Climbing the Mountain of Faith
A number of years ago I went to the canyon lands of Utah and Arizona for my summer vacation. One of the national parks I visited was, I feel, one of the most beautiful parks in the country, Zion National Park, in Southwest Utah. Sometimes you see pictures of some of the huge rocks that line the Zion Canyon. The most famous is called the Great White Throne; it used to be the symbol of the Western Pacific Railway. Anyway, while I was there I got the brainstorm that I should go mountain climbing. Not a bright idea for a sometimes hiker from New Jersey. I had this guide that said a Ranger would lead a hike up to the pinnacle of Angel's Peak. It said that it was a steep hike and moderate climb. Joe Athlete as I am, I figured this would be no problem. So, with most everyone else dragging behind, I went bouncing up to what I thought was the top. As I looked at the view, I thought, "There really is nothing to this climbing stuff." That's when the Ranger pointed to this rock that was behind me that seemed to go straight up for about 400 feet and said, "That's where we are going." Now I could not see how it was possible for 1) Anyone to get there and 2) for me to get up the courage to get there. I hated the thought of going that far and quitting almost as much as I hated the thought that the Ranger, a woman, was enjoying watching my macho run out of me as fast as the blood ran out of my face as I looked straight up. But, male pride won, and I pulled myself up to the top where my first consideration was whether or not I had enough money to pay for a helicopter to come and get me. After a little while though, I looked out and saw the most beautiful view I had seen before or since. I also felt that God was very close. It was as though he were saying to me, "That was difficult, but I have a special reward for you for your labors."
Today's readings present us with three famous mountain climbers: Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Moses climbed Mount Sinai and was given a gift for the people--he received the Ten Commandments, the Law. This was God's Word for Israel. The people treasured the Law as a personal guide from God on how to serve him. Elijah climbed Mount Carmel and was given a gift for the people--the power to conquer the evil that was in the land, the evil prophets of the pagan god Baal. Elijah restored God's gifts to a land that had listened to the wicked Queen Jezabel. Jesus climbed the mountain of the Transfiguration with his most trusted disciples and was given a gift for the people--the gift was an understanding of how God was going to accomplish the salvation of his people. Moses, representing the Word of God in the Law and Elijah representing the Prophetic Word meet with Jesus the Word Made Flesh. Together they discussed the fulfillment of God's plan.
We have many challenges in our lives. Many times we have mountains that seem greater than we can conquer. These challenges may be a chemical dependency in one or several of the members of our family; the problem may be emotional or psychological. The problem may be physical, or financial, or simply a relative with whom it is particularly difficult to deal. Whatever the challenge, if we take it up and put our trust in God to help us, God will provide. If God is with us, what could possibly keep us from our deepest desire, the desire to be happy with him forever. "Nothing," St. Paul says, "can keep us from the love of God. Neither persecution nor pain not suffering nor chemical dependency nor psychological conditions nor even difficult relatives can destroy his presence in us." Happiness comes from within. Happiness comes from recognizing that the one who has shared his intimate life with us, the One who dwells within us from our baptism, refuses to desert us as we climb the each challenge life presents.
During this century we have seen many examples of people who were happy in the most desperate situations. Two particularly stand out. The great Catholic priest Maximillian Kolbe showed such heroic virtue in a concentration camp during the Second World War. He offered his life to replace that the father of a family when the Nazis decided to kill a certain number of the prisoners as an example to the rest. In this midst of terror, Maximillian Kolbe found the peace of the Lord and as a result the Church was given a new saint.
The great American Cardinal, Joseph Bernardine, was challenged with a spurious allegation and then was challenged with cancer. He died happy and in peace. One of the most beautiful books written is Cardinal Bernardine's The Gift of Peace. Treat yourself. Buy it, enjoy it and watch how Cardinal Bernardine's climb will encourage you to climb the mountains of your life. God alone turns tragedy into triumph. Yes we struggle, we climb, we grope for an inch to get by as we go up our latest mountain, but God cares for us and provides for us.
In this era of information, when the computer reigns and the Internet opens the world of knowledge to every home, we have to admit that information is not the solution to every problem. We don't have the answers for all the problems of the world and of our lives. We don't even know all the right questions. We are called upon simply to trust. We are called upon to trust in God and to have faith. We know that God is with us, if he is with us than he will transform our lives. He has always provided for us and he always will as long as we have faith in him.
Lent is a journey of faith. We are called today to trust in the Lord in our deepest struggles. We are called to trust in him when we need him the most. Maybe the real mountain we have to climb, is the mountain of faith. We don't climb this mountain alone. The one gift of the Lord that is never denied is the gift of faith.