Two men have buoyed my hopes this past week, and continue to do so: John Paul II and Pier Giorgio Frassati. They have been shoulders to cry on, understanding ears, and above all tireless intercessors. And now, they help me to understand Ben’s life and process his death. Several news articles about my brother include quotations from friends and family describing his love and charity, but few realize how that is connected with his mountaineering. Earlier this year, Ben shared with his family:
John Paul II understood mountaineering pretty well, and the role of sports, and especially outdoor sports, in spiritual development. He describes it here pretty much the way I relate to it, so I feel a little more connected to the Church in having expressed fairly similar thoughts and opinions. Here’s a long quote from JPII that’s good all the way through:
“If it is true that sports activity, in developing and perfecting the physical and psychological potential of the person, contributes to a more complete maturity of the character, this is especially true for those who practice mountain climbing and engage in it in respect for the ideals which this sport sustains and nourishes. I exhort you in the words of my predecessor, Pius XII, to be “docile to the lessons of the mountain: . . . it is a lesson in spiritual elevation, of an energy which is more moral than physical.” I congratulate you on your programs which aim at educating your members in respect for nature and in a deepened examination of the message which she imparts to the human spirit. Have special concern for the young, to train them to follow the type of life that the mountains demand of their devotes. It requires rigorous virtues in those who practice it: strict discipline and self-control, prudence, a spirit of sacrifice and dedication, care and solidarity for others.Thus we can say that mountain-climbing develops character. In fact, it would not be possible to face disinterestedly the difficulties of life on the mountains if the physical and muscular strength, which is very necessary, were not sustained by a strong will and an intelligent passion for beauty. Help your members also to be contemplatives, to enjoy ever more deeply in their mind the message of creation. In contact with the beauties of the mountains, in the face of the spectacular grandeur of the peaks, the fields of snow and the immense landscapes, man enters into himself and discovers that the beauty of the universe shines not only in the framework of the exterior heavens, but also that of the soul that allows itself to be enlightened, and seeks to give meaning to life. From the things that it contemplates, in fact, the spirit is lifting up to God on the breath of prayer and gratitude towards the Creator.”
My wife reminded me of that quotation, and I’ve enjoyed reading and re-reading it. I’ll be reading it again in the days, weeks, years to come.
Like John Paul II and Ben Horne, Pier Giorgio Frassati was a man who loved the mountains, loved Christ, and loved people. I have written about him before. He hasn’t said much to me recently, but friends don’t need words to communicate. Pier Giorgio lived with a joy in Christ that expressed itself in service to his neighbor and passionate friendships.
John Paul II’s constant energy and love of being in the mountains, Pier Giorgio’s perpetual humor and enthusiasm, and what Ben Horne’s climbing partners called his endless psych: All that exterior energy reflects and is fueled by interior contemplation.