Dear Fellow Parishioners,
Some years ago, I joined the tens of millions of Americans who have GPS navigation systems in their cars. Within a month, I didn’t know how I ever survived without it. It’s the perfect “back-seat driver:” silent (if you turn off the audio), nearly invisible, and gives directions without critique. Before long, I learned that it isn’t infallible. It can send a driver on a wild goose chase to somewhere, or nowhere.
When I was in Arizona a few years ago, I decided to drive the historic Catalina Highway to the top of Mt. Lemmon. This 27-mile highway took 17 years to complete. On the way to the 9,157-foot summit, it is a virtual biological and ecological tour from Mexico to Canada, with a 40-degree change in temperature. I entered the destination into my GPS, and set out. It took me on a real adventure. The route chosen by the GPS wasn’t the Catalina Highway, but the AAA map showed it as an adequate gravel road to the same summit.
After several miles of serviceable gravel road (and great scenery) the road narrowed to one lane, but the surface was still adequate. A couple of miles later, a big yellow sign read, “Unmaintained Road Next 3 Miles,” “4-Wheel Drive Recommended”; “Passenger Cars Not Recommended.” By this time I thought I’d gone way too far to turn back, and thought I could ease my car over 3 short miles of rough road. Big mistake.
This un-maintained road went on not for 3, but for 20 more miles, and kept getting rougher and rougher. I moved at a crawl. Several times, I had to get out to clear rocks from the roadway. The road became nothing more than a single-lane ledge with a stories-high rock wall on the passenger side, and a huge drop-off (with nauseatingly vertiginous views, and no guardrail) on the driver’s side – and no place to turn around. I was inching over rocks and fording occasional creek beds for hours. There was a real danger that I’d blow a tire, damage my car, or otherwise have to spend all night on the side of this mountain where rattlesnakes and bears abound. Around each bend I hoped to see the summit, but never did. The sun set behind the mountains. Shadows were long, and the air grew colder.
More than three-and-a-half hours after starting, I met two people on foot. They said the summit was a quarter-mile up the road. My surprise and relief were enormous as I arrived at the paved highway and the summit which I could not see even as I was climbing toward it. This misadventure taught me a couple of larger life-lessons. First, I should not rely completely on any earthly person or device to set my direction, especially when heading into the unknown. Second, there are times in life when it’s impossible to turn back, even when the ultimate goal is not yet in view. At those times the Lord, whom even the wind and seas obey, is the only true Navigator.
Fr. Bill Donahue