Yesterday I returned with two friends from 19 days in the wilderness, where one has to carefully ration one’s food. In fact, we ran out of food towards the end, but God provided a kindly forest service ranger and three generous Indian hikers who resupplied us.
We had hiked the John Muir Trail, from Yosemite to Mount Whitney, 200 miles and 47,000 feet of elevation gain. We spent almost three weeks climbing through rockfalls and blasted trees from avalanches, fording ice-cold rivers and digging for footholds over steep snowbound passes, enduring electrical storms with sleet and rain, and (worst of all!) unusually large clouds of relentless mosquitos. Snow covered the trail in many places, making it hard to find the trail on the other side, and one of us got lost for a day. Thanks be to God, he found his way back to the main trail as a search and rescue was beginning, and the Fellowship continued its journey. We reached the highest point in our country south of Alaska on Sunday morning and offered a Mass of thanksgiving in the emergency shelter as freezing wind and fog lashed the summit. How hard it is even to reach 14,505 feet on this planet! But God lifted Our Lady up into the highest heavens today by a perfectly simple gesture of grace. How good He is!
Yesterday I thought of food as I emptied my exhausted backpack. Only a dirty plastic bag with a dozen stale almonds remained of all the food we had carried over three weeks. I tossed the sour nuts into the garbage. The scraps of food we treasured on the trail were now contemptable to me. Back at home, who would attempt to choke down the pitifully-desiccated food we had treasured on the trail? I found a small bag of freeze-dried stroganov that had not made it into my pack. I would have given anything for that little bag of dried food in the wilderness, but now it seemed dirty and disgusting.
Our Lady has made it to the summit of perfection, by God’s grace. She lived on earthly food while on pilgrimage, but in heaven things so treasured on earth must seem utterly contemptible. We eat, with joy, the food God gives us on earth, but we eagerly anticipate another kind of food in the life of the world to come. Even the Holy Eucharist itself is only a poor foretaste of what God has prepared for those who love Him. We are all pilgrims in the wilderness, desperately rationing scraps of nourishment. But someday, like Our Lady, we will come into our true home, and take our seats at the wedding feast of the Lamb.