Now, I want to get one thing straight. I’m all in favor of this law. Driving requires attention and focus. We shouldn’t be texting and driving, just like we shouldn’t be drinking and driving. It’s bad, don’t do it. Every time you pick up your phone while driving an angel loses it’s wings in heaven.
But just in the first few weeks that new law has had a surprising impact on me as I’m driving -- and maybe this is just a millennial problem -- but I’ve come to realize that in some ways I’m a slave to my phone. Because for better or for worse, so many important things happen through a phone (so many non-important things happen, too, but really many critical things take place through the phone). Emergency calls to go and visit the dying in the hospital, parish and school calendars, texts from family or from staff members, urgent emails, the list goes on and on. And all of that urgency comes to a head when you hear one of the most familiar sounds in the world, and it’s that little iPhone ding.
And now when I hear my iPhone ding in the car I’m put in a moment of peril. I’m driving along and all of a sudden it dings and it’s like everything in that moment depends on me, and I’m completely helpless. Thoughts rush to my mind. Is it Father Mike, updating me on his health? Is it Kim, our business manager, telling me that my house is on fire? Is it my mom, upset that I forgot to call her back? And the sad thing is that 99% of the time it’s none of those things. 99% of the time it’s something that can wait. 99% of the time, it’s my own crazy attachment to this object, this phone, which puts me in that peril. It’s self-created turmoil.
I use that example, my friends, because something similar is going on in the Word of God we hear this weekend; both in the first reading from Kings and in the Gospel from St. Matthew. Something very relevant to us living in 2017; not just millennials either, but all ages. A part of human nature that needs, sometimes, to be put in check. And that is, simply, our tendency to be impulsive. Our tendency to react to something, or to someone, without much (or any!) forethought.
In the Gospel scene this weekend the disciples find themselves being tossed about in the waves. And all of a sudden Jesus appears, but no one recognizes him (the perennial problem of Jesus!). And this is the 14th chapter of Matthew! So much has already taken place. Not but two chapters ago, Jesus had already calmed the storm. By the 14th chapter of Matthew Jesus had already healed a leper, a servant, St. Peter’s mother-in-law, a blind man. He had already fed the 5,000 and given the Sermon on the Mount. He had already raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jesus had already said these words: “Do not worry about your life. The Father knows what you need. Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself.”
And amidst all that. Amidst everything they had seen, they had heard, they had experienced of Jesus Christ what do the disciples do, what was their first reaction, what was their impulse? St. Matthew says that, “they were terrified, and they cried out in fear.” The word for “fear” used in the Gospel is telling. It comes from the Greek word “phobos,” which also means to withdraw, to separate. The first impulse of the disciples was, in a moment of panic, to “separate” themselves from Jesus Christ.
In our lives, impulse often leads us to separation from God. When things are out of our hands, out of our control -- when everything hits the fan -- we withdraw to the places where we think we’re safe. And those places are different for each of us. But they are all places we go when we’re afraid. Some of us withdraw into our addictions. Into drinking, or buying, or consuming, trying to fill a void which seems endless. Some of us withdraw into gossip. This is a favorite of the devil because it’s like a two for one. It takes two people to gossip but it’s one in the same sin. When we gossip we withdraw into ourselves; speaking about others not in order to build them up, but to build ourselves up. Some of us withdraw into our judgements. And not into the righteous judgement of Christian charity, but into condemnation -- into categorizing and dismissing others because we think we know all about them and what they are going through.
In all of these ways, when we’re faced with trial and hardship, and we separate ourselves from Jesus Christ, the Evil One wins. The Evil One wants your first impulse to be anything but Christ. He wants your first impulse to be judgement, anger, jealousy, fear, or lust. The Evil One wants you to rely on only on how special are, how important you are, how valuable you are to everything and everyone in the world. But my friends all these things, all these things that we impulsively cling onto when we’re drowning in the sea, these are not life-preservers. They are rocks. Rocks that will sink us to the bottom.
It’s Our Lord Jesus Christ who is our life-preserver. He is the one who comes amid the wind and the waves and says: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” I have my own dynamic translation of that line. Something I need to tell myself each and everyday, especially when it gets challenging. Because so often in life Christ just wants to say: “woah, woah, slow down, I got this.”
This week the Gospel challenges us to review our impulses -- our reactions -- especially when we’re challenged, or upset, or miserable, or tired. When pushed to the limit, is your first reaction to run from God and run to the things of the world? When given the opportunity to gossip, is your first reaction to build others up, or break them down? When around people we dislike or disagree with, is our first reaction to condemn and dismiss them, or to we seek the truth in love? Each day we should pray that our impulses, our desires, our hearts can be directed to Jesus Christ, and to Him alone. So often it’s us who create and sustain the stresses that build in our lives and it’s only God who can free us from those things.
As I said before, I’m a fan of this new distracted driving law because it requires that we stay focused on what actually matters. It’s so simple. When driving a car, driving should be the only focus. The same applies to the spiritual life. In the spiritual life we need to stay focus on what really matters. When growing in grace, Jesus Christ should be the only focus. Don’t take your eyes off Him.