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FAITH AT HOME | Keep holy the commute and the car pool

Our minivan is one big silver stereotype.

Granola bar wrappers on the floor. Cheerios stuck between seats. Baseball gear rolling around the back.

I’ll admit our car is overlooked; I’d never let the house get this dirty. It’s also much-maligned, as I crack jokes regularly about minivan life.

I know I’m not alone in feeling like we live in the car some days. The average American spends about an hour a day driving.

But St. Catherine of Siena said that all the way to heaven is heaven. What if our time spent driving mattered as much as our destinations? Could our hours on the road be sacred space?

If we believe God is omnipresent, there is no place where God is not. The Holy Spirit hovers over the minivan’s chaos, too.

Christ can come to each of us on the road. Perhaps He shows up on our daily commute, inviting us to choose compassion over aggression. Maybe He squeezes in during the latest pickup from sports practice, nudging us to welcome the sweaty teammates piling in the back as Christ Himself.

But there’s not a single rush hour or road traveled where God doesn’t go with us.

St. Frances of Rome — wife, mother and servant of Rome’s sick and poor — is the patron saint of motorists. Legend holds that her guardian angel carried a lantern before her whenever she traveled to light the road and keep her safe.

St. Frances is also famous for saying, “Sometimes a wife must leave God at the altar to find Him in her household management.”

Sometimes, then, a mom must dig through the clutter to find God in her car.

Our van is an Odyssey. (When we bought it, I begged my husband to rename his car the Iliad so we could have a matching pair.) But the name rings true. Within the Odyssey’s walls, our family is traveling together on a long journey over years and years. Our house-on-wheels is full in this stage of life, ringing with laughter, fighting, music and even prayer.

Inside our car, we’ve offered morning blessings on every drive to school. We’ve prayed a Hail Mary for racing ambulances with sirens screaming. We’ve tackled big life questions from kids in the backseat. We’ve navigated hard-but-good conversations between spouses in the front.

When I stop to see, I realize that it’s in our van (as in our home) that we are becoming the people and the family that God is calling us to be.

Just as we gather around our kitchen table — which I’m quick to claim as holy space in the domestic Church — we spend time together in our car each day. We share conversation, questions and the occasional snack en route to the places we are called: home, school, office, church and every stop along the way.

Sometimes on a solo drive to a meeting for work, I notice the silence: sweet, rare, fleeting. As an introvert, I secretly savor the quiet without kids in the backseat: no screaming, no squabbling over songs on the radio.

When the car is bursting with noise again, I’m better able to give thanks for the life I’ve been given — because I’ve felt the contrast between full and empty.

The Catholic “Book of Blessings” offers a prayer for blessing a vehicle. It includes the line, “Whether they travel for business or pleasure, let them always find Christ to be the companion of their journey.”

May the same be said of our families — and our cars, too.

Fanucci is a mother, writer and director of a project on vocation at the Collegeville Institute in Collegeville, Minn. She is the author of several books, including “Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting,” and blogs at www.motheringspirit.com.

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