A cloud of witnesses cheers us on toward heaven

Jeff Hedglen

Director of Young Adult & Campus Ministry

North Texas Catholic

2/23/2017

By virtue of spending more than 30 years in Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the Church I have garnered a nice following on social media. While there are times that my newsfeed is awash with vitriolic opinions that run the gamut of every political preference, social convention, spiritual philosophy and discipline — along with a wide variety of personal drama and trauma — there are also times when my social media feed blesses me beyond words.

Last fall, I shared two events in my life with the masses and the response I got simply floored me. The first was when I shared that I was selected to be an Adjunct Instructor for the University of Dallas teaching Foundations of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. I had never taught at the college level before, but teaching a course like this had been a dream of mine for a long time, as I feel I have a lot of experience and insight to share. I expected some congratulations and “likes,” but what I did not expect was a number of friends, former youth group members, and young adult Bible study members to share touching memories and words of encouragement that really calmed my nerves about this venture into new territory.

The second event I shared was news of impending rotator cuff surgery. This post garnered a flood of love and prayers that literally brought me to tears. Post after post of people wishing me well, offering prayer, sharing advice, and asking if I needed anything was overwhelming to say the least. Heading into a surgery that I knew was the beginning of a six-month recovery process, wrapped in the love and support of friends near and far (yet in my hand via modern technology) allowed me to relax and cast my burden aside because I was not carrying it alone.

The first few weeks of recovery I could not move around much, thus I had a lot of time to think. As I reflected on all the support I was continuing to receive, a verse from Scripture kept coming to mind: 

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, (Hebrews 12:1)

Never in my life had a Bible verse come alive so clearly in a time when I needed it. I truly felt the cloud of witnesses supporting me so I could run the race through the pain and into the long weeks of physical therapy.

The thoughts of my temporal cloud of witnesses brought to mind the beautiful teaching the Church has of the mystical body of Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it this way: 

We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers. (CCC 962)

As I write this I am only a couple weeks into 20 weeks of physical therapy and not a day goes by that someone does not ask me, in person and online, “how the shoulder is healing.” The Catechism sheds light on this particular experience of the Body of Christ when it says:

From this it follows that if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with him, and if one member is honored, all the members together rejoice. (CCC 791)

I know as well as anyone the allure of social media and the distraction smart phones can be, but I know firsthand that they can be tools used by God, as well. I will also say that it was when I put my phone down and spent some time in quiet that the eternal and mystical ‘social media’ broke through. Yes, we are all surrounded by a cloud of witnesses in the here and the hereafter, all of them are pulling for us and cheering us on to healing and heaven.

By virtue of spending more than 30 years in Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the Church I have garnered a nice following on social media. While there are times that my newsfeed is awash with vitriolic opinions that run the gamut of every political preference, social convention, spiritual philosophy and discipline — along with a wide variety of personal drama and trauma — there are also times when my social media feed blesses me beyond words.

Published (until 12/12/2039)
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