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Taking Flight in Faith: A Meditation on Christian Morality

April 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Taking Flight in Faith: A Meditation on Christian Morality
Br. Frederick Cutter, OblSB
Knights of Columbus Council 2838
Lector Reading for 22 April 2014

[As I proofread this essay, the NYT reported 16 Nepalese sherpas were killed in an avalanche on 18 April while preparing ropes for the 2014 Mount Everest climbing season. Please keep their families in your thoughts and prayers. ]

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“Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:3).

The Himalayan peak of Annapurna I beckons to the hearts of those men who gaze upon it from miles below. Out of every five climbers who make a bid for its summit, two of them will die in the attempt.

A quarter of the Earth’s land mass is a mountainous, vast wilderness, the most extreme of which is guarded by death: Pyramid slopes of avalanche prone snow, fierce winds that strip climbers free from their cliffs, thin air so unbreathable that a man at sea level would pass out almost instantly.

The awe of spiritual heights holds even greater power over human imagination, for even the godless concede we possess a spiritual quality to our nature. We use “rising/falling” as metaphors for life/death, awakening/sleeping, and success/failure. Perhaps we used these descriptions all throughout history and across every civilization because they reflect something intrinsic about the image of our spiritual nature. We profess in our Nicene Creed that Christ descended into hell, rose to new life, ascended into heaven.

Scripture describes our faith with images of mountains. This is the place where the Lord dwells, where mystics retreat to discover the depths of eternity, where our light as disciples is meant to shine, where our patriarchs received revelation. God made covenants with Noah and Abraham, and gave Moses the Ten Commandments from a mountain. The transfiguration of Christ and his later Ascension into Heaven occurred on a mountain. Revelation promises that the bride of Christ is to be presented from atop a great, high mountain.

But for that to happen, we must first arrive at that summit. The Lord calls us to carry our cross up the mountain upon which he dwells. He gave us the example through his own life, and just as the rabble ridiculed his climb to Calvary and His falls on the way, so too will the world ridicule us. The media feeds its ravenous appetite on news of our falls into spiritual death. The world hopes, wants, and encourages us to fail. The godless world watches, with a sickening anticipation of delight and alacrity, as men fall to certain death.

Yet onward we climb. A man atop a mountain peak can see much farther than a man flat in a ditch covered with the mud of the world. A man encamped within a mountain stone fortress is unassailable. The world builds upon easily destroyed foundations of sand.

As we progress in this spiritual ascent, we see the world for what it is and could have been, but we also glimpse into the eternity that will be.

No wonder history’s greatest mystics disappeared into the mountains. Benedict of Nursia taught his first monks that the climb is exhausting, dangerous, filled with snares and traps and temptations that lead to cliffs of spiritual death. The safe path is narrow, hidden. As a result most men remain obstinate and unwilling to make the ascent. But failure to make the attempt at all leads to certain eternal death. The master cast out the servant who buried the talent of gold. This servant did not waste or squander the money, but did nothing with what he had been given. The Lord punishes the lazy far more severely than those who honestly try and fail. But even as we so often fall, we take solace in the knowledge that the Lord commands his angels to bear us up, lest we dash feet against stone.

We are safer in these mountains than we ever could be in the world.

With that confidence we undertake this journey with tools and equipment to make the ascent. The Lord gave us our ropes and harnesses: Scripture, liturgy, creed. These tools save us when we experience avalanches of despair, when winds of temptation threaten to blow us free from the cliffs to which we desperately cling, when the air becomes so thin, so unbreathable, that the only breath we have left is that which the Lord gave us in our creation.

Yet just as we collapse from the exhaustion of our ascent, the angels will raise us upright, wipe us clean, dress us in the finest linens, and present us to all the new Creation as the Bride of Christ our Lord. In this eternity to come, from within that holy place on the Lord’s great mountain, we will then ascend higher than ever before.

For from upon the breath of the Holy Spirit, we will spread wings and fly.

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