Moral compass

ONE BEAUTIFUL sunny day in May I decided to go hiking on Mount Grappa, a magnificent mountain located on the Venetian Prealps about 23 miles north of Padua. I was supposed to go with a fellow friar, but at the last moment he got delayed, and so I had to go on my own.

Mount Grappa was the scene of some of the bitterest and bloodiest battles fought between Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces during the First World War. On one of these battles Earnest Hemingway himself was present. He was then an 18-year-old serving as an ambulance driver. During the fighting, the future Nobel Prize in Literature received shrapnel wounds, but continued undeterred to save as many injured soldiers as possible. On the basis of this experience, and of his subsequent recovery in a hospital in Milan, Hemingway went on to write one of his most celebrated novels, A Farewell to Arms.

While I was climbing up the steep path I was so captivated by the breathtaking beauty of the scenery around me that I got confused and took the wrong path. When I realized I was off track I stopped immediately to use the GPS on my smart phone, but unfortunately, being out in the wilderness, there was no signal, and at that point I started to become apprehensive. Fortunately I recalled the words of my provincial, Fr. Giovanni, an expert hiker, who had once said to me, “The mistake people make when they lose their way is that they start panicking and press on, thus getting further off track.” I therefore sat down on a lush green field and started to think… and then to pray: “Dear St. Anthony, if I had a GPS I could find my way, but since I don’t have one, please help me!” At that moment I remembered that somewhere in my rucksack I had a trail map of the area. Although I am not an expert map reader I was able to reconstruct where I was and find my way back. St. Anthony had come to my aid once again.

With most of the trips we make in life we know our destination and how to get there. If we are unsure, we just check our map or our GPS. However, for the life journey we all make from the womb to the grave the situation is not that simple. This is because life is not only a journey, it is a search: we all have to discover for ourselves the paths which will lead us to what we seek. Some of the roads we take lead us to wrong places, or to dead ends. But in any case we have to learn that it is important to keep going. St. Pope John Paul II used to say, “The way Jesus shows you is not easy. Rather it is like a path winding up a mountain. Do not lose heart! The steeper the road, the faster it rises towards ever greater horizons.”

We all know that life is not a straight-line pattern, leading us from one success to the next, rather it is often two steps forward and one step backward. However, the Good Lord is always watching over us, and always comes to our aid through a very important road map and a built-in GPS voice navigation system he has embedded at the core of our being. The road map, which we can consult every moment of our lives, is none other than the Bible, and through this priceless source of faith, wisdom and hope we can learn all of God’s indications for our lives. Our God-given GPS, on the other hand, is our own conscience. This is the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that tells us if what we are doing is morally right or wrong. This voice draws us away from our own selfishness, and false idols like money, power and success, in order to lead us, not so much to some geographical location, but rather to a new way of life. Sometimes our God-given GPS can also talk to us through life’s circumstances or through other people.

Unfortunately, we often resist or ignore these two guides, and when this happens we get into trouble. But God is wise and good and, whenever we get into trouble, he re-programs our GPS and leads us back to the right path.

Let us cultivate and enhance the power of these two sure guides in our lives, dear reader. Our faith tells us that God loves us deeply, and that his providence is always active in this troubled world: we have only to do our best and leave the rest to him.

Updated on May 11 2017