Having just pushed the odometer over 96,000 miles our car was in need of a tune-up, a brake job, four new tires, cv boots and an alignment. Anyone who has to take their wheels in for repairs or maintenance knows the inherent hassles of discovering the "hidden costs" that always show up once the vehicle is on the rack and we're helpless to say "no, we'll get it done later" because we are basically "carless" because we were careless! They've got you between the devil and the deep blue sea. Speaking of the former, our souls are the same way for we can become "graceless" because we are careless.
Today is "maintenance day" for it is both First Friday and the Twelfth Annual World Day of Prayer - the final one before the new millennium. It would seem to make sense to reinforce this day, and everyday of the year from here on, by activating what the Blessed Virgin Mary has been repeating for two centuries - "Pray! Pray! Pray!". So far, folks, we haven't kicked the prayer mode into high gear. We're still sputtering along in first gear, some even in reverse, and are having a mighty tough time making the steep grade that seems to get tougher each year. The potholes of immorality and apathy seem to widen and the ruts in the road get deeper each day. Some even are running out of gas, failing to refuel at their neighborhood service parish where they can get a complete tune-up through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist.
The additives inherent in these sacramental fuelants enable us to run smooth and straight; the steering is much steadier, and the brake pedal works instantly when we come upon the obstacles of temptation that could cause a collision with God if we are not driving correctly. Just as an automobile needs regular check-ups and maintenance to help it run smoothly, so also our souls need constant care to prevent breakdowns; to see that everything is running smoothly and the engine is purring on all cylinders. The transmission can't hum if it is tainted by sin...especially mortal sin. All systems shut down. Venial sin, as Sister Mary Lucy Astuto addresses in her column today, causes rust and the bolts to loosen which makes it harder to avoid the sudden turns and adverse conditions that occur with temptations. We must check the fluid levels often by being conscious of the elements and climate. If we maintain our vehicular souls in a climate of grace and virtue, we can be assured all systems are go and even though we have manual transmissions through Original Sin, putting it into automatic transmission is simple if we forego our own egos and stubborn self-will and turn them over to the Divine Will.
While the Sacraments and Sanctifying Grace are the mainframe of support, the virtues are the drive shaft that keeps us aligned with the Almighty. His Holy Church is the steering mechanism that enables us to go forward toward our ultimate destination. We achieve a valid driver's license through the Sacrament of Baptism which makes us eligible to get behind the wheel in our journey toward our Heavenly destination. The brake shoes, pads, discs and drums are built solidly on the Ten Commandments; the radiator runs hot or cold depending on our observance of the Theological Virtues which are the cooling system. The spark plugs of the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit keep the motor humming quietly and confidently without missing the graces; the teachings, dogmas and doctrines of the Church are the battery, alternator and generator that power the ability to know God's Will. The fan belts rev up our zeal and reverence for all that the Father and the Divine Son have deigned. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the catalytic converter that helps eliminate the pollutants of sin and vice by clearing the exhaust with weekly, if not daily observance of this greatest of devotions. Man's free will is the ignition; if he is not willing to start, he will stand idle. The necessary lubrication fluids and additives provided by the Magisterium and hierarchy of the Church help keep the ship of the soul in top running condition. Prayers are the valves, gaskets, filters, fuses, hoses, cables and wires - all accessories that help everything run more cohesively.
That is why Our Lady beseeches us to "Pray!" because this communication with God helps our souls run more smoothly, assuring that the entire soul vehicle is fully aware of danger signs when they arise because of preventative maintenance. So often, through distractions of the world, we neglect this necessary check-up and keep right on motorin' oblivious that the engine is running hot, that the battery is mischarging, fuel sparse, the plugs missing badly, fluid levels dangerously low, and the tires way out of balance. Then we wonder what went wrong when the brakes don't work and the air bag of reconciliation fails to remind us that we're in big trouble as the soul is crunched in a collision with sin. It can be fatal and the soul totaled if it is mortal sin. That is the last thing anyone wants. But it can happen if we don't heed the warning lights and signs. No matter who we are or how we live, day-in and day-out road wear and tear can cause problems if we dont' tend to the danger signs immediately.
Lent, therefore, is the perfect time to get that complete and thorough "Spring tune-up" at our nearest parish church "station." If we are faithful to maintaining our souls with regular spiritual check-ups, then we can be assured the warranty will last forever. But that warranty, written by God and signed by us, is only good if we keep up our part of the agreement and resolve to be responsible drivers and obey the rules of His road! It's all up to us, as the well-known classic Aamco commercial stated so succinctly, "You can pay me now, or pay me later!" We all know it makes a lot more sense to pay now, for the price later could be so steep we might simply not be able to afford it later. That is the greatest tragedy we can think of. It would be like having a car up on blocks with no way to ever go anywhere! In other words, you're stuck behind the wheel in eternal gridlock!