In today’s Gospel, Christ says to Mary Magdalene, “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” As followers of Jesus, we should also go and travel towards God. Let’s consider in what ways Christianity is akin to a journey.
Sometimes in the Christian life it seems like I am embarking on an international business trip, at at the end of which I will meet with the CEO of the world’s largest company. If everything goes well, I will earn the biggest promotion imaginable. But first I have to get to this faraway city, which involves complex logistical planning. Everything has to go right, but it involves incredible intricacies, lots of regulations, and plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong.
The first step is to arrange the flights. It’s an important trip, so you better know all the rules in the airline Contract of Carriage (it’s forty-seven pages long). Don’t forget about all the paperwork for a passport. Once at the airport, get through security screening, following all the rules and regulations of the TSA and knowing the 433 permitted and restricted items. There’s a lot to do, a lot to get right, and a lot of opportunities to mess things up. The whole thing actually seems very stressful and exhausting—and on second thought, maybe I’ll stay home and take a nap.
The Christian life is not a complicated international business trip, filled with bureaucratic complexities, which we must flawlessly navigate. If at times it seems that way, it’s a sign that something is going wrong. Instead, we could think of the Christian journey to the Father as if we’re climbing a mountain. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus himself all ascended mountains to stand before God the Father. Plus, as is not the case with business travel, all people naturally desire to climb mountains. (Why else would we build roads up to the top of Mt. Washington or Pikes Peak?) What’s more, a mountain climber can see his goal rising on the horizon ahead of him, while our business traveler can’t actually see his destination when sitting in the departure lounge. True, even in mountain climbing there are many possibilities for errors and mistakes by straying from the trail. However, we find helpful signs and markers which lead us away from dead ends and toward our destination. On the mountain we don’t find the seemingly arbitrary rules and regulations of the airline industry.
The trek up a mountain is certainly difficult, but it is also an opportunity for learning, improvement, and enjoyment. Pope Pius XI, an avid mountaineer, once wrote about climbing: “For while one’s strength is renewed and increased through hard labor and the struggle to reach the purer and more rarified regions of the air, it also happens that the soul, by wrestling with every type of difficulty, becomes more persistent in its handling of the burdens and duties of life. And the mind, through the contemplation of the immense and beautiful view . . from the summits, more easily rises toward God, the Author and Lord of nature.” Nobody could write this about standing in line at customs and immigration control.
These two extended analogies can help us examine how we conceptualize our own lives as Christians. Are we like the business traveler who undergoes a tedious journey, and reaches his destination by sheer force of will? Or are we like the mountain climber, seeking to learn the nuances of the wooded paths, understanding something about our destination and how to get there?
In another translation of today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” How will we follow Christ, going to the Father? I’m lacing up my hiking boots.
Image: Pier Giorgio Frassati