Praised be Jesus Christ! A month ago (September 7th to be exact) I climbed Mount Elbert, the highest point in the Colorado Rockies, coming in at 14,440 feet above sea level. As I mentioned during daily Mass once or twice, climbing in high altitude is a lot harder than I would have imagined and there are times when quitting seems like a viable option. Because Mount Elbert has a couple of “false summits,” I was reminded of a quote from C.S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves: “Let us suppose we are doing a mountain walk to the village which is our home. At mid-day we come to the top of a cliff where we are, in space, very near it because it is just below us. We could drop a stone into it. But as we are no cragsmen, we can’t get down! We must go a long way round; five miles maybe. At many points during that detour we shall, statically, be further from the village than we were when we sat above the cliff. But only statically. In terms of progress we shall be far “nearer” our baths and tea!” Except for the bath and tea reference, the rest of the quote is something that we can relate to in terms of our spiritual journey. Have you ever felt that, in spite of your best efforts, you’re further from true holiness than you were when you first set out to follow the Lord? It’s a common experience, one we refer to when we use the phrase “I take one step forward and two back.” Many of us find ourselves confessing the same sins year after year, hoping that someday we will overcome these temptations. One of the realities of alpine hiking is that the folks on the mountain tend to be very encouraging. At one point I was in the steepest section and I knew I had at least another hour of rigorous hiking before reaching the top. A climber was descending and stopped to give me a much-needed pep talk: “Hey, you’re doing great! Slow and steady and you’re sure to make the top.” And he was right! The spiritual life is similar, a fact pointed out by Evelyn Underhill when she wrote, “A lot of the road to Heaven has to be taken at 30 miles per hour.” Yes, we’d prefer to be saints by the end of the week so we could relax and congratulate ourselves on a job well done. But by God’s design, becoming a genuinely good person is the work of a lifetime – and because we’ll need some encouragement along the way, Jesus established the Church. Saint John of the Cross titled one of his spiritual masterpieces The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and it too accurately depicts the spiritual life as challenging. As a case in point, Saint John wrote “to love is to strip oneself for God of all that is not God.” By this point some readers are probably wondering, “If the spiritual life is so difficult, then why bother? Why not kick back and enjoy life?” These are fair questions, and Jesus heard them many times too, even from His closest friends (e.g. “But Lord, this is impossible!”). His response echoes down through the centuries and it still startles: “Come and see.” Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves and He realizes that we were made for great adventures. While we tend to be timid when it comes to the greatest spiritual adventures, Jesus put deep inside each of us a desire to do something remarkable, to become someone great. And to that end He piques our curiosity by inviting us to follow Him, to try to live His life. Many of us chicken out and fall back, some for most of their lifetime. But Jesus never gives up on us – He believes in us, that if we wanted to, we could climb that mountain that has beckoned to us for all of our life. Yes, it’s harder than any of us like... but together, “slow and steady,” we can make it to the top!
Come Holy Spirit, inspire us to find joy in service and peace in the midst of our greatest trials!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin