By: Leo Gallegos
“Every day that passes, I fall more desperately in love with the mountains… I am ever more determined to climb the mountains, to scale the mighty peaks, to feel that pure joy which can only be felt in the mountains.” Bl. Pier Gorgio Frassati.
As we embrace the season of Lent, I am reminded of one of my favorite hiking trips. A few years back, a group of 5 of us, including myself, embarked on a somewhat crazy but awesome adventure to hike Cactus to Clouds in in Southern California.
C2C is considered one of the hardest day hikes in America with the largest elevation gain in one day (~10,400 ft). The trailhead begins roughly at sea level at the backend of the Palm Springs Art Museum parking lot. Due to its length and the desert heat, it’s wisest to start in the middle of the night or very early morning before the sun rises. The ascent consists of roughly 12-14 hours making your way up the 16ish mile trail to the peak of Mt. San Jacinto (10,834 ft).
It’s not the most aesthetic hike but it does have its moments of majestic beauty and awe.
But I think what calls most people to this grind of a traverse, as I know it did me, is the challenge. The opportunity to push oneself foot by foot, step by step to the summit not knowing if you will make it or how you will respond when you reach your limits. For us, it was too enticing not to try.
Although I am not the most tested hiker nor am I the best in high altitudes, not only did the challenge draw me but also the chance to share this adventure with four other Christian guys, guys who I knew wanted to push themselves, who were always striving to grow in faith and friendship made it something I had to be a part of.
How important it is for us to challenge ourselves. To strive to get the most of ourselves. To do honor to the potential God has given us and the vision He has for our lives. But even more importantly, which I struggle again and again with, we must push ourselves towards the right things in a way where God’s love and virtue is rooted deep in our actions rather than in a manner that serves our insecurities, ego, or hedonistic desires.
Especially in today’s hectic, hypercompetitive and image-oriented culture, we must be ever vigilant of how easy it is for a noble goal or pursuit, such as advancing in one’s career as to provide a good life for his family, to grow into an unhealthy, less than virtuous and self-centered attachments.
Lent presents an amazing opportunity to not only challenge ourselves but to also bring a stillness and renewing peace into our lives where we can examine ourselves and our actions honestly. How difficult and uncommon it is to see ourselves in this way, especially in today’s noisy and busy world. But it is so essential to the growth and peace we are searching for. Creating such a space not only helps us inch our ways bit by bit to becoming the person God wants us to be but also builds our brotherhood with Jesus, the true bread of our lives.
With the help of these four other guys, worn and spent, I eventually made it up that stubborn mountain. In some instances, one of the guys would give me some of their fluids or would let me try one of their secret sauce supplements (such as, Gatorade with chia seeds). But most of all just knowing that these guys had my back (of course, I also had theirs as well) is what really got me to the summit.
Some of the most lasting memories I have of that day is the long, periodic stretches of hiking in silence together. We obviously spent hours chatting it up and spouting off, enjoying ourselves and having a good time. But what has really stuck with me are those times when were tired but focused and unified in our focus to get to the top, to fulfill the mission at hand.
I think folks who have had similar hiking or team experiences know what I am talking about. It’s that time where you’re totally exhausted but in that exhaustion a determination that you didn’t even know you had emerges and carries you. By then everyone has grown to trust each other and thrives off a shared solidarity where words are not necessary, hearing your brother’s nearby footsteps and his heavy breathing speak much louder.
As I’ve set out on my own daily path to grow closer to our Lord, despite my many shortcomings and weaknesses, time and time again, with His aid I am proven wrong at how much I can bear, how much I can get out of my comfort zone. I am regularly surprised at how something I thought impossible is accomplished through His grace, such as overcoming my destructive drinking habits in my twenties.
The point is really not about whether or not you can hike a trail. What C2C taught me is how many of us are made of much more than we think we are or give ourselves credit for. With God’s grace our capacities to resist sin and to fight negative habits; and to likewise grow in virtue and do good are much greater than we often expect of ourselves. In matters of the soul, our culture encourages us to take the easy route, to build our lives around comfort and security, to demand the minimum of ourselves. To find a life “hack” but ignore the hard climb of a life of devotion to God and truth. But hacks and quick results, worldly desires and preoccupations are not what we we’re made for, nor are they what unlocks our promise.
So men, go boldly into Lent! Challenge yourselves to grow deeper in friendship with Christ, stronger in virtue and more free to love. Each day, set off to climb your mountain – to virtue, forgiveness, compassion, strength, freedom. If you fall or tire, rest in prayer and reconciliation. Why? Because you can do it. Because you were made for it. And, because it’s the only authentic path to discovering God’s dream for your life. And, when you do set out on the trail, I suggest not setting out alone. Make sure to have your brothers near. Make sure you can hear their footsteps nearby.