Therefore, 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. (Hebrews 12: 1-2a)My reflections on the readings today fell on this one sentence. It seems to me that it contains a simple and beautiful plan for beginning, or beginning anew, to live a spiritual life. I began to see three moments:
1. The first moment of a spiritual life is the realization of Communion. Our experience of an inspiration to begin (or begin anew) to live a spiritual life is preceded by our being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. The very fact that it is an inspiration reveals this. We are inspired; the Spirit has gone to work in us, or perhaps we have finally consented to the work he has always been about, humbly and quietly. So the desire for spirituality itself is a sharing in the one Spirit at work as the principle of and abiding divine Presence in the Universal Church. At the very moment of noticing, accepting, or consenting to the desire to live spiritually, we actualize our Communion with the whole Church, the pilgrim Church on earth, the Church of the Blessed in Heaven, the Church suffering in Purgatory.
Before we can even to think about living a spiritual life, whether we end up doing it well or poorly, devoutly or with lukewarmness, the very inspiration is a sign that we are already being drawn into this great Communion of the Saints across time and space. We begin from this Communion, with the knowledge and encouragement that all of our prayers are for everyone, and everyone else's prayers are for us, for we all pray in the one Spirit through the one Jesus Christ to the one Father of all.
2. The second moment is ridding ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us. We strive to release sin, to find whatever solvent needs to be applied to our exterior selves in order that it may no longer cling to us. We know and have come to believe that the one thing that will work our salvation and make us happy is to walk with and according to God, and so we desire to let go of everything that slows us down, and by which we cause others around us to slow down and become distracted. This is the nourishment of true contrition; the realization that sin keeps us from the serenity and happiness that God desires to give us.
3. In the third moment we begin, or begin anew, to run the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith. The 'while' is critical. We travel the path of the journey, all the while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.
It is by his journey and his righteousness that we are saved, not by our own. Even in the moments that we call our fervor we know our prayer is lukewarm, our faith weak. Our sins persist or even get worse. Even sins that seemed to be eradicated can return in other, sometimes more insidious and rarefied forms. There is no end to the devil's trick and traps, his hate for God and rotten desire to ruin the graces God wants to give us and especially the graces God wills that others should receive through us. But in a certain sense, none of this is to our discouragement for Jesus is the perfecter of faith. It is by his righteousness that we are saved, and because he has accomplished that righteousness in our humanity--borrowed from us through the consent of our Blessed Mother--and then given us a participation and a sharing in his humanity, namely the gift of the Eucharist. Our weak faith and our lukewarm devotion is made perfect in the perfection of humanity that is Jesus Christ. By the gift of Holy Communion with his one Sacrifice, with the trail he has blazed from death to life, we, in all of our imperfection, are made perfect on the way, in him.