Almost every time we gather for community prayer, Mary Ann prays for “the grace and strength to finish the race well.” Early on in her Christian walk, she remembers reading about Peter in the Gospel, and how after spending three years side by side with Jesus, he still denied Him at a moment of crisis. Thanks to God’s mercy, Peter repented and came back into the fold and finished the race strong, dying a martyr’s death, but Judas took a different path. It made her realize that anyone can fall away, even after walking closely with the Lord, and she resolved to always pray for the strength to finish the race strong.
I wrote in my previous post about perseverance and what can keep us strong in running the race well in our lives as Christians. Here’s another help.
Going back to Hebrews 12:1 it says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…”
a) heavenly friends
“Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” In one translation it reads, “we have surrounding us a whole lot of people who have demonstrated their faith.”
What helps us to persevere? We can look at the lives of those who have gone before us and who are now part of the Church Triumphant – the saints. Read the lives of the saints!
The Church holds these men and women up as heroes so that we have flesh-and-blood examples of how to live so that we make it to the goal, the goal of heaven. Pope John Paul II canonized more people than any other pope in history. He was trying to find examples of holiness in every country, every vocation, every walk of life.
The saints are our heavenly friends. They want us to succeed. They are rooting for us, cheering us on. Make friends with a few of them and ask for their help often.
b) earthly friends
We also need good earthly friends. No one can run the race alone. You want to surround yourself with good friends here. Find companions who are also trying to run the race marked out for them with their eyes fixed on Jesus. Then find ways to encourage one another. Good Christian fellowship is essential if we want to persevere to the end.
Conversely, we need to be careful not to spend too much time with people who pull us down or whose influence erodes our values. This can be very subtle, but we need to pay attention to the effect certain people are having on us.
1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.” Or another translation, “Bad companions ruin good character.”
How do we know the difference? Ask yourself: are you comfortable talking with these friends about Jesus, your faith, the Eucharist, going to confession? Do your friends challenge you in areas that you need work on? If not, it’s probably time to find some new friends.
Yes, we need to reach out to people and share the Gospel with them, but the friends and companions we spend the most time with should be those who support and encourage us to know and love Jesus better.
St. Paul knew of the danger of companions leading us astray when he challenged the Galatians, “You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough.” Galatians 5:7-9
The narrow road
The Christian walk is not easy. It doesn’t take much to get us to detour or to turn down a wrong path. It really helps to have some good cheerleaders and companions along the way who encourage us and walk with us.
When the disciples asked Jesus if many would be saved, he didn’t answer their question with a percentage or a number. He said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate. Wide is the road to destruction, narrow is the road to eternal life.” Matthew 7:13-14
We can’t run the race alone. We need all the help we can get! Seek out friends who will help you persevere in getting to heaven.