Catherine Smith Student of the New Evangelization and Theological Studies
This past August, I loaded my tiny car up with all the possessions I own to road trip across the country. Leaving Illinois and my entire “village” of family and friends behind, I responded to a call that the Lord placed on my heart to move to Denver, Colorado. After just two weeks of living in the mile-high city, the chaplain of my graduate school invited me on a Saturday morning hike. Responding “yes” to his email, I had no idea the impact this day in the mountains would have on my spiritual life.
At 3:30 am, my roommates and I crawled out of bed, chugged coffee, grabbed our gear, and set off for the mountains with the rest of the crew. As we pulled up to the trailhead of Mount Flora around 5:30, we had a 6-mile hike ahead of us. I realized quickly into our journey that I was still not acclimated to the altitude of Colorado, had not packed enough clothing for warmth, did not bring enough water or snacks, and was far more out of shape than I thought. When I signed up for a 6-mile hike, I never took the time to research that we would end at a 13,132-foot elevation. This hike was about to humble me greatly.
About a half-hour into the hike, I had to take a break almost every three steps so I could try to breathe without wheezing noises. The trail to the top consisted of a “narrow path,” forcing us to walk in a single file line throughout the majority of the hike. I hardly spoke to anyone in the group, partially due to being in single file, but mostly because I was afraid of passing out if I tried to talk, breathe, and walk all at the same. It was so windy throughout the hike that my lips dried up, my fingers went numb, and I was just cold. I overall believe my many embarrassing moments throughout this hike could land me a front-page spot in the “Hiking for Dummies” manual on what you should not do when summiting a mountain. After hiking for a long time, I saw what I thought was Mount Flora’s summit. As I made it over the hill, I saw… a false peak. As we passed over the false summit and saw the correct peak ahead of us this time, I finally recognized how many other people were very slowly inching forward in our hike as well. We were struggling together.
After an hour and a half climb, seeing the top filled me with so much relief. The sun was shining, and everyone was smiling. My climb to the top of Mount Flora entailed a deep and personal reflection of whether my legs would work after the day came to an end. Additionally, my time standing on the summit of my first “13’er” in Colorado consisted of a deep and personal reflection of my journey with the Lord. We sat on the top of the mountain for about an hour in prayer with a view that genuinely took my breath away (it also could have been the altitude that left me with no breath… I’ll leave that up to you to decide). All the mental and physical struggles that I endured while hiking Mount Flora culminated in great awe and wonder at the Lord’s Creation. “It was worth it,” I kept thinking to myself. I sat at the top of the mountain recognizing the analogy for my life in Christ, striving to climb the mountain toward holiness. This humbling, but beautiful hike was beginning to change the way I understand my journey towards Heaven.
As I began the hike unprepared, slightly humiliated, exhausted, and filled with second guesses of whether the hike was “worth it,” I started my life in Christ, feeling like I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The darkness of a 5:30 am hike compares to the darkness of my heart when Jesus first began to call me to deeper communion with Him. The lack of snacks and water I packed compares to the lack of daily prayer, sacramental nourishment, and formation I began with as my conversion towards discipleship initially sparked. My struggles throughout the hike relate to the countless struggles I have endured in choices to let go of many sins, attachments, and worldly desires that have clouded my desire for the Lord. The “narrow path” we hiked relates to the moments in my life I have had to sacrifice things to walk on the narrow path that God desires for each of us (Mt 7:13-14; Lk 13:23-25).
The false summit we encountered compares to moments where I have pridefully believed I “arrived” at holiness or rid myself of an unhealthy attachment… only to realize the smallness of myself compared to the perfection, I am called to (Mt 5:48); when I sin or fall again. Looking in front and behind me to see the rest of the crew all struggling together helped me recognize the communal life we share as Christians in this pilgrimage home. We strive together, and we summit together. This is the beauty of the Body of Christ. There are so many moments throughout my hike on Mount Flora where I see the Lord at work in my heart to show me that the scraped knees, wheezing instead of breathing, numb fingers, and so much more relate to our childlike climb back to the Father’s arms. We struggle much, especially at certain stages of the journey, but we trust that He is with us, and we trust the challenging climb will someday end.
Throughout my hike, I had a deep desire to summit the mountain regardless of if it took me all day. In the same way, the hope I have for Heaven makes every struggle and sacrifice worth the journey because I trust that the summit will be worth it. One of the most significant battles we face in our spiritual hike with the Lord is having the longing and determination to continue moving forward amidst the narrow path, the trials, and the moments where we fall. This desire and confidence must be put at the forefront of our minds to stand back up after falling, even though our legs feel like they might give out, and embrace the path towards Heaven, which is the fulfillment of our hearts deepest longing (CCC 1023).
As I continue to hike Colorado mountains, I look back on my first intense hike with gratitude for the prayerful reflection it has given to my soul and the humility it has taught me about my spiritual life’s progress. In continuing to hike the mountain of life here on earth, my day on Mount Flora helps me to remember that one day the summit of Heaven will come. May the Lord increase our desire for intimacy with Him in this life and for eternity with Him after. May our false summits, side aches from the lack of oxygen, struggles along the way, and moments of deep humility aid in our sanctification and journey towards Heaven.
Let us pray for the grace to keep climbing! Verso l’alto!