There is a classic picture of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, the twentieth-century Italian saint who enjoyed having a good time, playing billiards, and hiking with his friends. This picture is from one of his mountaineering outings as he’s scaling a cliff and looking up to the heavens. In his own hand, he inscribed on the photo the words Verso l’alto (to the heights).
There are few young people who have had an encounter with Jesus whose blood is not stirred by that image and call. “To the heights!” Similar statements from monumental players in our faith evoke the same aspirations. “You are not called to comfort, you are called to greatness!” “Do not be afraid!” “Become who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire!” Awesome stuff.
Awesome because to have an encounter with the living God in the person of Jesus Christ is not just an exciting thing. It is captivating, frightening, enthralling, and strange. It somehow gives you everything your heart has ever longed for and, at the same time, demands everything from you. The encounter embeds the knowledge in your bones that nothing else can satisfy you, as hard as you may try. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, encountering Jesus gives your life “a new horizon and a decisive direction.”