If you were asked to create your own “litany of the saints” prayer, whose names would appear on it? There is one restriction: you may list only people whom you have known personally during your life time. You, of course, love St. Joseph, St. Therese, St. Francis of Assisi, and the rest, but you may not put their names on your list.
For me, my grandparents and parents are certainly at the top of the list. They struggled through difficult times and kept the torch of faith burning amidst it all. I think of some of my teachers both in elementary and high school who were shining examples of God’s truth and love for me. Then my mind starts to float into thinking of other members of my family, people I’ve known at work, friends in prayer groups, and those I’ve watched suffer cheerfully. What a long list I can compile when I start remembering the people God has brought into my life.
We read today that this collection of witnesses in our lives forms a kind of cloud around us, and their example spurs us on to run the race of the Christian life even when we’re tired and feel like giving up. Let’s listen to what the holy writer tells us (Hebrews 12:1-4).
“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”
Even though at times we may feel alone in running the narrow road that Jesus has opened before us, the truth is that we have a “great” cloud of saints surrounding us—that means in front, behind, above, and on both sides of us. We are running a race in an arena that is packed with fans on every side, and each of these fans is pulling for us. We are not without cheerleaders; we do not run alone. Yes the “baton” is in our hands, and we are representing thousands who have carried it before we did…or who are running alongside of us even now.
Notice the two secrets of making the race a little easier to run. “Rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us.” Did you ever see a race in which the runners wore snow boots, baggy pants, or heavy jackets? Runners know that they must strip down to the essentials so that they are not burdened by unnecessary clothing. What is the unnecessary baggage that I am lugging along as I try to run the race toward Jesus? Am I attached to something that keeps me from moving forward more quickly in the race?
The second secret is one that all athletes know well. Keep focused on the finish line. For us the finish line is one step in front of us—we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus who signed us up for the race and who coaches us each step of the race. He is the recruiter, the coach, the encourager, and the finish line as well. My goal in life is to try to move toward Jesus each second of my life. He is ever before me; it is for me to keep my eyes fixed on him.
And when we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we learn so much about running with endurance the race of life.
“For the sake of the joy that lay before him, Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame…”
“Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may grow weary or lose heart.”
Even on the cross Jesus was sustained by the joy of being within minutes of seeing his heavenly Father. And though he had a steady bombardment of opponents to deal with, he never lost heart.
If we are feeling ourselves growing weary, losing heart, or being tempted to give up, let’s take heart from the encouragement offered us today. Let us take time to pray our personal “litany of the saints” to remind us how many witnesses are in the stands cheering and praying us on. And if we’ve turned our eyes on ourselves, our problems, or even members of the opposition, let’s redirect our attention to the “leader and perfecter” of our faith.
Finally, let’s remember that we are part of the cloud of witnesses for many people in our own lives. When they see us they get a dose of encouragement and a boost in their own faith. What a privilege to be a witness for Jesus!
“And to him my soul shall live; my descendants shall serve him” (Ps 22:31).