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Towards the Mountain Top

October 31, 2010


A few years ago, we took a family vacation to Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. It was my first time in the Canadian Rockies and I’ll note as an aside that, until that trip, I only thought I knew beauty.

One afternoon, we took a long, slow, terrifying ride up a cable car tramway, 7,500 feet up the side of a mountain to an observation deck. We looked down at the town, with the surrounding valleys and lakes adding hints of sparkling beauty to the landscape below. After some time marveling at the sights, I looked up, seeing a trail that continued up the side of the mountain to it’s peak, roughly 1,100 feet above the observation deck.

“I think I’d like to make the climb and see how things look from the very peak,” I said.

Everyone else had either made the climb before or was unwilling to battle the altitude and steep grade to continue on so I set out, mostly alone, with the exception our then-ten month old son strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn.

It didn’t take long to realize that 1) a fifteen or twenty pound kid strapped to your chest, over time, feels like a ton of bricks, 2) thin air is, indeed, harder to breathe and 3) I was woefully out of shape. Luckily, Michelle, watching from below, noticed the frequency of my rest breaks and came to meet me several hundred feet up to take Lincoln (our son) from me. Relieved of his weight, I resolved to carry on.

I continued my ascent for the next thirty minutes or so, at times taking no more than ten to twenty steps up the steepest parts of the trail before having to catch my breath. I thought to myself, “it’s just me up here, and no one is going to be disappointed if I quit, so why not just stop and head back down?” However, the shear force of my stubbornness compelled me to continue on.

What felt like an eternity later, I made it to the top. I scrambled up a heap of boulders to make sure I was at the highest point of the highest point. For twenty or so minutes, I sat alone, surveying the view and feeling pride of accomplishment and determination before, eventually, my moment of personal reflection and triumph was interrupted by some other hikers. I decided to vacate the peak and give them their personal moment which I had had the pleasure of enjoying.

Refreshed, I began walking down the mountain encountering, every ten to fifteen minutes, groups of two to three hikers that had stopped to get a drink, catch their breath, or spell their aching legs.

I saw on their faces the same feelings I had experienced, the nagging feeling that each step brought a new decision of determination to continue forward, rather than turning back to the comfort below.

Before long, I couldn’t help but reach out to these people, saying to each of them, “You can do it. Keep going. I’ve just come from the top and, trust me, it’s worth it.”

It’s not that I doubted that these people had the internal motivation to keep going and press on towards the peak, it’s just that, honestly, I wish someone had said those words to me when I was discouraged and thought about giving up. As hard as I tried to motivate myself, and ultimately succeeded, it would have been amazing to have someone, even a complete stranger, offer me a moment of external motivation.

As I think back on that day, I draw parallels between what I felt/experienced and what we experience in the life of the church. On November 1 each year, we celebrate All Saints Day, in which we have an opportunity to look backwards at the men and women of the faith who have made that ascent. They stand, looking back from the pages of our history, saying, “You can do it. Keep going. I am with God in heaven and, trust me, it’s worth it.”

The walk of Christian discipleship is far more arduous and taxing than the relatively short walk I took up the side of a mountain a few years ago. But God has filled the trail with men and women who bear witness to the fact that, while perfection/ union with God feels like it’s forever away, it really only requires one thing: that we keep going, surrendering ourselves to him in the midst of every moment and refusing to feel content with what and who we are.

The Second Vatican Council reminded us this reality in the document Lumen Gentium, saying:

“In the lives of those who, sharing in our humanity, are however more perfectly transformed into the image of Christ,(275) God vividly manifests His presence and His face to humanity. He speaks to us in them, and gives us a sign of His Kingdom,(12*) to which we are strongly drawn, having so great a cloud of witnesses over us (276) and such a witness to the truth of the Gospel (LG, 50).”

Let us remember today that we are not alone on the journey of faith; that God has blessed us, not only with the community of faith in which we have the joy and honor of worshiping on earth, but with the eternal church in heaven, inhabited by our forebearers in faith on whose shoulders we stand, hoping to catch passing glimpses of His glory as we trek onward towards our heavenly home.

God Bless you all and Happy All Saints Day.

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