In our readings for this 20th Sunday, during what I love to call these “dog days of August”, we hear a message that is surely bound to catch our attention!
In our first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah, we witness a terrifying moment in the life of the great prophet, Jeremiah. Remembering that he was the “reluctant” prophet at the time of his calling, perhaps the events we read about today give us some insight into why Jeremiah was not exactly eager to step up and follow the Lord’s invitation to challenge King Zedekiah and the princes of his kingdom! Because of these greedy and fearful men Jeremiah is thrown into a deep and barren cistern, left to die. Were it not for the intervention of a trusted court official this may well have been the end of our beloved prophet! For us, we see how those who try to be good and faithful to what God calls them to, can, nevertheless, be mistreated by those who follow the ways of evil. That is to say, just because you are trying to be virtuous and holy doesn’t mean anyone else is going to be very impressed, that’s for sure!
But the words that caught my attention most are from Paul, the Apostle, who writes in his letter to the Hebrews: “Brothers and sisters, 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.” I find these words of Paul to be very intriguing because they are so true. On the one hand in this very day and age we ourselves see the darkness and evil that surrounds us, yet we choose to run the race; we choose to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus himself. At the same time, all of us who try to do what is right and who have the example of great witnesses ever before us, we are still only too aware of those who hate, those who cheat and lie and deceive. And how do we respond to the evil around us? We keep choosing day by day, sometimes hour by hour, to run the good race and keep Jesus always before us as our true model and example. And as we run the race and follow the Lord, we continually “rid ourselves of every burden and sin” that can hold us back.
These days of inspiring Olympic athletes who are amazing for their fortitude, perseverance, and dedication, as well as the baffling and even discouraging events of our current Presidential campaign, let’s not lose heart. There are evil ones around us, to be sure. They may even get more news time than all the virtuous souls who love others and serve others heroically. But we dare not give up or lose heart. Instead, as Paul urges us to do, we hold our heads high; we rejoice in the good that we do see even if we cross the finish line in fourth place and miss the gold, the silver, and the bronze. And most of all, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Lord, the only true “leader” and “perfecter.”
Fr. Pat Brennan, C.P. is the director of Saint Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.