Saturday, August 17, 2013
CLOUD OF WITNESSES
This week we had a big celebration in Newark Abbey as our novice, Brother Thomas Aquinas, professed his first vows as a Benedictine monk.
As part of his retreat in preparation for taking vows, he and I reflected on a passage from Hebrews which, it turns out, is the second reading assigned for mass this Sunday, Aug. 18. The part we reflected on is this:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. (Heb.12:1-2a)
(I reflect on this passage in a chapter in Downtown Monks entitled “Making Friends with the Saints.”) As Brother Thomas was professing his vows I was aware of all the “witnesses” crowding the church, not only the visible ones like his mother and brother and relatives and friends, not just his brother monks, or the students and faculty members of our school, but also the “cloud of witnesses” watching from heaven. The saints staring down from the stained glass windows (St. Benedict, John the Baptist, Saints Ann, Barbara, Agnes, Frances of Rome, and the rest) were just symbolic reminders of the fact that the sanctuary was indeed crowded with the presence of countless unseen witnesses, including deceased members of our monastic family.
It happened that the day after Br. Thomas’s profession was my birthday. And I became aware of the people who are encouraging me: Relatives, friends, colleagues and brother monks who are all running the race together with me right now. The realization began to dawn on me early in the week when I received a lovely encouraging email from a cousin in response to a blog post of mine. Then in the following couple of days came a bunch of birthday cards, emails, and phone calls from all sorts of people just wishing me a happy birthday. This was another glimpse of the “cloud of witnesses” both living and deceased who are rooting me on.
Each Sunday at mass during the Creed when we say we believe in “the communion of saints” we’re not talking about a lot of dead people: We’re talking about the Church. An ancient writer asked “What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints?” The new Catholic Catechism says simply “The communion of saints is the Church.” (cf. #'s 946-948) But the Church includes you and me as well as those who have gone before us and who are now in glory. As members of the communion of saints, you and I, just like the cloud of witnesses looking down from glory, encourage one another as we run the race.
I hope to be in the grandstand one day, but one of the important ways of getting there is to be a cheerleader for my brothers and sisters who are running alongside me right now.
Please pray for Brother Thomas that he will be encouraged by the cloud of witnesses, and will prove to be a great cheerleader himself.