, affects not only the sinner but also other family members, friends, and the mystical body of Christ. Ultimately, we must see the little trials and tribulations as opportunities for growth. In hindsight, I now realize that my sufferings were meant to make me grow in my faith. The trials were put there to shape and refine my faith. Most of all, they were put there to remind me that God is in charge and that I must put all of my trust in him. It is easy to have faith when things are going well. It is through trial and tribulation, however, that we see just how far we have grown in our faith.
We should take these opportunities to look at things a bit more clearly and to ask a number of questions. Are we living the way God wants us to live? Are we following the rules of the road; that is, are we following His laws which serve to protect our bodies and souls? No doubt, my little accident answered a lot of questions for me. There is, however, one question which remains unanswered to this day: "Why couldnt it have been a 1984 K-car instead of a 2004 Lincoln?"
The Catholic Legate
September 23, 2004