I was stunned and unbelieving the first time I saw it in Kentucky: twenty cars on a Friday night slowly circling around a McDonald’s restaurant. At first I thought McDonald’s must have beendoing good business with their new Chicken something, and then I realized that no one was doing business at all. The drivers of the cars were teenagers: sometimes three teens, sometimes two, and sometimes just one. What fun could they possibly have been getting from going nowhere? I asked a friend if she understood the science of it and she readily replied, “Oh yes, it’s fun. You get to see people, you listen to music, and you go ‘round and ‘round”.
‘Round and ‘round, like a merry-go-round. As a kid, did you ever love the merry-go-round so much that you never wanted to get off? And as long as there were a few quarters in your pocket or your benevolent parent was standing by, there was no need to. It didn’t matter where you got on, or where you got off; the point was to stay on the merry-go-round for as long as you could and enjoy every second of it.
For a few years I thought only Kentucky teenagers were infatuated with simulating the sluggish traffic of a Boston rush hour, until I observed the exact same thing in a small town in Mexico. A procession of cars, each blaring its preferred genre of music at maximum volume, went ‘round and ‘round the town plaza. I observed the phenomenon for a few minutes, until I was distracted by another procession crossing the town square, a procession of fervent townsfolk holding candles and balloons and carrying a statue of Our Lady. This procession was not going in endless circles: it had begun in some holy place and would end in a holy place. The participants were conscious of where they had begun and where they were going to. The point was not to be moving but to arrive to a specific destiny, a destiny that gave a new meaning to their journey and transformed it into an act of praise and worship, prayer and sacrifice.
Yesterday I participated in the procession for the Day of Consecrated Life here in Monterrey, Mexico. Imagine 300 or so consecrated souls from a myriad of congregations and institutes walking together through the congested downtown of a major city, holding lighted candles, singing songs of praise, and smiling for the sheer joy of knowing that God himself is at the end of our journey. Some drivers were impatient for us to cross the road and honked anxiously. Some pulled out their Blackberries to get pictures for their Facebook page, and some just sat on their doorsteps and stared. But I’m sure there were also people who prayed with us, or at least felt a silent surge of hope knowing that the steep hill to heaven is still being climbed, and is worth every sacrifice it takes.
I hope that our everyday Christian lives invite the people around us to realize who they are and to discover their high calling in Christ, as St. Paul tells us in Philippians 3:14. After all, the merry-go-round is just an optional style of life. There are better forms of entertainment.