Reflecting on the chances we take in life

Spring and the impending summer find us spending more time driving for ministry and for pleasure. I have many confirmations in April and May when travel is more predictable, although an occasional blizzard can change plans quickly.

Driving can be enjoyable or a chore depending on the attitude we bring to it. Some love seeing the countryside and some experience road rage, angered by other drivers. As in all things the question is whether Christian charity guides us.

Earlier this year I was on retreat in California with the bishops of our region. I rented a car and drove on the labyrinth of multi-lane highways that is part of southern California daily life.

Being used to South Dakota driving where there often are long stretches when nary another car is encountered, it was a bit frightening. Cars would pass me by going well above the speed limit and changing lanes seemed to be almost a competitive sport. I must admit that after a while I was drawn into that hyper activity. It reminded me of an experience I had some years ago.

I was getting some exercise by running in downtown Madison, Wisconsin where I was serving as a diocesan official. Lost in thoughts, some probing and some fanciful, I was enjoying the time out of doors. A bit annoyed, I was forced to stop to wait for the traffic light to change so I could cross a two lane road with safety. As I did a car came speeding down the street clearly trying to make it through the intersection before the light changed. It was not to be. Cars entered the intersection from the other direction. The sound of the screeching tires was chilling. The near miss was a miracle. Had I ventured into the crosswalk a few seconds earlier in order to beat the light, I would have been directly in the way. It gave me pause. I said a prayer of thanksgiving and for forgiveness for my annoyance.

It also caused me to reflect on the chances we take in life. It is hard to imagine what the benefit would have been to the driver for having made it through the intersection a few minutes earlier worthy of the risk of an accident. And yet all of us take chances like that throughout the intersections of our lives. When we drive we rely on the brakes to save us. What or who do we rely on for our ‘spiritual brakes’? May it be Jesus Christ our Lord and savior who is the way and the truth and the life.

God gifted us with free will, the freedom to make choices. We can make good ones or bad ones, well thought out or spontaneous. We can go to the doctor or put it off as I recently did while fighting a winter malady. We can establish sound relationships with others based on respect and human dignity or gossip about and criticize them. We can steward our financial resources or squander them. We can allow the Holy Spirit as our guide and protector or choose to come to God only in times of trouble.

All of us on occasion speed through some of the intersections of our lives, not really thinking through the impact of our actions on others or on ourselves. We must live with the consequences physically and spiritually of sin. Yet they can be avoided or at least lessened with prayer, perspective and patience.

Had there been an accident that day I was running, the police and first responders would have arrived, a hospital would have been alerted and insurance companies would have been notified.

When we have an accident spiritually, chosen or imposed, we can trust that God will be there for us, to heal us and to forgive us if we honestly are contrite and seek Him out. But it would be better if we would slow down a bit resting in the Lord, praying for perspective in making good choices based on an informed conscience grounded in Church teachings, and then with patience wait for the light to change, the light of Christ to lead us to safety and happiness.

A personal note

Happy birthday to me. Well not quite yet. My birthday is in September. It will be one of special note for I will turn 75 years old. I thank God for all those years and generally good health throughout them. Some were harder than others and some were truly beautiful gifts; most were a combination of the two.

I raise this because a number of people have asked me about the rumor that I am retiring. That is a rumor with some validity.

According to Church law every bishop when he turns 75 must submit a letter of resignation to the Pope. We continue to serve until it is accepted, usually at the same time as when a successor is named but not always.

So In September I will offer my resignation after having had the privilege of serving as the eighth bishop of Sioux Falls for twelve years. When it will be accepted is unknown. It could be quickly or it could take a while as it did after Bishop Carlson was transferred.

I encourage you to begin to pray for a new bishop who has a shepherd’s heart as you did before I was named. Whether that prayer was answered you decide. But as in all things we will wait with patience for the light to change, gaining perspective from the fact there have been eight bishops before, and trusting in God and in His way expressed through Christ’s Church who will bring us the ninth bishop of Sioux Falls.

Drivers Prayer

Grant me, O Sacred Heart, a steady hand and a watchful eye,

That none shall be hurt as I pass by.

You gave life – I pray no act of mine take away that gift divine.

Protect those, dear Lord, who travel with me from highway dangers and all anxiety.

Teach me to use my car for others’ needs

And never to miss for excessive speed the beauty of the world.

I pledge to drive with loving concern to my every destination, offering each travel hour to you in a spirit of reparation.

Most Sacred Heart, my auto companion, have mercy on me.
-Sacred Heart Auto League

Bishop Swain's Column, June 2018