"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…"
I’ve never been much of an athlete. Although I played sports as a young man, it never seemed to ‘take’ as an activity I enjoyed very much. But I’ve always been impressed with athletes and those who stretch themselves to their physical limits. For me, this is most evident in the Olympics. The preparation, training, and continued discipline needed to perform at one’s peak is incredible.
St. Paul, in today’s readings, uses the analogy of running a race for the path of discipleship. But the phrase ‘cloud of witnesses’, seems to stand out. Who are these witnesses that Paul speaks of? I imagine witnesses as calm and cool observers. If we go back and look at the original Greek, the word that Paul uses for witnesses can be translated as a witness in court or a witness to a historical event. However, it can also be translated as spectators or supporters at a sporting event. What a wonderful picture of the communion of saints! I can just imagine all of those blessed people who’ve gone before us, lining the course like at the Olympics, ringing cowbells, holding up signs of encouragement, shouting with all their strength, urging us on to ever greater effort.
Then there is the idea of sins as burdens, handicaps, those things would slow us down in the race. The realization that we can just set those down, leave them behind us as we continue on is both surprising and inspiring. I have often found that all it takes for me to move forward is to let go the past. And yet sometimes that is so challenging. It is those times when I need to listen for those "witnesses" shouting from the sidelines, encouraging me.
Talib Huff is a volunteer at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center in Citrus Heights, California.