I present to you a document of some forty pages entitled " Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road " prepared by a Vatican office known as the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People, which is under the supervision of Cardinal Renato Martino. "The outcome of a great endeavor entailing listening, reflection and insight," the document begins with a fascinatingly uninformative reflection on "The Phenomenon of Human Mobility":
Moving from place to place, and transporting goods using different means, have characterised human behaviour since the beginning of history . . . .
The transportation of goods and people is increasing at a dizzy pace, sometimes taking place under difficult conditions and even putting life at risk . . . .
A modern phenomenon, full of consequences, which is part of this mobility, and the progress that derives from it, is traffic in general, and especially road traffic. Traffic has gradually increased . . . .
We only need to consider the many uneven roads travelled on by unsafe and overloaded means of transport, which constitute a grave danger for everyone, especially at night . . . .
Undoubtedly, road vehicles give us many advantages. They provide a rapid means of transport for people (getting to places of work and study, weekend outings with the family, going away on holiday, meetings with friends and relatives) . . . . Means of transport are particularly useful when they enable sick and injured people to be rescued . . . .
So the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People informs us in writing that people drive in cars in order to go to work, that there’s a lot of traffic nowadays, that goods are transported from place to place over the roads, that driving is more dangerous at night than during the day, and that it’s really good that sick and injured people can be transported over the roads to hospital. Try, if you can, to write down five or six sentences as fatuously banal as each of these, and you’ll find it’s not easy.
What, you may ask, is the point of all this? Well, the document continues by mentioning that both the Old and the New Testaments refer to people traveling¯and often on roads too. There was the migration of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans, the journey of Jacob and his sons down to Egypt, and the wandering of Moses and the Children of Israel for forty years in the desert. And, of course, there was the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, Christ’s travels in Galilee and Judea, and¯very significantly¯his appearance after the Resurrection to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. From this we can conclude that "Christ is the Way, He is the Road," because, after all, he said "I am the way" (John 14:6).
After this remarkable bit of scriptural exegesis, we are instructed in good driving habits under such headings as "Escape from Everyday Reality and the Pleasures of Driving," "The Domination Instinct," "Driving Means Coexisting," "The Mandatory Nature of Road Regulations," and the "Drivers’ ‘Ten Commandments,’" which last include such precepts as "The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of moral harm," "Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events," and "Feel responsible for others."
Now no one denies that, while driving, we ought to be safe and courteous, try to avoid accidents, and generally observe the traffic laws. In fact, that is precisely my point¯ everyone knows we ought do these things. No one has a brief for unsafe roads or drunk driving or road rage. In an era of the most profound and heated moral disagreements over truly life-and-death issues, safe driving is one of the extremely few things that everyone agrees on. Hence, a lengthy disquisition on the subject backed up with pompous theological bloviations is utterly bizarre.
What we have here, in fact, is a bureaucracy wildly out of control. It’s as if some ecclesiastical Dr. Frankenstein patched together a high school drivers-ed manual and the Compendium of Catholic Social Thought to produce some raving intellectual monstrosity let loose on the world to announce most solemnly the most absurd banalities decorated with irrelevant quotations from Scripture and the Second Vatican Council. Or, rather, it’s worse than that, but I don’t really know how to express it. It’s the kind thing that can’t be expressed but can only be experienced. Go look at the document for yourself.
Now, about two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, assumed human nature and was born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, and on the third day he rose again in glory, redeeming the human race from sin, opening the gates of heaven, and completely transforming human history. In his final words to his apostles, he commanded them to go forth and teach all nations and to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In thus sending forth the apostles, our Blessed Lord saw no need to add, "Drive safely!" For wisdom of that order, we had to wait for Cardinal Martino.
Robert T. Miller is assistant professor at the Villanova University School of Law.