The Priest, Mountaineering, and the Vocation-Risk

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Not only do the mountains and the heavens seen from their snow-topped peaks proclaim God’s glory but the mountains can also be pathways to rugged virtue: sint rupes virtutis iter (Gino Borghezio).

For mountaineering allows man a respite from the modern metropolis with its impression that we are in a “man-made” world; it empowers his thinking to break free from the smog of modern thought suffocating his natural desire for God; it calls man’s spirit back to the real and to realism about existence.

Not only is man face to face with the sheer beauty of life but also with life’s fragility – and the danger of losing it in an instant. The risks involved in ascending to the peaks evoke the risks involved in living; the dangers of wrong decisions on the mountain-paths evoke the dangers on the trek of man’s existence with their eternal echoes in the latter.

Mountaineering is quick to teach us the value and rewards of risk. Swiftly does it instruct us that risk-taking – which is not a synonym of foolhardiness – is a noble quality, indeed divine. For God was the greatest “risk-taker” (in a certain sense): The Eternal Father created the human race and each individual man in one breath-taking risk of divine love since in giving us freedom he risked the rejection of his love and the birth of sin, evil par excellence. The Son, Jesus Christ became vulnerable when he took on a man’s body: the hazards of limitations, sufferings and  ultimately death in the risk-taking descent of the Incarnation. If man is to live as a true son of God the Almighty Father he must walk on thin ice at certain moments in life. If man is to live as a true brother and friend of Jesus Christ he must jeopardize himself. For to love – the purpose of life – is necessarily to open oneself to adventure, to uncertainty and therefore to danger.

To want to go through life holding peril at arm’s length,  always remaining at the foot of the mountain, is not worthy of man. Indeed to be a man one has to take risks because in a Fallen World history and each man’s life is an unending battlefield between Truth and the Lie, Love and Egotism:  and there is no escaping – one must choose which side one is on. Indeed that and none other is the very purpose of life, why you exist. To choose Truth and Love over the Lie and egotism day in, day out over a lifetime is nothing less than a perilous mountain ascent where risk-taking is the name of the game. By taking the risk for Truth one defies a world of political correctness: one can lose career advancement, recognition and even friends.

That is why the young man, strong, full-blooded, brave and spirited, who begins to ascend the mountain of the priesthood is a risk-taker in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ for he has accepted the heroic risk of surrendering one of the greatest abilities a man has: to be husband and physical father. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”( John 15:13).

By taking the risk of loving with purity white as the snows of Mont Blanc, the young man starting the ascent of Mount Priesthood risks loneliness, misunderstanding and other wounds even though – provided he climbs unto the summit – he will discover a “hundred times over” of breath-taking joy whose existence the dark ravines of the world beneath does not even suspect.

Such risk is never recklessness for it prepares the spirit by close scrutiny of the maps of truth made out by the cartographers of the Ancient Church. His steps will travel on pathways known to the heroic saint-priests of olden years: well-tried are they and although perilous in parts, with splendid vistas along the trek and the assurance of reaching the summit.

Priests should feel at home on the peaks for they are called to live spiritually on the heights for the sake of their people; to breathe in the pure air of the altitudes of the spirit which they know is gotten at the cost of the sweat and breathlessness of the ascent; to recall that life to be a success must be a struggle ever upwards and higher through purification and enlightenment to the peaks of union with God where happiness has its home.