These days when we speak of “the cloud” many of us are aware that the reference is not to the weather. The latest technological “storage facility” is still a mystery to many but for others it is a great revelation and advance.
In today’s first reading (HEB 12:1-4) Paul urges: 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 …He is speaking, of course of what the Church calls “the communion of saints.” Once I heard Rev. Michael Himes, theology professor at that time at Boston College, use that reference as one of the best reasons for the continuance of the Catholic/Christian Church (and I would expand the notion to include other faith traditions for it seems appropriate in the broader sense as well). What he was implying was our freedom and ability to access the lives of these “holy people of God” across the centuries for examples of faith, perseverance, service and love. We may, in an imaginal way (which is not to say imaginary but rather with our deeper intuition), “have conversation with” those who lived in the first century – dropping in on the listeners to the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps, or sitting with the apostles gathered on the beach for breakfast with Jesus after the Resurrection. We can follow St. Francis of Assisi as he did his best to “rebuild the Church” in the 1200’s or accompany Catherine of Siena as she courageously led the Pope back to Rome from Avignon in 1377. In our own time we might ask Dorothy Day about her fervent service to the poor at the Catholic Worker. “How did you do it?” we might ask, “giving everything …open to everyone?” Or maybe it’s Maximilian Kolbe who gave his life in exchange for a family man at Auschwitz and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982 who puts a modern face on the willingness of Jesus for us.
This year as we celebrate the 100th birthday of Thomas Merton, I see in my mind pictures of him sitting in conversation with the Dalai Lama and know that deep sharing can bring the understanding of which Paul speaks today. We often hear folks say, “S/he was a saint,” when speaking of those newly departed from the earth. Why not look around – even as we look up or look in – to find conversation partners in that great cloud or still here in our midst.