Surrounded by a Great Cloud of Witnesses
St. Benjamin was a Christian martyred in the year 424. Coincidentally, I was born on 4/24 some 1,539 years later. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t named after him, though. My older sisters Brenda and Belinda, and our dogs Boots and Buffey prove that my mother had things other than martyrs in mind when naming us.
Indeed, I had never heard of St. Benjamin before I Googled the name to get myself started working on this article. When I read about him here, I was humbled to share his name.
A few times each week in the daily mass, we celebrate the life of a saint. Some of them, like St. Benjamin, are martyrs, and the liturgical color for them is red. Others are noteworthy for other reasons, and the color for them is white. When the day set aside for them in the liturgical calendar falls on a Sunday, they rightly get set aside so we can celebrate our Lord.
Hebrews 11 has a long list of Old Testament Heroes who lived “by faith.” The list starts with Abraham, and continues through his wife Sarah, his son Isaac, his grandson Jacob, and his great-grandson Joseph. Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, David, and Samuel are also among those who lived by faith. These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13)
Hebrews 12 begins: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us (v. 1). This image is like a stadium full of fans watching a sporting event, cheering on the team to victory.
It is this “great cloud of witnesses” in which we celebrate, when we celebrate the lives of saints. The stories of these saints are real stories — because these saints are real people. They are real examples of faithful living, and we do well to study them, think about them, and model our lives after them. We do not worship saints any more than the Reformers worshiped Martin Luther or the Methodists worship John Wesley.
Why not take some time and meditate on the life of a saint? Perhaps one whose name you share (like St. Benjamin for me) or whose day is set on a day of the year that is significant to you (like your birthday). The better you know the saints — or a particular saint — the more you know who it is in the “great cloud of witnesses” that is cheering you on in the life of faithfulness.
Join the All Saints’ celebration at St. Michael’s November 6th as children of all ages honor their favorite saint or a saint of inspiration during an intergenerational event followed by a costume procession at the 10:00 am Mass. Click here to reserve a nametag for your child(ren)!
This article was written by Vestry Member Ben Conarroe, founder of PRO Mentors.