The Free Solo of Jesus Christ

It is finished.”  John 19:30

Recently, I was able to see the new film, Free Solo, which tells the true story surrounding Alex Honnold’s June 3, 2017 climb up the face of “El Capitan,” the 3200 ft sheer granite wall in Yosemite Valley in California … without a rope.  Yes, I said it, without a rope—this is what the term “free solo” means.  For those who have never seen El Capitan in person, it is probably the most imposing and impressive cliff wall in the world; a single slab of granite which climbers consider the center of their universe.

Honnold’s feat is almost incomprehensible, not simply from an athletic standpoint, but from the crazy danger involved in such a climb.  A fall means death.  He is the first and may be the only person ever to accomplish this climb.  As he relates in his own words, “It’s easy to be the first when you’re the only one playing the game.”

The film recounts the preparation and challenges which he went through to prepare, and then shows the spine-tingling climb as he worked his way up the face of the granite wall in just under four hours.  This alone is worth seeing, but the film goes further, pulling back the curtain on what makes someone like Alex Honnold tick.  I won’t spoil it, but it is a fascinating study of a child and a family who struggled to express love.  He is not religious, yet one cannot but help reflecting on his life through religious eyes.  Honnold’s is the story of a man seeking meaning in a life virtually devoid of love—and in his case, he seeks meaning in perfection.

This week we will celebrate Christmas, the Nativity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  In some ways, one could think of his coming into our world on a mission of salvation which would mean his own death, as the free solo of God.  In this version, the motivation, the meaning, is already there—love.  In fact, the free solo of Jesus Christ was to reveal God’s saving love to the world and thereby reveal the true meaning of human life in this world and in the next.  Jesus came to do something only he could do.

This event is the central moment of human history and has forever changed our understanding of earthly realities.  God took human flesh from the womb of the Virgin Mary so that we could see, hear and experience God in a body.  So that we could touch him and encounter God with the experiential senses along with the mind.  This free solo was to reveal God to us, but also so that God could give himself to us and for us.  Jesus did something only he could do, climb upon a cross and be lifted up with all the sins of the world placed upon him.  His free solo required his death so that those for whom he died could be freed from their sins and become Children of God.

As we celebrate Christmas, let us be grateful that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son …” (cf. John 3:16).  Grateful that because God went free solo unto death for us, we don’t have to.

Merry Christmas!

+ Most Reverend James V. Johnston, Jr.
Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Catholic Key,  December 21, 2018 issue

Pope Francis’ December Prayer Intention
That people, who are involved in the service and transmission of faith, may find, in their dialogue with culture, a language suited to the conditions of the present time.

Bishop Johnston’s December Prayer Intention
For all those suffering from opioid addictions and their families.

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