Neither by Auto-pilot nor GPS


After living in one town for a long time it is possible to drive nearly anywhere on autopilot; the grocery store, church, the kids’ orthodontist, or your favorite coffee shop. When you move, however, there is this tiny problem of not even knowing the name of a local grocery store, church, or doctor, much less how to get to them. If there were ever a perfect time to have a GPS (Global Positioning System) in the car, I would have thought it would be when moving, but unfortunately, that is exactly when our GPS broke.

In order to learn the geography of our new town, I regressed to written directions and printed maps. Before leaving the house, I’d Google the address on the computer, print written directions, and then compare these with the myriad regional maps that I had “wallpapered” above our new fireplace. I also found it helpful to sketch a simple map by hand before leaving the house.

It was a time-consuming process at an unusually hectic time of life. In the first month I got lost a lot, and was often exceedingly frustrated. Once my 16-year-old got turned around in a sketchy side of town, but she managed to stay calm and find her way back to a road she recognized because she, too, had grown accustomed to learning where she was going before leaving home.

The experience reminded me of when I was new to living my Catholic faith and invested a lot of time in learning my way around the Bible and Church teaching. I am chagrinned to admit that before the renewal of my faith, I often attended mass on auto-pilot. In the same way that we often don’t pay attention to our surroundings when someone else is driving the car, the well-intended arrangement of having missals and rote prayers at mass left open, for me at least, the notion that I could sit in the passenger seat of my own faith; that I didn’t really need to fully engage with or understand God in order to reach the ultimate destination of heaven. I guess I assumed that church pews were like bus seats and priests like bus drivers, so that all I had to do to arrive at the Pearly Gates was throw some change in the basket and stay in my seat. How wrong I was!

Having auto-pilot faith may have happened to us unintentionally, but if we choose to remain in that mode and teach our children to mimic our passivity, I believe that we are actually taking a greater personal and parenting risk than I took when sending my daughter out driving without a GSP in a questionable side of town. If we don’t know God and our Catholic faith personally it may very difficult for us or for our children to recognize those roads that lead to our heavenly home and those that do not, especially if in the course of life we get turned around a bit.

Is a faith GPS the answer then? Do we just blindly follow the authoritative voice of the Church like some drivers follow a GPS? No. In order to really own our faith, we need to make the inconvenient and time-consuming investment of getting and understanding the directions (or the teachings of the Magisterium) and learning to read the map (or the Bible) that leads to a personal relationship with God. Only with this investment will the road names (or verses of the Bible), the compass points (or Church teachings), and the landmarks (or the Sacraments) become an internal GPS (a well-formed conscience) that will help us recognize the road to the narrow gate that leads to God’s side of eternal life (Matthew 7:13).

Two great ways to take ownership of our faith would be the following: 1) Read and memorize Holy Scripture. Having a Catholic Study Bible and/or joining a Catholic Bible Study will make this a ton easier! Bring a Bible to church and use it instead of a missal. To make things easier during mass, look up and bookmark the readings before leaving home. 2) Pay attention to and strive to understand the upcoming changes to the Roman Missal. Uses these changes as the catalyst to better understanding the mass and its beautiful use of Holy Scripture.

I’ve been keeping my eye on sales for a new GPS, because they are really handy in many situations, but I’m actually in no great hurry to replace my old one. Change, it turns out, is a great wakeup call. Properly embraced, it can lead us to discover new and exciting aspects of our Catholic faith, as well as new and great coffee shops after moving to a new town!

Copyright 2011 Heidi Bratton


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