Striving for the Summit

Out there in the depths of the Internet, there’s an entire calendar of quirky holidays. This day, August 1st, is National Mountain Climbing Day. It might seem a little unfair — after all, not everyone has access to mountains.

And yet, everyone can still participate in a good, strenuous mountain climb. In fact, if we’re properly living as Catholics (and parents!), we climb mountains every day.

As any stay at home mom can tell you, dealing with the kids can seem like a pretty steep incline to face, especially doing so alone for the bulk of the day. As sweet as they are, children are basically tiny, energetic clones of yourself who have all the rational capacity of drunken goats. What part of wrangling them for 18 years sounds easy?

There are other challenges to scale as well — aging parents, a big move across the country, unreasonable expectations at work, health crises — you name it.

In the midst of all these other unavoidable life events, sometimes it seems absolutely crazy that anyone would willingly practice NFP — another mountain which, when confronted with extended abstinence or confusing charts, can seem utterly insurmountable.

But in the wise words of Miley Cyrus,

There’s a voice inside my head saying
You’ll never reach it,
Every step I’m taking,
Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking but I
Gotta keep trying
Gotta keep my head held high.

Okay, while she’s not exactly a poster child for quality decision making or living a moral lifestyle, these words are #relatable.

Or, perhaps, it may be helpful to look to a real-life mountain climber who has conquered heights both physical and spiritual: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.

More details on his life are available here, but suffice it to say that not only was he one of those rich people who gave everything to the poor, but he was also a normal human.. He was known for inside jokes, playing pranks and even starting an outdoorsy society with his friends. Pier Giorgio made sure these excursions always deepened their friendships as well as their faith. On one such excursion, a friend snapped a picture of Blessed Giorgio engrossed in his favorite pastime: mountain climbing. Giorgio scribbled “verso l’alto” on the back of it, not knowing it had captured the last mountain adventure he would ever take. Twenty-four-year-old Giorgio died of polio a month later.

While he had completed his last physical climb, it was far from his last spiritual one. The young man had made a tradition of spending his spare time with the poor and ill and — much like his outdoor excursions with his friends — he would accompany these souls through great emotional and spiritual trials…often unto their deaths. With the sudden onset of his disease and his life quickly coming to a close, Bl. Pier Giorgio, had to overcome the pain of knowing that his paralysis would prevent him from ever climbing a physical mountain again. Finally, after six days of intense suffering, Giorgio made his final and triumphant ascent to live forever with his Greatest Love.

Verso l’alto” literally translated, means “toward the top.” While the beloved soul never considered it his personal motto, his simple note on the back of a now-famous photo would become prophetic and inspirational to generations. Pier Giorgio lived his life as a mountain climber of both physical and spiritual skill: moving slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, but always verso l’alto. 

Living NFP is, in many ways, like climbing a mountain. The trek can seem long, all-consuming, and sometimes impossible. But if a climber is focused only on his fear of slipping and falling, the task will seem arduous and the beauty go unnoticed. Instead, to scale a mountain well, a true master looks always forward, focused on the summit, accepting setbacks and slip-ups as a small part of a grand adventure.

The “peak” of NFP (lol) is not merely family planning, nor is it successfully doing marriage “the right way.” The summit of NFP is, instead, an entire lifestyle — a paradigm shift — that orients and accelerates husband, wife, and the entire family toward sainthood.

For holier families through the practice of NFP, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us.

Verso l’alto!

— CCL Staff Member