Yesterday was the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Once again, the feast day readings have interrupted our reading of chapter eleven of the Letter to the Hebrews just as it did in 2013. Inasmuch as chapter eleven is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, I find myself going to my Bible so that I can read it on my own. Chapter eleven is something of a review lesson of all that went on in the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament. It speaks of many, but not all, of the people who accomplished great things by faith, by believing that God would be faithful to the promises made to those who adhere to the Covenant. This list of people always brings to mind the many others who are not mentioned in the passage, for the history of Israel is replete with people who clung to the covenant relationship despite the fact that the majority of the children of Israel were not so conscientious. In that respect, their history is not unlike our own.
Chapter twelve of the Letter to the Hebrews begins with a wonderful metaphor that inspires me: “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.” (Hebrews 12:1-2a) As we are in the middle of winter, we know cloudy days very well. Those who are affected by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) find this time of year difficult to bear. Yet if one is adversely affected by extreme cold, those of us who live in the northern climes can give thanks for clouds that keep the little warmth that we have at this time of year from evaporating into outer space. However, the children of Israel did not live in the northern climate range. They were people who knew well the rigors of desert life. Clouds for them are not a frequent experience; and when one appears, it is a welcome sight. A cloud would shield them even for a short while from the heat of the sun. So when the sacred author uses this metaphor for the faith-filled and faithful people who have gone before, the metaphor speaks to the protection that these people of our history offer us from the heat of indifference which is born of society’s scorn and even ridicule of people who live by faith.
Verse one of chapter twelve usually motivates me to think of the people of faith who populate my personal history. I would invite you to do the same thing today. Consider the many people you have known who have persevered in faith and have taught you to do the same. This “cloud of witnesses” spurs us on to finish the race. Jesus awaits us at the finish line and will embrace all who cross over no matter how long the race has lasted. Like the people who stand at the finish line in a Special Olympics contest, Jesus offers his love and congratulations to all people of faith at the end of the struggle. Whether your cloud of witnesses is large or small, they stand as witnesses to the power of faith just as surely as Abraham, the paragon of faith.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator