Monday, March 30, 2009

The Altar of Work, The Altar of Sacrifice

This is part two in a series of articles about the adventures of those who participated in the expedition. Wilderness Outreach is part of the lay apostolate for advancing masculine spirituality that is funded by the John N. and Laura E. Bradford Donor advised fund of the Catholic Foundation.

By John and Laura Bradford

They deliberated what might be done with the altar of holocausts that had been desecrated. The happy thought came to them to tear it down, lest it be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it; so they tore down the altar. They stored the stones in a suitable place on the temple hill, until a prophet should come and decide what to do with them. Then they took uncut stones, according to the law, and built a new altar like the former one.”

Macabees Chapter 4

The first and most important act that occurs during a Wilderness Outreach expedition is the locating of the sanctuary and building the altar on that spot. The location is picked because it feels right, it faces east and has a profound view. Then the work of building the Altar begins. It proceeds with minimal discussion and debate. Each man participates in finding logs or rocks to build this holy structure. Some materials are chosen, some are not. Sometimes some of the Altar is removed and re-built. It is a silent, respect-filled endeavor. This will be the altar of sacrifice, where for a week, the men will come to daily Mass after a long day of back-breaking work. The altar is where they offer their sacrifice of work and suffering and receive nourishment of the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

And miracles do occur in the process of building this altar. During the trip to the High Sierras in 2007, the base of the altar had been laid….all individually selected, hand placed stones. The strongest men of the team had found a 400 pound stone for the Mensa, but the team could not lift it. They gave up to look for a less weighty stone. Justin Bennett, one of the youngest of the group, refused to give up on the stone, approached it and with the determination of a power lifter picked one end of the stone up to his waist. He challenged his brothers “C’mon men”!. With Justin’s urging the stone was lifted and then carried and placed on the foundation of the altar.

Another miracle occurred at Divide Lake in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest in August of 2008. After the men reached and set up base camp Father Coning announced that a place for the Sanctuary and the Altar was needed and it needed to be a spiritual place a place for God. Jeff McKenna’s eye was drawn to a ridge about 600 feet above the base camp. He petitioned the men one at a time. Some liked the idea, but others didn’t. It would mean climbing another 600 feet at the end each day of backbreaking trail work. Finally Jeff convinced all the men to walk up to the ridge top together and look at the site. When the men arrived together with Father it was obvious. Father announced “This is the location of our Sanctuary and where we will build the Altar”. It was a beautiful setting framed by lodge pole pines on the south, a rock knoll on the west (perfect for sanctuary seating), Bald Mountain on the north and view of 50 miles to the east. The next morning the men began building the Altar. On the way out of base camp it was discovered that Steve Petesch, of the US Forest Service, was Catholic and he was invited to help build Altar. Each man started searching for, carrying and placing rocks in the Altar. Steve went off to search for his stone. He spied a large flat stone. When he picked the stone up he realized that there was a biblical verse, John 3:17, written on the underside.


For God sent not his Son into the world
to condemn the world
but that the world through Him
might be Saved

Steve had found a stone that was written on by “The Shepherd” who roamed the mountains of Idaho, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of the “Shepherd’s” Biblical rock paintings had been lost to the ravages of weather and time. The legend of the shepherd had actually placed him about 30 miles from this location. Could “The Shepherd” have ever imagined that his silent prayer and writing would someday be incorporated into an outdoor altar and sanctuary?
As is customary at the end of a Wilderness Outreach expedition, the altar was respectfully dismantled placing each stone back into its natural setting. Steve also returned the “Shepherd’s Rock” in the same place he found it, face down, protected and hidden from the elements but forever treasured in the hearts and memories of the Wilderness Outreach Idaho Band of Brothers.

The men of Wilderness Outreach are rocks of faith, they are the foundation upon which the church of the future is being built….with Christ as the cornerstone.

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