In April 1902, Hilaire Belloc published his monumental account of his walking pilgrimage from central France, across the Alps and down into Rome. Years later, his grandson, the Benedictine Abbot Dom Philip Jebb, would claim that his grandfather's Alpine musings mark their author as a genuine mystic.
One might be hard-pressed to differ with this opinion when one reads the following thoughts set to words atop the steep pass of Weissenstein:
Up there, the sky above and below, part of the sky but part of us, the great peaks made communion between that homing creeping part of me which loves vineyards and dances and a slow movement among pastures, and that other part which is only properly at home in Heaven. . . . From the heights . . . I saw, as it were, my religion. I mean, humility, the fear of death, the terror of distance, the glory of God, the infinite potentiality of reception whence springs that divine thirst of the height and soul; my aspiration toward completion, and my confidence in the dual destiny.
Such words touch a sacred place in each human heart and earn the word ''great'' for the author of their expression. Thus it is this common ''aspiration toward completion,'' this ''confidence in our dual destiny,'' that was ignited anew by the divine fires raging in the heart of another ''great,'' one who would gain this title via the world's recognition -- a man born and bred under the terrors of 20th-century totalitarian regimes and yet who, through his alpine clarity and faith-filled vision, was able to show the world the pristine yet ever new call to completion.
This man, born some decades and miles apart from Belloc, shared a common love for mountains, humanity and the Catholic Faith. He was to ascend the world's pulpit, the Chair of Rome, and teach a thirsting world the truth of God's impelling and personal love for each and every person created as Imago Dei.
Interestingly, it would be the youth of the world who would emerge shamelessly and eagerly to claim their intimate connection with this ''sweet Christ on earth'' (St. Catherine of Siena's term for the pope). Adults might do well to ask themselves why it was that the youth were the first to embrace the moral challenges entrusted anew to the world of our generation by Pope John Paul the Great.
And if I make this claim, I feel impelled to substantiate it. Permit me to do so with a story -- one that, in this case, while amazing, is true -- so true that it is growing by leaps and bounds in each subsequent day through God's infinite mercy and goodness.
In 1997, under the auspices of Cardinal John O'Connor, four Dominican Sisters began a new Religious Institute: the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Located today in the city which is home to a university begun by another great Catholic priest, Father Gabriel Richard (co-founder of the University of Michigan), this Ann Arbor-based Dominican community touched the landmark of 99 members in August 2009 while maintaining an average age of 26 years old. Already the Sisters teach grades ranging from kindergarten to university in schools located in their own state as well as in California, Florida, South Carolina, Arizona and Texas.
How is this possible in a world where CNN and other news agencies assure us daily that the ''old morality'' is passé and a ''new'' one is here to stay? Perhaps someone really ought to share with CNN, humorously but wisely, a fresh insight into the immortal nature of each one of us, portrayed again by the mystic Belloc:
We laughers have a gross cousinship with the most high, and it is this contrast and perpetual quarrel which feeds a spring of merriment in the soul of a sane man (The Path to Rome).
Young people are full of laughter. They live by an idealism rooted in a genuine joie de vivre which everyone can easily appreciate and acknowledge. They easily risk being called fools because they know their rootedness is reality and their desire is for a world better -- a life beyond, i.e., that ''mountaintop'' wherein the ''divine thirst of the heart and soul'' might find completion.
Youth was made for idealism -- an idealism founded on hard-core truth, possessing a deep-seated commitment to the only manner in which greatness can be found: the via crucis, or way of sacrifice, and of the total, unstinting gift of self.
John Paul the Great knew this, and from his mountaintop view in heights throughout the world on which he traveled (and where Benedict XVI now forges as well), he loved us all -- his children. And, in his loving fatherly embrace, he led those who would follow to their own mountaintops. By encouraging in each such truths as morality, devotion, sacramental moorings and commitment to the age-old, rock-solid universal longing understood through Eucharistic Adoration, Marian consecration, and the vowed gift-of-self through the vocational commitment, a personal Father invited each individually.
In other words, Belloc got it right when he told us that we are made for an ''infinite potentiality of reception.'' John Paul the Great showed us the way through his lifelong reception of ''the other,'' through giving himself away freely to all God's children. The Religious Communities that are growing in the heart of today's Church are those that balance the ''laughter'' of humanity with the mountaintop ''divine thirst.''
Through our Community's clear vision of the Catholic Faith and of Religious Life as taught by the Church's magisterium, through the pristine Dominican balance needed for contemplative apostles in today's world, and through daily Eucharistic Adoration and Marian Consecration that fire our femininity for the expression of authentic spiritual motherhood (in a world that is losing the understanding of this sanctified and sacrificial divine calling), the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, are receiving, forming and sending out a Marian company to mother the world for Christ!
What message might we Sisters wish most to give to priests in the Church today? We need you! We need your authentic holiness!
As spiritual fathers, you must lead the way up to the mountaintops by feeding us with the Eucharist, by freeing through sacramental confession and absolution the lambs caught in sinful brambles, and by fulfilling our sacramental needs even while you recognize your own weaknesses and personal need for holiness.
We need to see Christ when we look at you: Christ walking the meadows and fields in search of every one of us; Christ scaling the mountains to speak in silent communion with the Father and to gain the strength to carry all of us on shoulders made strong through a divine likeness! Finally, we need your deep laughter to ring through the whole world the one WORD whose embrace is forgiving, encouraging, believing -- with an authentic joie de vivre for this world and the Next!
Sister Joseph Andrew, O.P., is the Vicaress and the Vocation Director for the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. She is also a speaker and a published writer on various issues in the Church, including religious vocations, John Paul II's Theology of the Body, and women's role in the Church today.