I’ve been meditating about the Visitation a lot lately. I’ve been pondering the courage Mary had to travel across the hills of Judea alone. There could have been dangerous thieves along the way, but Mary had courage and faith that the Lord would safeguard her on her journey. I’m currently reading a book on the gifts of the Visitation and the next chapter is on the spirit of adventure. While on a retreat we had recently, I decided to jump in on Mary’s adventure and imagine what the scene was like.
The retreat we went on was in Evergreen, which is in the mountains. I began praying my rosary down by the half frozen stream. However, this sense of adventure kept popping into my head. I have a love for the saints and have been recently developing a relationship with Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Knowing him as a mountain man, I decided he should come along on my rosary walk. I began my excursion into the mountains with my buddy, Pier Giorgio. I had extra joy in praying the second mystery, the Visitation, as I hiked through the mountainous terrain. There were times where I wanted to stop hiking and just pray. But Blessed Pier whispered to me his motto, “Verso L’alto,” which translates to “to the heights.” So, I kept hiking.
There were points in my journey where I began to regret the decision to wander off into the mountains with just a rosary. Fear began to creep into my heart. But I still felt this sense of adventure. I felt like my hike was going to lead to an encounter with the Lord. The path I was hiking ended, but I wanted to go higher. Again, one of Blessed Frassati’s quotes came to mind, “The higher we go, the better we shall hear the voice of Christ.” I began running up the mountain, saying to myself, “Verso l’alto, verso l’alto!” I made it to the top and yelled, “Vivo Christo Rey!” I was overcome by the beauty of creation! I sang and danced on top of the mountain. What an amazing artist our creator is! By doing a 360 spin, I could see all four seasons. I was awe struck by the view. I was filled joy that I went as high up as I could to encounter Jesus. And then the realization of Advent hit me. In just a few short weeks, He will be coming down to earth to not only encounter me, but to save me from my wretchedness. I let the joy consume me as I continued to prance around the top of the mountain. The only thing that could make that moment better was someone to share it with.
Then, lo and behold, a fellow missionary found her way off the beaten path and was beginning to hike up the same mountain! I ran down to greet and embrace her. I felt like my dream adventure of the Visitation was coming true! She too had been longing for someone to share in the joy of being in nature. In our ecstasy, we ran to the top together. We pondered the Visitation together and then sang “O come o come, Emmanuel.” Then, in silence, we hiked down the mountain.
I believe the Lord gave me a taste of what the Visitation was like for Mary and Elizabeth. I experienced the fear of traveling alone, but the assurance that He was with me. The joy of being able to experience Jesus in creation and share that with a beautiful friend/ sister in Christ was such a gift. As we enter into the week of rejoicing, I challenge you to “verso l’alto” within your heart. Our hearts should be yearning to the heights. Be intentional when receiving the sacraments and prepare your heart for the greatest gift God could give. We are Israel and our time of wandering in the dessert is over. Jesus is coming to unite us to back to the Father. Gaudate!
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” Luke 1:46-47. “Shout for joy, daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem.” Zephaniah 3:1
Wake up by 6:30 a.m., Mass, breakfast with lots of coffee, and a street walk: a typical Monday morning at Christ in the City. Pretty straight forward, hey?
I thought so too, until this particular Monday morning rolled around and kicked me in the butt. Granted, no one likes Mondays, but coming off an especially long week of extra street walks and other things that had piled up, I was pretty drained.
Before lunch, I headed up to the chapel to what I thought was going to be a quick “hey” to Jesus, but He had other plans. I sat in the chapel, staring at the tabernacle, and realized how fragile and raw I felt. I could use the excuse that I was tired or didn’t drink enough coffee, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus was trying to tell me.
I was reminded of a recent talk I’d heard about the masks we put on in our lives. For example, some masks could be pride, sarcasm, jealously, etc. One of the masks I realized I had was fear of being weak. And at that moment in the chapel I felt weak; weak and fragile because I wasn’t “strong” enough to keep it together in front of Jesus. It was twenty minutes of sitting there in utter discomfort until I became just an ounce okay with the fact that I was this weak in front of Him.
I think this was Jesus giving me a sneak peak of what most of our friends on the street experience on a regular basis. Feeling fragile and weak, not knowing what is coming next or when they are going to feel strength again. But I think that’s when community comes into play. I got to bond over a similar struggle that my friend on the street and I shared. Being able to do that together was such a beautiful experience. Through this, we were able to challenge each other, help each other embrace our weaknesses, and recognize the beauty that can come out of our weaknesses.
We all have a desire to be strong and not let anyone see our weaknesses. But it is through our weaknesses and fragility that we become closer to Christ and closer to holiness.
“My heart is restless until it rests with Thee.” I’ve heard this so many times, it’s almost a tired cliché. Little did I know how quickly He would teach me the meaning of these words as a Christ in the City missionary.
A friend in the streets greeted me with “Hi, Joe! You look happy today.”
“You know what, I truly am,” I replied, slightly caught off guard by his statement.
“Any particular reason?” he inquired.
I thought for a few seconds before I answered, “I’m not really sure…”
I wondered about our conversation during our drive back home, trying to figure out what the reason could be. It couldn’t be my breakfast from that morning, that’s for sure (I completely burnt my poor bagel after ignoring the timer dial on the toaster)! The drive was just long enough to reflect over the past month.
It’s been a month filled with laughter, song, and community. It’s been a month that started with a random trip to Sonic that culminated with a bunch of strangers trying not to laugh at each other while playing a sad, sad, solemn game. It’s been a September spent waving at random drivers while having dance parties inside Christ in the City’s big white van and rocking out to Backstreet Boys while making pizza. Above all, the past month for me has been about making dozens of new friends on the streets of Denver and sharing with them countless handshakes, hugs, and laughs, hearing their stories and helping them in whatever small way I can.
How can I not be happy after gaining nineteen new brothers and sisters, all eager to grow in and live out their faith? How can I not be at peace when my every waking moment has been filled with joy and charity? How can my heart be restless when I’m exactly where I am called to be?