Just to the left of his bedroom window that looks out onto majestic Mount Mucrone stand Pier Giorgio’s skis and climbing poles with his boots next to them on the floor. Although their owner is missing, they create no feeling of sadness. For me, it is quite the opposite. All of the climbing gear brings to life the strength and athleticism he must have had to even use the old stuff! It’s like when you see old footage of football games and the guys are wearing those little leather helmets and a few pads and you wonder how their bodies did it! How did Pier Giorgio ski with those skis? On the mantel proudly rests a trophy from one of his competitions as proof that he managed to do it quite well. For Pier Giorgio, weekends were made for the mountains. In fact, he said, “I would spend entire days on the mountains contemplating in that pure air the Greatness of the Creator.”
But his boots took him to a lot of other places, too. He walked the streets of Turin and Berlin. He walked into the poorest of hospitals and homes to bring candy and clothing and consolation to those suffering from all types of illness and disease and hardship. He walked in Eucharistic processions and in various marches and demonstrations of Catholic youth. He walked the several-mile walk to Oropa to attend Mass before his beloved Brown Madonna. Suffering from the polio that would take his life, he walked down the hall with great difficulty to pray for his grandmother who lay dying.
The view of his shoes standing empty in the corner of his room reminds me today of all the places I could be and all the things I could do if I were willing to walk a mile in Pier Giorgio’s shoes. In one sense, I get to do that here in Pollone. It’s so small that I am certain I am walking where he walked when I go to the post office or go to the church or visit the cemetery or stroll along the rose gardens. But I know that following in his spiritual footsteps requires much bigger shoes. Just as in athletics, the spiritual life requires training. Our first steps may be small, maybe just a simple bedtime prayer, but the more we take, the stronger our spiritual muscles become and soon we have the strength to go even greater distances and reach higher heights.
Today, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, I think also of the paths journeyed by Our Lord; most especially, the hardest and loneliest one of all, the Way of the Cross to Calvary. This is really the ultimate climb we are preparing for: our own personal way of the cross. And just like climbing the mountains in Pollone, the way to Calvary begins with a single step. I wonder what Our Lord’s sandals would look like in the corner of a room somewhere. Fortunately, I don’t have to wonder where His footprints will lead me. If only I have the courage to walk a mile in His shoes. ///cmw