After 14 months of planning and training, we had finally arrived on the upper slopes of Mount Rainier, an inactive super volcano near Seattle. After two days of trudging up 9,000 vertical feet of snow and glacier, we neared the top. The sky was still black at 5:00 AM. We forced one foot in front of the other, while our lungs screamed for air and our legs burned. Slowly, blue and orange streaks began to form on the horizon. Our minds started to awaken as we approached the summit. Finally, we took the final steps onto the top of the massive volcano, delirious with exhaustion. As we caught our breath, we were greeted by the sun rising above the clouds, streaking into the valley miles below us. My heart burst with gratitude and awe. We stayed for a short but memorable 20 minutes before wickedly cold wind drove us to hike back down.
Summit experiences are always fleeting. For weeks after our success, the stories were told and retold. As the novelty wore off, the question “what’s next” naturally asserted itself. The answer, really, was not another mountain. Mountains, in the big picture, are rather small. Our adventure on Mount Rainier, despite being so consuming for us for so long, was ultimately preparation for a greater adventure: the mission Christ entrusts to us in life.
The adventure of this life in Christ is the great challenge. There is suffering and adversity, beauty and hope. But God does not leave us to ourselves on this path. He never intended us to walk alone. He is intimately with us, most especially in the Holy Eucharist. The Church recognizes the Eucharist as the “source and summit of the Christian life.” I think we understand summits well. But Christ in the Eucharist is not only the summit, he is also the source. He is the source of strength, courage, and joy along the road.
In a very real sense, Christ in the Eucharist is also the source of the struggle. His presence calls to us, convicts us, to step up to the challenge. It is so easy to slip into complacency, to live life with comfort, to compare ourselves to others in the world and feel like we’re doing alright. But the Eucharist confronts us with the infinite God, placed in a humble manger, suffering persecution and crucifixion, then rising victorious over sin and death. All for love of us. This is an invitation. He wakes us up from our lethargy and reminds us that we are meant for the heights, the summits.