Driving with your parish priest in the car is supposed to be a comforting experience, right? After all, he is supposed to be a little better at living a holy life than the average Catholic. He is trained in how to handle difficult situations. He has spent countless hours in prayer over even the most mundane of topics. He is supposed to practice calm!
Well, funny thing happened on the way home from training recently. I was driving, Father Vincent, whom I adore and thank God daily for sending to our little parish in Southern California, was riding shotgun, the parish office administrator was in the back seat along with the our head catechist, and two other catechists were in the third row seat. For those good readers unfamiliar with Southern California traffic, the route took us over the dreaded 91 freeway, recently labeled as the worst commute in the United States. Traffic wasn’t terrible – it was just standard Friday evening traffic along the worst stretch of commuter freeway in the United States. Did I mention that already?
As we were inching along, about to merge from one section of freeway to another, Father Vincent kept telling me to change lanes. He pointed at whatever lane I wasn’t in and said “change lanes, change lanes, they’re going faster over there.” I tried to explain that those lanes didn’t merge into the direction we needed to go, and he said, “change lanes, change lanes, you can get ahead of this car and then change back.” Not wanting to argue, I ignored him. I’ve been driving these freeways long enough to know that hopping from lane to lane really gets you nowhere. Father Vincent was undeterred. Realizing I was not going to change lanes, he prompted me to “encourage” the car in front of us to drive faster. “Get closer to him, he is going too slow.” “And what will that do?” I asked. “It will make him realize he is going too slow and he’ll speed up,” the good Father said. Again, not wanting to argue, I ignored him. At that point, Father became very determined. “Honk your horn,” he said. “The guy in front of us doesn’t know you want him to go faster. Honk your horn!” “I am not going to honk my horn,” I told him. “Honk your horn,” he said again. “That’s your car’s voice. You have to use your voice if you want to be heard.”
At this point, I gave up. Convincing him that sometimes traffic just takes time to work its way through was not going to happen. Thankfully, the Lord stepped in and opened up a traffic lane or two, and we were on our way. But the conversation got me thinking. How many times do we fail to use our voice, yet complain that we haven’t been heard. When we see injustice, do we fight it? When we feel taken advantage of, do we peacefully seek equity? When we just want to share a better way of doing things, do we speak up?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “participation” is the voluntary and generous engagementof a person in social interchange. It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person (CCC 1913).
In other words, using our voice is an obligation if we want to be heard and have a part in promoting the common good. The Catechism goes on to say that “one must pay tribute to those nations whose systems permit the largest possible number of citizens to take part in public life in a climate of genuine freedom” (CCC 1915). If we are free to stand up in defense of the vulnerable, we need to use our voice. If we are free to stand in solidarity with workers fighting for economic justice, we need to use our voice. If we are free to enact legislation that protects the environment from abuse powered by greed or ignorance, we need to use our voice. There is no other way. We cannot be heard unless we speak.
Sorry, Father Vincent. This doesn’t mean I’m going to honk that horn.