Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hiking Through-9/8/13 homily

At World youth day this past summer Pope Francis spoke about the "wisdom" of grandparents-the elderly. He noted that in an era where the family unit is breaking down it was all the more important to consult our elders. In a day and age where everything has to be "new" and "faster" and "better" the readings this weekend focus on some age-old truths. In the first reading from the Book of Wisdom we hear "who ever knew your counsel. except you had given wisdom and sent your Holy Spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight." Wisdom, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit-it helps us to choose the right path. If you have ever been skiing you know the importance of choosing the right trail. If you are a beginner you don't want to go down a double-black diamond full of moguls. I remember once skiing at Killington and my friends goggles were all fogged up. We took what seemed to be a fairly safe trail only to find it full of moguls. I heard "bleep" I can't believe you "bleep...bleep...bleep" all the way down. GPS is now a tool that many of us use for navigation. It helps us to choose the right roads. So, too, in life, we need a trail map, a GPS. Jeremiah 6:16 says "Thus says the Lord: stand by the earliest roads, ask the pathways of old,'which is the way to good', and walk it; thus you will find rest for yourselves." In ancient Israel it was important for a shepherd to stay on the right path-the choice could be one of life or death. One such trail, a famous one, The Appalachian Trail, is here on the East Coast. From Georgia to Maine the trail passes through six national parks and eight national forests. It is a 2,176 mile trip through 14 states. Every year people undertake the journey. Why? Most people are looking for peace, for answers, for understanding. The earliest roads, the pathways of old provide the answer. Paul Stutzman is one person who managed to hike the trail. In his book Hiking Through he describes some of the perils of undertaking the hike. In one poignant paragraph he describes the emptiness of possessions, something that Jesus warns about in today's Gospel. Stutzman had lost his wife to Breast Cancer and the hike was a chance to find healing and peace. Here are his words in a chapter titled "My new life." "Lion King, not the man's real name, had set his sights on Maine and I wondered why he was on the trail. His answer was one I would hear numerous times during the hike. 'My wife passed away recently and I'm trying to find peace and healing.' Although this man owned several homes in Hawaii and was quite wealthy, his possessions and money mattered little now. In search of contentment, he had travelled across America, living out of his car. finally the call of the trail brought him here, where he sought the healing that was so elusive. He carried a palpable sadness and loneliness, and I felt a kinship to his sorrow. His story was a reminder that the message I carried held universal truth. We spend a lifetime working hard to accumulate homes and possessions that we believe are vital for comfort and security, only to discover those material accumulations are quite meaningless in our darkest hour of sadness and need." Paul even met up with a Catholic priest along the way. He called him Padre. When he asked the priest about heaven & hell, Padre replied 'many years ago St. Catherine of Siena said, all the way to heaven is heaven because Christ is the way. In my faith we now say Heaven all the way to heaven; hell all the way to hell." Paul says 'I was a seeker. I wanted to know who God was. For most of my life, I knew I wanted to follow the right path, but it always seemed so difficult-almost impossible. I'd been taught the rights and wrongs of living, but I knew little about the heart of God." Paul found his peace in reading scripture. A turning point was the funeral of an uncle of his. His uncle had read the bible many times and showed great peace up until his death. As he says "Little by little the heart of God came into focus. His patience and mercy amazed me as I read of His love toward so many flawed individuals in the bible." On Aug 30, 2008, Paul finished his hike. He approached Thoreau spring-named after Henry David Thoreau who explored Mt Katahdin in 1846 and wrote a book called The Maine Woods. Thoreau spring was 1 mile from the summit. As he approached the end he overheard someone say: Guys that hiker over there has walked close to 2,200 miles from Georgia to finish here. Let's let him have the sign to himself for a few minutes. The other hikers stepped aside, applauding as I approached, I dropped my backpack and laid my poles across it, then grabbed the sign and sobbed. I fell to my knees still holding the base of the sign, tears falling, and thanked God for safety and healing." What did Paul learn on his journey? He learned that God had honored his promise to be with him. "The narrow pathway had been my way to freedom" Paul said. He also heard God speak. "I am coming soon" the Lord said. In a moment much like Job shaking his fist at God in anger, Paul heard the words he needed to hear. Four words that changed his life. He now knew that God wanted to use him as an Apostle. Isn't that the call of all of us-to Go be a disciple to all nations. "I will use you to reach the scoundrels" the Lord said. Looking for freedom, looking for peace? You do not need to hike the Appalachian Trail. Perhaps you have lost a job or lost a loved one, maybe there is a crisis in your life.. Follow the ancient path, the old road, consult your elders, the wisdom of Grandparents, and follow Jesus Christ-the way, the truth, and the life.

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