When I was young, my parents often shared family stories and photos with me and my brothers. If only I could remember all of them. I inherited the love of taking photographs from them. I have used the precious memories they evoke to expand my view of our world. They help me remember my family and friends, and realize how blessed I am to be connected to them.
For the past two weeks, Mike, a college friend of mine and his wife, Betsy, have been traveling throughout Australia and New Zealand. Through social media, they have shared spectacular photos of their visit to its Outback. I wish space permitted me displaying all of their images of the Down Under’s unique animal and plant life. Their panoramic mountain and sea vistas, including those while diving at the Great Barrier Reef have reminded me that no matter what we think we have accomplished, God has given us endless potential to experience His world, and at the same time, to use our experiences to anticipate His Kingdom still ahead!
Just before departing, they visited Sydney, Australia, and climbed to the top of its Harbour Bridge. It carries rail, cars, bicycles, and pedestrians across its span of 1,654 feet. From its summit of 440 feet, my friends could view the Harbour, the iconic Sydney Opera House, and magnificent images of this world class city.
I’ve been thinking about their “reaching the summit” of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge. For two weeks, they have explored new and unique life views offered from life in Australia and New Zealand. Mike and Betsy planned for an amazing trip to discover God’s wonders and symbolically, their last effort was to “reach the top” of Sydney’s famous Harbour Bridge. And then they shared it with their family and friends.
For this Sunday’s lunch with your family, I encourage you to share insights and lessons you’ve learned from your life experiences. To stay connected, our children and family would enjoy hearing about where we have traveled, and what we have learned. Who are our friends and what have they taught us? Not all of us will visit Australia and New Zealand, but their unique animal and plant life, together with spectacular geographic scenery give rise to remind us of equally inspiring places and people we have met.
In college, Mike, my friend visiting Australia once joined a fraternity prank that involved him and others leaving me and another freshman in a deserted area late at night. The goal was to see if we could find our way back to our dorms without any immediate help from others. No, it wasn’t hazing; I was expecting it and looking forward to seeing how I would respond. It remains a cherished memory that in spite of us seeking to avoid a situation, ultimately, like unexpected obstacles in life, we will be surprised, challenged, and given opportunities to overcome our difficulties and obstacles. After thinking about our predicament, my friend and I realized we had the means to return to campus easily and safely. We laughed about it and celebrated our success. I thank my friend for helping me use my faith and courage. Now, I’m not surprised by he and his wife’s courage to “reach the summit” of that famous bridge. God is with us each day, and supported by His Church, our family and friends, we have the choice to open ourselves to the lessons they provide.
This Sunday, the fourth of Great Lent, we call to mind St. John Climacus’ spiritual book, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” It challenges readers to overcome the vices of life and likewise, to acquire the virtues God prefers for us. The 30 steps of the ladder are pictured in an amazing icon reminding us that throughout life, God calls us to seek to climb ever higher, and not fall off, distracted by demons and the vices of life. Looking upward, we see our Lord Jesus Christ at the top, beckoning us to live virtuously and love and support one other.
Two years ago, my family had the opportunity to visit my childhood parish and offer a Memorial Service for my parents of blessed memory. At the same time, I prayed for the eternal repose of my two Godparents, as well as the Koubaroi who exchanged Presbytera Marinda’s and my rings and crowns at our wedding nearly 36 years ago. I shared with the congregation the Memorial Card below to offer praise and thanksgiving to God for these six persons, together with my two brothers also pictured with my parents. God gave my parents, my Godparents, and our Koubaroi the blessings of loving, supporting, teaching, inspiring, and helping me and my family stay focused and cling to Him in our life’s journey. Since this Sunday is the same Feast – the remembrance of St. John and the Ladder of Divine Ascent, I wanted to share it with you.
Notice what’s at the top. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Pantocrator, the Sustainer of us all. I was reminded of this heavenly image when I saw my friends earthly photo of “reaching the summit” in Sydney, Australia. As they looked up, He looks down on each of us, no matter what “step of the spiritual ladder” we find ourselves. I thank Mike and Betsy for sharing with me, and reminding me that there is so much of life I have yet to see and experience. Likewise, I thank all who have supported and enabled me to cling to God’s ladder from earth to His Heavenly Kingdom. They help me to not fall off, and without them, I could not succeed. My prayer is that all of us “reach the summit” to God’s Eternal Kingdom.
Christ awaits us. Why not share with your families at Sunday Lunch who are the persons who have kept you focused… who have offered you the lessons you cherish most in life. Helping connect your family with how you overcame certain difficulties using your faith and the support of others will help your family and friends to know how to do the same.
And in so doing, let us remember always, “In His hand are the depths of the earth, the heights of the mountains are His also.” (Psalm 95:4) May we all “reach the summit” to God, today and always! Amen!
[Appreciation to Michael and Betsy Weixel for sharing the first two photographs.]