What's more, I became convinced that I could not learn how to do so. That grievous omission came back to haunt me some 15 years ago, in Rome. In preparation for that trip, my former boss and mentor, Cardinal Hickey, had asked me to rent a car. A student priest in Rome kindly took care of those arrangements for me. At my instruction, he had secured the use of one of the few Italian cars with an automatic transmission - in that case, an expensive Lancia. Upon seeing both the car and the invoice, Cardinal Hickey instructed me, in his kind and firm fashion, to return it -- and to come back with something cheaper. I knew, of course, that the substitute would have a manual transmission. Soon I was on my way to the rental agency, accompanied by the priest who had rented the rejected Lancia. As we drove along, I thanked him for coming with me, since I did not know how to drive a car with a manual transmission.
Neither do I, he answered, and then the nightmare began. With a mighty lurch, the newly rented Opel propelled both of us into Rome's rush hour traffic. Unskilled in the proper use of a clutch, I consistently stalled the car, to a chorus of horns. Unable to hold the car on hills, I rolled backwards, provoking not only horns but also outbursts, which even the most unseasoned tourist could understand. About a half a tank of gas and two quarts of oil later, we made it back to the North American College, where we were staying.We checked beneath the car to see if parts were missing. Thankfully, it was intact! That night, I realized to my horror that I was expected to take the Cardinal to his appointments in that selfsame Opel in the morning. I resolved that I would learn how to drive that car, in spite of myself. So in the dead of night, I sought out a seminarian who really did know how to drive a manual transmission car. With great patience, he taught me how to let the clutch out gradually. And for good measure, he instructed me in the advantages of starting off in first gear, rather than second! We drove around until I got the hang of it. My subsequent outing with the Cardinal was not entirely smooth -- but that is another story for another day. The point of this tale is our need to focus -- sooner, rather than later -- on that one problem, that one issue which we may regard as insurmountable. And now is the right time to do just that. Each year, when New Year's rolls around, we tend to compile an impossibly long list of resolutions. They are well-intentioned, but are usually forgotten by January's end. My advice for 2002 is not to compile a long list. Pick one thing -- one thing you thought you could never master -- and make that your single resolution for the coming year.
Let me offer some practical examples. Perhaps a sober look at our lives will reveal a dominant vice or bad habit -- something that has bee with us for years. It may be the one thing about us that brings unhappiness to ourselves and to those around us. It may be something we have tried to ignore. Or, long ago, we may have decided to coexist peacefully with it. It seems to me, that 2002 is as good of a year as any to get down on our knees and to ask God's help and the help of others in mastering our dominant fault. Similarly, an honest examination of our lives may reveal broken relationships -- with God, with one's spouse or family members, or with former friends and current colleagues. If we are making only one resolution this year, a good choice would be a decision to repair that relationship in our lives that is most painful -- even if our efforts meet with rejection. It is also possible that a careful look at our lives will reveal omissions or gaps. One such gap may exist in our prayer life. There may be tremendous stretches of time between one prayer and the next. Or we may also find that we have been neglecting someone who has a claim on our time -- someone who is aged, or poor, or lonely. No doubt about it, 2002 is a good time to address any such omissions that may exist in our lives. The wonderful thing about this approach is that one victory will lead to another. Once we start responding to God's grace in one area of our lives, we will have the freedom and the courage to respond in other areas as well. In the meantime, the streets of Rome and Fairfield County are safer, now that I know how to use a clutch!
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