Photo Credit: Untamed New England Web site
Winter had released its icy grip and the wilderness of Maine glowed in summer brilliance. Floods of tourists headed to the sands of its rockbound shores, to the trails of its pine covered mountains. There is a group of hearty souls, however, who travel to Maine to compete in an event called the Untamed New England Adventure Race. Teams of four athletes each set out on a four day wilderness endurance challenge that includes mountain biking, whitewater rafting, ropes, wilderness navigation, and the like. Each team must be self-sufficient: planning their daily course, securing food and lodging, and maintaining themselves in every way. Event director, Grant Killian says, "Life during those days of Untamed New England takes on a unique focus. Get to the next checkpoint, take care of your teammates, and keep moving in the right direction." [Competitor Magazine, March 2012]
Reaching checkpoints, caring for one another, and going in the right direction is very good advice for living the Christian life. No matter how predictable one's day may be, the unexpected can disorient, confuse, and challenge one's sense of direction. From the Catholic perspective, following Mr. Killian's advice gives one a distinct advantage.
- Get to the checkpoints – The sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, provide us with opportunities to "check our gear and restock our survival kit" as we resume our trek through life. Time can slip away and the lessons learned through our experiences can be unappreciated unless there is a respite in which we can meditate on what is occurring in our lives and gain spiritual insight and guidance. We humans are very complex and variable creatures and are in need of spiritual nourishment and wise teachings.
- Take care of your teammates – Watching out for one another or loving your neighbor is one of the most enduring and often among the most rewarding tasks in life. Jesus commands us to love one another as He loves us; it appears to be a straight forward and all-encompassing demand. Yet, there are many stumbling blocks to fulfilling it. We have to care and not to coerce. We have to correct without degrading. We have to live a life pleasing to God and not simply satisfying to ourselves. We cannot delude ourselves into using, necessarily, society's definitions of good and bad as indicative of God's teachings.
- Keep moving in the right direction – The pathway to a virtuous life is straight and narrow. By this assertion, I mean that the way of righteousness is clear and well lit rather than filled with the shadows of lies and deceit. Although free of the potholes of sin and indifference, it is not black and white and always smooth and uneventful. Conscience is the use of free will imbued with divine guidance. Our moral code is to do the loving thing and to disdain all that is inimical to that mission. Decisions are not always easy to discern and follow. But no matter the difficulty or the sluggish progress, keep moving forward.
The key to directing one's life toward that which enhances it and away from all that diminishes it is an unshakable resolve to know, love, and serve God first. The kiss of temptation is seductive and its scent captivating. Wisdom in thought and prayerfulness in attitude are powerful weapons in battling temptation in all of its manifestations. In addition, self-knowledge regarding our strengths and weaknesses allows the Holy Spirit to act efficaciously. Courage, in full vigor, allows for the unveiling of many a blind spot in our personalities and rewards us with a preparedness that wards off a multitude of sins and their dire consequences. The following is a story of an alcoholic, desperately craving drink, who prayed to God for help. As he was heading to the bar he encountered an old friend: "As we walked together into a restaurant, I sensed a malevolent power leaving me. We had a good dinner, chatting over good times, and as we paid our bills, I realized the desire was completely gone. 'Say,' said my friend, looking up at me, a toothpick in his mouth. 'Wasn't that a coincidence, our meeting like this?' I thought of my feeble prayer at the elevator, and clapped him on the shoulder. 'No, Sam, no… I don't believe it was a coincidence at all.'" (Harold E. Hughes, with Dick Schneider, The Man from Ida Grove).
Back to the simplicity of our striving: Life is an adventure that lends itself to challenges that test the human spirit and rattle the soul. Our ultimate success is to emerge from the wilderness whole and fit to enter the Kingdom of God. Pray that we find the implacable perseverance to win the joy and peace of truly witnessing the presence of a Christ-likeness in ourselves and for others.