Finding Our Way

by Fr. Blaise Berg, STD
Fall 2023

It was about 11am on Wednesday, August 8th of this year. I heard the unmistakable whirring sounds of the helicopter blades and looked up into the bright, late-morning sky. When I saw the shiny red helicopter, I knew they were looking for me.

By that point, I had been missing for almost 22 hours. It was Day 13 on the John Muir Trail (JMT), which stretches 214 miles between Yosemite Valley and Mount Whitney and boasts 47,000 feet of elevation gain. My two buddies (Fr. Joseph Illo, former CANFP Board member and Donncha Ocochlain, Fr. Illo’s parishioner) and I had departed Tuolumne Valley on July 26th with the plan of summiting Mount Whitney on August 11th or 12th. However, my getting lost was certainly going to delay our ascent to the summit by a day or so.

On the previous day, August 7th, around noon, I had somehow mistaken a side trail for the main JMT and had continued down the wrong trail for a number of miles. Fr. Illo and Donncha were ahead of me, so I was anxious to try to catch them at our prearranged meeting spot, the Bench Lake Ranger Station. Unfortunately, I just got more and more lost. Needless to say, we had no internet or satellite connections in that remote part of California. For the first six hours, I went through many emotions. I was panicky, frantic, desperate and desolate. Bushwhacking through dense brush and hopping from boulder to boulder, I was anxiously worried that I would sustain an injury. It was a most desperate situation. Meanwhile, I pleaded with God to help me. I think I expected Him to magically send one of His angels to point me in the right direction.

Finally, about 7pm that evening, I realized that God was not going to save me without me using my own resources. I was praying for a miracle, but I also needed to use my head. For the past seven hours, I had been hiking along a river that was flowing downstream, thinking that the trail I was searching for was following that rtiver. But I finally realized that the reason I could not find the trail was because I was following the wrong river! I needed to return to the way I came, find the mistaken trail I was on and follow that trail back to the JMT. By then, it almost 8pm and getting dark and so I decided to camp for the night. Fortunately, I had everything I needed: tent, sleeping bag, food and water.

First thing the next morning, I began hiking upstream. Sure enough, I found the mistaken trail which, subsequently, led me back to the JMT. I had not seen a soul for almost 23 hours, so in a strange sort of way, the helicopter gave me some consolation even though I had no luck in signaling the pilot. I decided to stop and wait to see if any hikers would be coming down the trail. Before long, three young men from San Francisco came along. I told them I was lost and needed their help. With the help of their GPS, the four of us hiked to the ranger station which was only two miles away. At the station, I met up with Fr. Illo and Donncha and the 24-hour ordeal came to a merciful and consolation-filled end.

Perhaps, we NFP folks (practitioners, users, physicians, promoters, etc.) can recognize a bit of our own journeys in my dramatic tale. There are times when we feel lost, anxious, tired, perhaps even panicky and desperate. Yet, then we realize that God gave us a mind, heart and soul and that He wants us to use them to discern how we are to live according to His loving design, in our particular state of life. Among the many insights I received hiking the JMT was the awesomeness, abundance and beauty of God’s creation. We hiked through a lot of snow, through many mountain passes and through a number of raging rivers this summer! God’s creation is truly amazing and beautiful! Yet, God desires for us to cooperate with creation, whether we are talking about a mountain wilderness or our own bodies. When are able to do this, we are truly practicing right worship. We are able to live St. Paul’s exhortation “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship”. (Rom 12:1)

helicopter
Johm Muir trail
Fr. Berg John Muir trail
summit

About The Author

Fr. Blaise Berg, STD
Rev. Blaise Berg, STD, President and Treasurer of the CANFP Executive Board, is Assistant Professor of Dogmatics at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA. Fr. Berg earned a BA from the University of San Francisco, an MBA from California Polytechnic University, a Baccalaureate degree in Sacred Theology, S.T.B at the Pontifical Gregorian University Rome, a Licentiate Degree in Sacred Theology, S.T.L. from the JPII Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, Pontifical Lateran University, Rome. and a Doctoral Degree in Sacred Theology, S.T.D. from Pontifical Lateran University, Rome. He has served on the CANFP Board since 2003.
helicopter
Johm Muir trail
Fr. Berg John Muir trail
summit

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