"Verso L'alto" - Toward the top. We are all called to climb the mountain of faith to sainthood, but why does this call seem so frightening?
For those who are familiar with the story of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, you probably have heard of the phrase “verso l’alto.” For those of you who are not and also do not speak Italian, this phrase translates to “toward the top.” Blessed Pier Giorgio was an avid mountain climber and wrote this phrase on a photo another climber had taken of him a month before his abrupt death at the age of 24. Although this may not have been his catch phrase his entire life, it does represent the manner in which he lived his life: always striving for the summit of life that is sainthood.
Toward the top. This simple phrase is merely three words long, but carries far more meaning than what first meets the eye. This phrase, although taken literally, could just describe his love of climbing. However, when put into the context of his life, and the lives we all strive to live, it makes the perfect life motto. As a Christian, this phrase encapsulates the theme of all our faith journeys: A constant striving to sainthood. It represents the path in which we achieve holiness, one step at a time. Much like in mountain climbing, this is not an easy task. There are bound to be missteps, moments where we feel as if we are at ground zero. Well friends, this journey to the Father is not one for the faint of heart. It takes a constant effort to enhance our minds, purify our hearts, and perfect our love. If you have ever hiked, climbed, or really even worked hard to achieve a goal, you know that as difficult as the journey to the summit is, the view from the top is always worth the work.
Scared of Heights
We know what the summit of life is, but why is this climb to the top still so intimidating to most of us? We look to saints and other figures as role models of how to achieve this goal, but often see ourselves in a much dimmer light. I’ll admit I have done this as long as I remember and am just now beginning to change my mindset about achieving holiness. This is due to two recent insights I have gained.
First, no two saints have achieved holiness in the exact same way. There may be similarities, but everyone's call to holiness is unique to them. As humans we love to compare. In the faith, I think we fall into the same temptation. We must detach ourselves from our fragile, ever changing image of perfection, and latch on to the firm, consistent image of perfection that God offers. Namely, love for Him. This gives God the freedom to light our hearts on fire the way He sees fit, rather than how we think He should.
Secondly, the idea that God would not put the desire for sainthood on my heart, if he did not wish that I would achieve it. Recently I came across a quote from St. Therese of Lisieux,
“God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.”
Deep down in everyone, this desire exists - to live for something greater than themselves, to strive for perfection, to be a saint. Although we will never be perfect and this journey is never ending till the day we die, these desires themselves are divinely inspired by the Father. What Father would put desires on the heart of their child without the intention of allowing them to realize them? We can look to Luke 11 for the answer.
“What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
As scripture hilariously says, God the Father has every intention of blessing us with the gifts needed to be a saint. When we realize that we are not the source of holiness and that we cannot rely on our own goodness, we finally can start crawling to that summit. We must understand our own littleness and grow in a greater dependence on the Father. We can trust that when we do, we will be met with all the graces needed to finally reach that mountain top.
For more information of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, check out Frassati USA.