First, can we please talk about how much I love national parks? They're amazing. I really like the work that they do to preserve natural habitats so that everyone can come to see them. I love the trails at most of the parks, and I love that when you're on those trails you can get far enough away that you usually don't have to see cities and cars and all that jazz. It's just you and some outstanding scenery. (And some snakes, scorpions and bears, but don't worry, they probably won't eat you. Do stay away from the chipmunks.)
The thing about the national parks is that in the midst of all the ways they educate you, there are TONS of rules. Stay on the trails. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. Take water and plenty of food with you when you hike. Don't go jogging alone (due to mountain lions). In Rocky Mountain National Park, you hear a lot of cautions about being below the tree line in the mid afternoon because of the storms. In Grand Canyon, they tell you not to attempt to hike to the river and back in a day.
More rules from the Grand Canyon:
Uhh, thanks for the helpful tip. If you fell off the edge of the Grand Canyon, would it really look like that?
Okay, now do you see the similarities between the Catholic Church and the national park systems?
Here's what I was thinking:
1) The national parks do nothing to create the beauty that they protect. They are only there to preserve that for everyone who comes. The Catholic Church does not make up the truth, but only preserves it for all generations.
2) The rules in the park are there for your own safety and well being. Clearly, as funny as I think the picture of falling off the edge is, the reality would not be funny. Taking adequate food and water is so you don't die on the trail. The rules about not going off the trail and so forth are there to keep people from causing damage to the natural habitat that surrounds us. There are lots of people that ignore the rules, to their detriment and to the detriment of the park. The Catholic Church is also accused of having a lot of rules. These are not there arbitrarily, but are there to keep us from going off the edge spiritually. They also are there to preserve the truth. There are some things that the Church teaches (for example, embryonic stem cell research is wrong) that seem to be awfully harsh, but are there to preserve the fullness of truth.
3) In the parks, you do well to listen to the rangers. It is their job to know the climate, to know the ins and outs of the particular park, the wild life, what the dangers are. In the Church, we do well to listen to the clergy. It is their calling to lead us to Christ, and their life's work to know what they are talking about.
4) The parks can be a little dangerous. At Mesa Verde, one of the rangers spent a lot of time telling us if you fell off one of the cliffs, what it would take to get rescue to you and how difficult it would be. The Grand Canyon has a lot of warnings, including one that says the difference between and great trip and a hospitalization or worse is you. There were times that I thought, why am I here, braving the weather conditions, the steep edges, and the chipmunks? But really, if you follow the rules, there is not much to fear, and the rewards are fantastic. Some people get upset about the "guilt trip" of all of the rules of the Church and lose sight of the awe and majesty that is waiting if they follow the rules to safely dive deep into the wonders of the truth.