By: Melisa Carroll
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. We look to Heaven and think of those men and women who have gone before us, running with perseverance the race marked out for them with their eyes fixed on Jesus. We look to this “cloud of witnesses” and see people from every walk of life; with backgrounds similar and different than ours, and see in them inspiration, hope, and holiness.
But what exactly is a “cloud of witnesses”? Why are we given the image of a cloud?
A cloud is something that we look up to. We lift our eyes and gaze at their beauty, their uniqueness, their simplicity and simultaneous complexity. We look for familiar shapes in them, we watch their movements and study their patterns. We learn from them. They are above us, and yet they are so earthy and natural.
We look up to the saints. We gaze at their beauty, we recognize their uniqueness, we ponder their simplicity (St. Therese of Liseux) or their complexity (St. Teresa of Avila). We see ourselves in them sometimes. We study their lives and the patterns that helped them gain the prize of Heaven. We learn from them. They are in Heaven and lived holy lives, yet they were human too- earthy and natural.
God has given us this cloud of witnesses as a gift. They are surrounding us like a great, dense fog, praying for us and cheering us on. When we look to the saints, we shouldn’t see these pristine statues of unattainable holiness and purity, like perfect, fluffy, still clouds with no imperfections in them and no signs of rain. Clouds move and clouds change; they aren’t stagnant. They influence the world around them in big and little ways. The briefest moment of shade can be just as much a blessing as a great storm that washes away a drought.
Many saints did almost nothing of “significance” during their lifetime- they didn’t start a revolution, save hundreds of people, or found an order. They were clouds that passed peacefully by, their shadow lightly flitting over the landscape. It wasn’t until later that their holiness was recognized. And yet, now that they are in Heaven, they a part of a huge thunderhead, a massive pillar of strength, a sight of wonder and awe. From them comes a torrent of grace; we are called on through that grace to join that great cloud. It’s not unattainable. God desperately wants us to be saints. Therefore, He gives us (in plenty) the tools we need to reach sainthood. All we have to do is ask.
There’s one more image of a cloud that I want to leave you with. Clouds are inherently free. They are not tethered to anything. We are called to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” so that we can be free and run the race that has been set before us. When we aren’t held down, we can be freely moved and directed by Christ on the path to join that great cloud of witnesses that waits for us. So I challenge you to look at the clouds today. Let them remind you of all the saints cheering you on, the grace that awaits you as soon as you ask, the freedom that you are offered, and the goal of Heaven.