Some have a favorite poem that is called Footprints in the Sand. The central them of the poem is that when we look back at our life and the path that we have walked, at times there are two sets of footprints and at others there are only one; that it is Christ who did not abandon us in times of struggle and trials, but who lifted and carried us, so that we see only the single set. But there are so many more footprints for us to see, a truly endless and infinite number criss-crossing and walking alongside our path, because in a life that is everlasting we do not merely walk this way in a single time and moment. We are walking this Way throughout all times and in all moments; we do not blink out of existence, but persist; we do not pass by, but remain with our brothers and sisters throughout all time.
This is the infinite moment which remains much more alive in the Eastern traditions, and captured in living icons. According to this understanding, the Baptism of the Lord did not simply happen 2,000 years ago, but is happening today; the Transfiguration is not an event that passed away and needed to be memorialized by three stones (Mk. 9:2-13), but is happening today; Abraham’s greeting of the three Angels, Moses’ leading the people out of Egypt and Elijah’s raising of the widow’s, child continue to happen and live in the present; and that when we pray for those who have died, we are praying for them and joining them in that very moment of death.
We walk with and in the midst of the Saints on a daily basis, their countless footprints are dancing around us. We are never on this journey alone and abandoned, but have always their companionship, their prayers and wisdom, and while it may be easy to consign them to a distant land and place, with little in common to our world of the 21st century, we are reminded that it is One body, and not several, to which we belong; it is one Christ who was crucified, died, was buried and resurrected; it is One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who created the universe, who delivered His people from bondage, who gave to the world His Only Begotten Son, and who promised salvation through the forgiveness of sins.
There is one Way, one Truth and one Light of this world, and it is along this one common and very same Way that are saintly forebears also walked. There is no question, no struggle, nor any lesson learned that is new, that has not already been challenged and encountered. Just as it has become more popular today to say that Christopher Columbus did not discover America because there were inhabitants and people already living on this side of the world, there is nothing of God, or this life, that has not already been discovered or experienced. We may be assured that if there is a question in our mind or spirit, one of our brothers or sisters has already asked and puzzled over these very things.
A great gift, and true grace, of the Catholic Faith is that we recognize and remember that for nearly 2,000 years now we have been exploring, sorting and sifting through these things. It is not left alone to our wisdom and intelligence to discover, but that we have the benefit of the wise and collective tradition that has sorted though these very things. This is what Tradition truly is. It is not that my family went to a particular restaurant once on a Christmas Eve, and so, as children, it was decided that we had to go to that very same restaurant every year, because that was our tradition. Rather, Tradition is the collected wisdom and experience of all the generations of humanity sorting through true and authentic knowledge of God; to test and refine as iron in the furnace; to strengthen and to purify, eliminating what is harmful, deceptive and foreign to the Love of Christ; that the first Wisdom is the Word and Holy Scripture and everything since has been our work and effort to come to know and to learn all that this Word has said. Here we may think about athletes and teams who improve year after year, and even generation after generation; or about how runners today are faster, they jump higher and throw further than the greatest athletes of generations past. Similarly, even the weaker teams of today would far outplay and likely beat world championship teams from twenty or thirty years ago. Is this because our average athletes today are simply, and by chance, better and more capable than even the finest and strongest athletes of the past? Rather, our athletes today have built upon and stand upon the shoulders of the work and the wisdom of their predecessors.
We are not alone and limited to this single lifetime in our struggles and coming to know our Lord and the Way that leads to Him. Read the works of our saintly forebears and pray with them daily as brothers and sisters, and even dear friends who have walked this Way before, who know of its pot holes, dangers, obstacles, joys and great riches. Do not be intimidated by long lists of suggested reading or daunting length. As with all things, begin in prayer and proceed with an open spirit and attentive ear. Choose one that seems inviting, or accept a suggestion that someone trusted has offered. Pray with the text before, during and after you read, for as you read, you truly are in a state of prayer, communing with a faithful brother, sister, father or mother in Christ, discussing the things that we have experienced and what has happened as the disciples discussed such things along the road to Emmaus. Do not be overcome by the number of worthwhile books to read, but comforted that there are so many good and faithful witnesses. Over time, you will gather a great collection and gain in confidence that you have not found the Way by the luck of the blind, but through the guidance, witness and companionship of those who have gone before us.