In July I watched clips from the
Tour de France. I don’t understand the rules of this annual world
championship bicycle race. It lasts 23 days and Wikipedia calls it,
"the world’s most prestigious and most difficult bicycle race," It
was won by 22-year-old Egan Bernal, the first South American to win
I did not understand much of what
was happening, but I was taken back by one thing I saw during the
course of the race. Thousands of spectators lined the roads cheering
and waving flags. But, unlike other sporting events, they were not
behind barricades. Instead they were on the road, barely leaving
room for the racing bicyclists. As the riders passed the crowds
reached out to pat them on the back, shouting encouragement in their
ears. At first I was put off by the mess and the disorderly
intrusion these crowds made; hardly anything like the reserved
spectators at a golf tournament! Then I thought again.
In a mountainous 23 day bicycle
race those cheering, back-slapping crowds may have energized the
bodies and spirits of the straining competitors. Judging from the
grimaces on their faces they certainly needed all the help they
Believe it or not, the crowds and
the bicyclists at the Tour de France reminded me of today’s Hebrew
reading – in particular the opening line:
"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."
The author of Hebrews is reminding
us of the need for faith and discipline in the race we are running.
This race is no quick 100 yard-dash to the finish line. Rather, in
the metaphor of athletics, we are in a long, cross-country race that
involves steep hills and sudden declines. We need assurance and
encouragement, we need a "cloud of witnesses" to inspire and cheer
Hebrews has previously given a
long list of heroes in faith from the Hebrew Scriptures (Heb
11:5ff), names of Israel’s greatest: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
Joseph etc. (It’s a shame the author didn’t include the heroic women
who were also great models of faith like: Sarah, "Mother of the
Jewish Nation," Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, etc.) These and so many
unnamed ones in both Testaments, are "a great cloud of witnesses,"
for us as we continue to keep "our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader
and perfecter of faith." Maybe it is not too far afield to liken our
past and present heroic ones to spectators in our long and taxing
athletic event. And not just idle spectators, but they are those who
cheer us on, support us in our efforts and inspire us to keep at
our, sometimes, difficult task of being Christian witnesses to Jesus
"Cloud of witnesses" was a phrase
taken from ancient Greek Olympic events. The "cloud" was supposed to
encourage those undergoing the dangerous and taxing competitions.
The athletes were expected to train arduously and put aside all that
would distract them from their goal – victory in their competitive
event. In the language of ancient athletic training, Hebrews
encourages believers to trim down, rid themselves of unnecessary
baggage and anything that would slow them down, especially "every
burden of sin that clings to us." Being weighed down by the sinful
distractions of this world would only divert us and prevent us from
achieving our true goal – the joy that Christ has shown awaits us.
"For the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross,
despising its shame…."
As a young priest, struggling with
a difficult assignment and its daily trials, I went to speak to a
senior priest friend for advice He summed up his counsel to me in
one brief sentence, "Jude, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus." I did not
know at the time that he was quoting the letter to the Hebrews.
Looking back I realize my
friend, Father Louis, was also one
of the "cloud of witnesses," who was setting an example, patting me
on the back and shouting encouragement in my ear as I strained
forward – just like those spectators at the Tour de France!
It isn’t just a matter of keeping
our nose to the grind stone, is it? It is not just about our
"keeping on, keeping on." And it is not just keeping our eyes fixed
on Jesus because he is an inspiration. There are plenty of examples
of wise leaders and teachers in the history of the world who also
suffered for their beliefs. No, it’s because by Jesus’ fidelity,
endurance, and victory, that we, the baptized, have received
his life along with his promise of future victory, "Keep your eyes
fixed on Jesus."
The last verse, "You have not yet
resisted to the point of shedding blood…", while initially true, did
shine a light on what the letter’s readers would one day have to
endure for their constancy and faith. They did shed their blood for
Let’s return to the "great cloud
of witnesses" that Hebrews says surrounds us. We know the names and
the lives of the ones whom the church declares as "saints." Among
them we have our favorites, those we turn to for prayerful support
and inspiration by their example. But who else is in your "cloud?" –
and we are not talking about the internet here! Who are those who
support you in dire times? Who gives you courage by the example of
their lives? Who keeps you in the Church, despite the failing
"witnesses" of the recent scandals? During this Eucharist imagine
those good souls standing around you as you pray. Name them and give
thanks to God for them. After all, isn’t the Eucharist a prayer of
thanksgiving at its heart?
Click here for a link to this
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
Though I am afflicted and poor, yet
the Lord thinks of me.
If the Lord thinks of people who
are afflicted and poor, shouldn’t we do the same? Last week I wrote
about the work of Habitat for Humanity to provide affordable housing
and this week I want to tell you about other ministries in our
parish that are also trying to help alleviate this silent crisis.
I spent part of my vacation trying
to assist a family with an autistic young man and three other
children keep a roof over their heads in a local hotel. The mother
has a section 8 voucher but was having great difficulty finding an
apartment that would accept it. Thanks to our Door Fund Ministry,
the goodness of parishioners and other area churches, the regional
office of Catholic Charities, and the Autistic Society, we were able
to help her. She has recently found an apartment and another church
in the Emergency Assistance Provider network, of which HNOJ is a
member, is providing funds for the deposit. The Door Fund Ministry
was started in 2002 by Anne & Bill Werdel. This ministry acts to
prevent homelessness by helping financially with past due rents and
eviction notices. Thanks to parishioners’ contributions, we helped
almost 500 fellow citizens last year.
However, we also have other
ministries that try to help people out of homelessness. Family
Promise has area churches host homeless families in their
facilities. Other churches in this ministry bring meals for the
families in the evening. Cathedral parishioners help with families
being hosted at Edenton St. United Methodist Church and First
Baptist on Salisbury. This is a quarterly endeavor. We also prepare
dinner once a month on the fourth Friday at the Helen Wright Shelter
for about 30 homeless, single women. Finally, at the new Oak City
Cares Center, we have teams of parishioners bringing food on the
second and third Saturday of every month. Area citizens that come
often find that their food stamps do not last until the end of the
month. Elizabeth White, one of our coordinators, said that she is
now serving up to 130 people when her team serves. This ministry
used to operate on the sidewalk at Moore Square. All of these
ministries could use more parishioner help. What is really nice is
the opportunity to accompany a poor person or family if only through
a meal. Through you, the "Lord thinks of them."
Please advocate for more
affordable housing and contact
to add your help.
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral,
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
Jesus said, "I have come to set the
earth on fire
and how I wish it were already
In the beginning of his gospel
Luke gives us the story of Jesus’ birth, with the warming scene of
the angels singing, "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth
to those whom God favors." It is clear from today’s passage that the
peace Jesus brings to his followers is not the peace of comfort and
the well-being the world desires. Following him will not be a life
of calm and tranquility.
So we ask ourselves:
- What makes us uncomfortable
about Jesus’ teachings?
- Does what he asks of us set
us apart from those who know us?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
"One has to strongly affirm that
condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that
humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most
forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this
space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a
postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not
forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through
North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If
the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Terry Robinson #0349019 (On
death row since 4/10/00)
- Mark L. Squires #0688223
- Paul A Brown #0051026
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail
Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the
Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing
page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death
Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty:
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