The Glory of the Cloud of Witnesses – EpicPew

The Glory of the Cloud of Witnesses

And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who, having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. For think diligently upon him that endured such opposition from sinners against himself that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds.”

– Hebrews 12:1-3, Douay Rheims Bible

This Bible passage is often used in Catholic apologetics to help introduce the idea of the Communion of Saints. Other translations refer to being “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.” It is not a shock to Catholics that this “cloud of witnesses” is the saints — those who have ran the race and won and are now cheering us on from heaven in the Beatific Vision. Today though, this passage can perhaps take on a deeper significance, especially if it is read in the context of the previous chapter. This deeper context is one that should give each Catholic living in today’s culture both pause and hope.

The faith of the fathers and of the many

Abraham and the Three Angels, watercolor by James Tissot {PD-US}

Hebrews chapter 11 begins by explaining what faith is and then illustrates it with a review of the faith of the fathers of Israel, who are by extension, our fathers in the faith as well. The fact that Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph died in faith is what is emphasized. The scripture then goes on to speak of the faith of “many” and we are reminded of the story of Rahab (from Joshua 2:1-14), and the faith of “Gedeon, Barac, Samson, Jephthe, David, Samuel, and the prophets.” The chapter then concludes with:

But others were racked, not accepting deliverance, that they might find a better resurrection. And others had trial of mockeries and stripes: moreover also of bands and prisons. They were stoned, they were cut asunder, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being in want, distressed, afflicted: Of whom the world was not worthy: wandering in deserts, in mountains and in dens and in caves of the earth.

– Hebrews 11:35-38, Douay Rheims Bible (DRB)

As we see, Hebrews 11 ends by explaining the glories of martyrdom, exile, and persecution. It is in this context that chapter 12 begins by referring to “the cloud of witness.” This cloud, according to St. Paul, includes the fathers of the faith of Israel, Rahab, and the “many” who died by martyrdom, for the faith, and in the faith. This cloud of witnesses is our example. They are, according to St. Paul, eager for us to join them. They surround us and are intimately invested in our living the faith well so that we too may enjoy the beatific vision one day. This cloud of witnesses has something very important to teach us as we confront the cultural chaos and decline that is out current reality.

The communion of saints

Francesco_Botticini_-_The_Assumption_of_the_Virgin-1.jpeg {PD-US}

The cloud of witnesses to which St. Paul refers, we now call the “communion of saints.” We are fortunate to have so many saints whose examples we may follow. In fact, Pope Francis just canonized ten new saints and you can read more about them by clicking here. Among the saints we find men, women, children, and teenagers, from all backgrounds, all cultures, and all vocations. Yet, they all have one thing in common: their perseverance in the faith. It is this perseverance that we need now, more than ever.

Get comfortable with persecution

It should be no surprise to anyone that tension and even hate exists towards Catholics right now. While this is not exactly a new phenomenon in America, it has been a while since outright hatred and persecution have been so visible, mainstream, and accepted by a large portion of the population. Calls to disrupt Masses, desecrate the Eucharist, vandalize Churches and holy objects, and actual destruction and violence towards Catholics and the Catholic church have been widespread especially since the leak of the Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe vs. Wade. This new level of hatred and anger towards Catholics is not going to go away soon. In fact, it most likely going to get worse. It is time for Catholics to get comfortable with being persecuted.

There is an unspoken rule in whatever we might consider “polite society” to always get along. To agree to disagree. To live and let live and “let you do you.” To keep our opinions, faith, and morals to ourselves – especially when they might make someone “uncomfortable.” After all, “who are we to judge?” This mindset, however is thoroughly anti-Catholic and unbiblical. In fact, it is also uncharitable. For a long time Catholics tried to fly under the radar, to water down the truth for the sake of filling pews, and to evangelize by the means of least offense — often at the expense of the fullness of the truth. We tried to sound like Protestants while also trying to retain the beauty of the Sacraments. We have allowed feelings to be placed over facts, and personal comfort over charity. And now we know that we can’t have it both ways. “If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you” (John 15:18, DRB). Throughout this painful and failed experiment in poor catechesis and Catholic-lite living, the Church and those faithful to her remained staunch and unwavering, unwilling to water down or compromise, over the issues surrounding life. Now we are being called to task, and the solution is to abandon mediocrity and “niceness” for bold, brave, and uncompromising Catholicism. The Catholicism of the saints. The Catholicism of the cloud of witnesses.

This is your time

Friends, you are called to be the next cloud of witnesses. You are called to be the living saints of this time. The world needs you to be holy. The culture needs you to be brave. Society needs you to abandon fear and to embrace the radical call of the Gospel. The world needs you to be willing to be a martyr. The catch is, many in the world don’t know it. Yet. Throughout history it was the saints of the Church who changed the tide of the culture. It was the Catholic Church who preserved culture. It was the saints of the church who saved the world. If we are to reclaim the culture for the Kingdom of God, if we are to win souls for Christ, if we are to stand up for the truth, if we are to save the world, then we will be persecuted for it. Uncomfortably. Maybe even violently. And we need to pray for the grace to be able to endure it and even embrace it. This is one of the great mysteries of our faith, and yet it should come as no surprise to us. Christ saved the world and destroyed death by being persecuted and ultimately giving his life. If we want to call him our friend, we must be ready to do the same.

Be not afraid

Attribution: Portale storico della Presidenza della Repubblica, 

It may sound like a bleak and frightening prospect; to be prepared to endure persecution and suffering, but thanks to the cloud of witnesses before us, we know that holiness is far from scary. In fact, it is freeing. The saints were people who knew how to live fully, freely, and with hope, and they can help us to do the same. Pope St. John Paul II was famous for reminding us to “be not afraid.” Now is not the time for us to fear, even if we are faced with the hatred and violence of those who don’t know how desperately they need Jesus and His truth. It is time for us take the advice of the saints!

What the saints would say to us now

Now that we have established that we need to be ready to stand up boldly for the truth and to be unwavering in the defense of Jesus and his Church, let us conclude with the advice of the saints, those men and women who have lived the faith well and loved Jesus even unto death, and who are ready to come to our assistance as we run our own race, and try to run it well:

The greatest obstacle in the apostolate of the Church is the timidity, or rather the cowardice, of the faithful.

– Pope St. Pius X

You cannot be half a saint. You must be a whole saint or none at all.

– St. Therese of Lisieux

Teach us, good Lord, to serve You as You deserve. To give and not to count the cost. To fight and not to heed the wounds. To toil and not to seek for rest. To labor and to not ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do Thy will.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

Speak the truth in a million voices. It is silence that kills.

– St. Catherine of Siena

The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels, if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.

– St. Thomas Aquinas

Do not be afraid to be saints. Follow Jesus Christ who is the source of freedom and light. Be open to the Lord so that He may lighten all your ways.

– Pope St. John Paul II

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