- “Prayer and reflection can change our driving behaviour, calm our aggression, remind us of the spiritual, moral and physical importance of what we are about to do” – Bishop MacDaid
My dear friends,
Tomorrow, Sunday 16 November, has been set aside as World Remembrance Day for Road Traffic Victims. The Patron Saint of travellers is Saint Christopher whose name means Christ-bearer. Saint Christopher is often depicted bearing the Christ-Child upon his shoulder while crossing a river. Devotion to Saint Christopher was widespread in the Church as early as 452 AD, the time of Saint Patrick. Christopher is reputed to have been a man of great size and strength; yet, in spite of his physical power he felt the need of spiritual help to use his strength to a good purpose. All of us who are inclined to be over-confident about our driving should take note. We exercise great power over our own lives and the lives of others when we get behind the wheel. Prayer and reflection can change our driving behaviour, calm our aggression, remind us of the spiritual, moral and physical importance of what we are about to do.
At one time or another most motorists have experienced the fright of a road traffic near-miss … the red light suddenly shows and cars screech to a halt within a few inches of each other. The signpost shows figures. It’s difficult to put them together in the foggy conditions. Or is it the mist that covers and anaesthetizes our hearts and minds that protects the driver from facing the consequences of the message which the figures highlight?
Let us now remember the victims of road traffic accidents.
I remember the day well, even yet. He was a freshly qualified professional man, now married, with two little children (one year old and three years old). He had a good practice in a busy town. He could not afford to pay for a new car outright, but his earning potential allowed him to lease one. He was a fast but careful driver! However one day as a passenger in his car what caused me to sit up suddenly was the way he braked to slow down well under the speed limit as he entered the new housing estate where he and his young family lived. Sensing my shock, and sensing that an explanation was due he said – without turning his head – “It would be terrible if anything happened to the little ones.” My word, I thought to myself, it is as simple and profound as that. The source of the message was new to me because as I do not have the assistance of a one year old George or a three year old Nadine. Nonetheless my self-aware driver had his children to thank for his more careful driving behaviour.
We have all seen the road safety advertisements on television and in the cinema. They are horrific, visually graphic and their shock is dulled only by sheer dint of their repetitiveness. But the realism of these ads can prompt chilling afterthoughts: “How can a short few seconds irrevocably and abruptly end or permanently alter the quality of a life before it even reaches adulthood? What must life be like for the maimed and paralysed survivors? What about the daily heartbreak now lived by the parents of the victims, parents who have given so much love and care throughout their young lives? What do these grieving parents whisper through their tears when they visit the grave of their child on Christmas Day?”
I was taken into hospital once during the Christmas period a victim of black ice. I was shook up but not badly injured. The hospital was like a horror chamber. The corridors were lined on both sides of the floor with mainly young people sleeping it off. From the anxious questions the Accident and Emergency doctors and nurses had to answer, to “the mess” left for the staff to deal with, it was a shock to the system. What of the cost in time, energy and staff? What of the stress, worry and unhappiness? The waste of human resources in every single way is incredible. There is so much unpleasantness and worse that most of us are glad we can turn our backs, make for the hospital door and leave it behind as quickly as possible. But, of course, there are committed people who have to care for the wounded and count the cost.
What about the people who have to take the wounded and the dead into their care and protection? Some of them work in a voluntary capacity, all of them have to deal with heavy traumatic experiences. Society demands explanations so there have to be autopsies and post-mortems. Some victims will need care and help for a lifetime. Parents and family have to be informed and comforted. In the midst of all the melée careful medical records have to be kept. Senior medical and surgical personnel have to leave family gatherings and social gatherings to attempt to save life and limb. Priests are called to use the Holy Oils of healing and to stay, to give pastoral support and to pray with people they may have never met before but who are now hoping for a miracle.
Road accidents can have so many contributory factors – speed, alcohol, drugs, high jinks in the car, use of mobile phones, texting while driving, not wearing a seatbelt, natural tiredness – we could go on and on. So where does it all begin and where does it all end? The car is a boon and a blessing. It can also be a lethal weapon. It is a powerful machine and for some it is exciting to be in control of power. It can be exhilarating for the risk-taker, and success yearns for more of the same. It can raise adrenalin levels. It is all very tempting and we don’t find it easy to resist temptation. It is not easy to advise the young with the wisdom of experience. Does our road use behaviour boil down, in the end, to the simple and profound realisation: “It would be terrible if anything happened to the little ones”? Is it a matter of keeping our vision clear? Let us not allow anything dim our capacity to see others as Jesus sees them. How do we express love of neighbour in this area of our life? No family should have to deal with the consequences of avoidable accidents on our roads, least of all our own.
Care for one another is a basic value which travels across different cultures and faiths. It is in the interest of the State to support this duty of care for the ‘common good’. Essentially, an effective road safety policy is a practical example of social justice working in our society.
Tomorrow is World Remembrance Day for Road Traffic Victims. As Christians we know well that life is precious. So let us value, live and protect life as we pray together …
Holy Mother, hear our prayer,
Keep us in your loving care,
Whatever the perils of the way,
Let us not add to them this day.
So to our caution and attention,
We add a prayer for your protection,
To beg God’s blessing on this car,
To travel safely near and far.
- Bishop Liam MacDaid is Bishop of Clogher. This homily will be delivered at Mass tomorrow evening in Saint Macartan’s Cathedral, Monaghan, Diocese of Clogher
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