"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."
Occasionally I am asked what "things" do I most like about being a priest. There are many answers to that question, but one among them is being "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." Firstly, commemorating each day the various saints of the Church's life, reading about their lives, and seeking their intercession is a beautiful gift. The saints in heaven are familiar friends to me because the Church, in her wisdom, continuously places me in their company. She places me in their company in the Liturgy, but also in my room. As I look around my study as I type this, the images of the saints and books--written by them and about them--surround me: Therese, Teresa of Avila, John Paul II, John Chrysostom, Augustine, Gregory the Great, John Henry Newman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Aquinas, John Vianney, and so many more. What a gift! Their example of sacrifice, purity, fortitude, wisdom, faith, hope, and charity--their example of holiness--shows that holiness is indeed possible and that holiness is attractive.
I think we underestimate the power of our faithful witness. The parents who get their kids to Mass on Sunday despite a million other things that have to get done, the elderly person who struggles to get to Mass, the mother who is willing to endure the occasional glare from grumpy parishioners when her baby cries a bit during Mass, the father whose teenage son has the face of resentment on him for being dragged to Mass . . . and the list goes on. Oftentimes people think about Mass in terms of what they get out of it. But, we don't often think about how are being there gives something to others. People need witnesses. People need encouragement. I need encouragement. When we worship God on Sundays, we encourage the people around us. We build them up and keep them strong. When we miss Mass on Sundays, we are not only hurting ourselves, we are hurting others who depend upon us.
One of the things I love about being a priest is being surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Their example encourages me and spurs me on in my Catholic life. People like Sophie, my 102 year old friend, are like signposts pointing me to heaven, and they are an important reminder to me that I should strive towards holiness so that I can be a signpost for others. Let's love God and worship Him and thus encourage one another to finish the race.