Football season is behind us, spring training is over and baseball’s Opening Day has arrived. Local dirt tracks are gearing up and NASCAR is in full swing. Sports fans gleefully cheer on their favorite drivers or teams as each sport embarks on its own race to the championship prize. We are all engaged in a race though, that never ends:
Therefore, 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 12:1-2
The Cheering Section
The race is our earthly life and the prize is eternal happiness in heaven with our Creator. Those who have won the race before us are the “great cloud of witnesses.” These witnesses are none other than the saints.
They are our cheering section, they are in the stands cheering on the hometown team. That’s why the Catholic Church professes “the communion of the saints” – not as competition with or substitutes for Christ, but as examples of those who set their sights on Christ and reached their goal, and now cheer for us.
The Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium states it best:
“When we look at the lives of those who have faithfully followed Christ, we are inspired with a new reason for seeking the City that is to come (274) and at the same time we are shown a most safe path by which among the vicissitudes of this world, in keeping with the state in life and condition proper to each of us, we will be able to arrive at perfect union with Christ, that is, perfect holiness. (11*) In the lives of those who, sharing in our humanity, are however more perfectly transformed into the image of Christ,(275) God vividly manifests His presence and His face to men. He speaks to us in them, and gives us a sign of His Kingdom,(12*) to which we are strongly drawn, having so great a cloud of witnesses over us (276) and such a witness to the truth of the Gospel.” Lumen Gentium Ch. 7
What Holds Us Back
Now that we have established the cheering section what about “ridding ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us.” Sin is dead weight that holds us back in life, and holds us back from true life. There is hope. The Sacrament of Penance allows us to rid ourselves of that dead weight.
Continuing with our sports analogy, consider runners who use ankle weights to train and strengthen their legs. A runner would never leave these weights on in competition. Once removed, their legs feel lighter than air.
Have you ever watched a batter in the on deck circle at a baseball game — notice the weight he slides onto his bat for practice swings? When he pulls the weight off and steps into the batter’s box his bat feels like a feather.
The same holds true for us and sin. A regular practice of confession removes our sin (our dead weight) and the race becomes a whole lot easier and the goal more attainable. Yet many of us Catholics can’t seem to get off of first base on our walk with Christ because we are unwilling or seemingly unable to throw off our spiritual weights. Sin requires special, radical treatment; it must be resisted unto blood.
Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. Hebrews 12:3-4
We will never win a championship while lying around on a couch. No one said that Christian life would be easy (if they did, they lied). There will be hurdles, there will be obstacles, and our opponent plays dirty. But we have Jesus Christ. He is the goal and He will help us win our race.
The early Christians knew what running the race meant. They put their very lives on the line every day they walked out their front door to attend Mass. The early Christians were martyred for coming to Mass.
Twentieth century Ukrainian Catholics knew what running the race meant. Catholics in the Ukraine were exiled to Siberia for teaching Sunday School and going to church. Many of them died. But, they are the championship team.
So, do not grow weary and lose heart. Persevere, train in the faith, work hard and always, always trust in Jesus. You will attain the heavenly prize along with all the other saints. The race is hard but the cheering section is full. In the coming weeks we will begin examining on this blog how to attain that heavenly prize.
In the weeks to come we will take a deep dive look at the virtues. We will learn about our relationship with our loving Father and how to fill the need to attain that relationship that is inherent in all of us. Stay tuned…we can run this race and win the prize together. Go Team!