This passage from the letter to the Hebrews starts with a great visual image:
Brothers and sisters,
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.
For the sake of the joy that lay before him
Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.
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.
You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as (daughters and) sons:
My (child), do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him.
This is another really rich reading. Two things stood out for me in this reading. First, was that cloud. “Cloud” was my first impression of the setting of Catholic liturgy–it’s how I felt when the pipe organ began to play, and I noticed I was surrounded by saints in the windows as well. The music settled like a cloud around me. I carry that image with me more than forty years after my first venture into a church.
A cloud around us can be a fog. And maybe that’s not such a good thing. But having that image of being surrounded by the saints, their good will, their music and song: this is very good. Especially when we have sinned and otherwise messed up in our lives.
The saints have our six, as the modern parlance goes. Not as nosy spies watching from heaven, but as sisters and brothers who have gone before us, who experienced the same temptations and did the same wrongs we do. But they made it.
And this last sentence above, that encouragement to accept the discipline–the input of the Lord–for what we have done wrong. How can we accept it? Because others have our own best interests at heart. We do not approach penance to be beaten down, but rather to be raised up. And we will be raised up, raised to run the race yet again.
This is not only a promise by Christ. It is our destiny as believers.