Mountaineering and Palm Sunday

I have posted a few liturgical and Papal messages drawing here and here the relationship between mountaineering, rock climbing and the Christian life. Here I found another great one, in Pope Benedict’s 2008 Palm Sunday homily, where he used the rope that ties climbers together as the central metaphor. The translator even had to put in a footnote to explain the metaphor:

 Communion with Christ is being on a journey, a permanent ascent to the true height of our calling. Journeying together with Jesus is always at the same time a traveling together in the “we” of those who want to follow him. It brings us into this community. Because this journey to true life, to being men conformed to the model of the Son of God Jesus Christ is beyond our powers, this journeying is also always a state of being carried. We find ourselves, so to speak, in a “roped party” [1] with Jesus Christ — together with him in the ascent to the heights of God. He pulls us and supports us. Letting oneself be part of a roped party is part of following Christ; we accept that we cannot do it on our own. The humble act of entering into the “we” of the Church is part of it — holding on to the roped party, the responsibility of communion, not letting go of the rope because of our bullheadedness and conceit.

Humbly believing with the Church, like being bound together in a roped party ascending to God, is an essential condition for following Christ. Not acting as the owners of the Word of God, not chasing after a mistaken idea of emancipation — this is also part of being together in the roped party. The humility of “being-with” is essential to the ascent. Letting the Lord take us by the hand through the sacraments is another part of it. We let ourselves be purified and strengthened by him, we let ourselves accept the discipline of the ascent, even if we are tired.

Translator’s Note:[1] The Pope is using a mountaineering metaphor here. Groups of climbers often rope themselves together when they scale mountainsides. This is the meaning of a “roped party.” The Italian word is “cordata.”

One of the activities of Creatio puts into practice these great parallels between rock climbing and the Christian life. Here are the 5 parallels we draw in the manual for guides, of which the rope is central to the last two: community and trust and friendship.

  1. Explain how the theme is the Christian Life for which rock climbing serves for 5 corresponding metaphors:

                                               i.     Goal: Journey towards heaven

                                              ii.     Preparation: Life and death/Fear and falling

                                            iii.     Means: Effort, fear and risks

                                            iv.     Community and listening

                                              v.     Trust and Friendship: rooted on the rock and others

  1. 2.     Community and listening: Rock climbing is inherently communitarian. You need at least 2 people to climb if you want to make it alive. Each one helps the other, and climber and helper are indispensable to each other. Nobody can climb alone. The belay is a wonderful metaphor for the Christian life. The hinge point of survival is the rock and bolt to which you are connected – the solid Rock is God himself. Then you need rope and harnesses, which are the Word of God. But a belay system is incomplete without another person, the belayer. We need others to succeed in the Christian life. The belayer needs to be focused and aware of the person who is climbing: if he falls, needs rest, needs guidance and support. The climber needs to communicate with the belayer, listen to advice and fundamentally TRUST. 

The Spirituality of Mountain Climbing

This is a quote from Pope John Paul II on the significance of sports and specifically mountain climbing. The meaning it has for the Christian life and how it can enhance our spiritual growth. The original in Italian can be found here, and the quote in English can be found in the book “A Catholic Perspective: Physical Exercise and Sports”, by Robert Feeney. Enjoy!

“If it is true that sports activity, in developing and perfecting the physical and psychological potential of the person, contributes to a more complete maturity of the character, this is especially true for those who practice mountain climbing and engage in it in respect for the ideals which this sport sustains and nourishes. I exhort you in the words of my predecessor, Pius XII, to be “docile to the lessons of the mountain: 

. . . it is a lesson in spiritual elevation, of an energy which is more moral than physical.” I congratulate you on your programs which aim at educating your members in respect for nature and in a deepened examination of the message which she imparts to the human spirit. Have special concern for the young, to train them to follow the type of life that the mountains demand of their devotes. It requires rigorous virtues in those who practice it: strict discipline and self-control, prudence, a spirit of sacrifice and dedication, care and solidarity for others.Thus we can say that mountain-climbing develops character. In fact, it would not be possible to face disinterestedly the difficulties of life on the mountains if the physical and muscular strength, which is very necessary, were not sustained by a strong will and an intelligent passion for beauty. Help your members also to be contemplatives, to enjoy ever more deeply in their mind the message of creation. In contact with the beauties of the mountains, in the face of the spectacular grandeur of the peaks, the fields of snow and the immense landscapes, man enters into himself and discovers that the beauty of the universe shines not only in the framework of the exterior heavens, but also that of the soul that allows itself to be enlightened, and seeks to give meaning to life. From the things that it contemplates, in fact, the spirit is lifting up to God on the breath of prayer and gratitude towards the Creator.”