Have I Competed Well?

I will begin by admitting that I have never run a marathon.  I have, however, stood on the sidelines and watched others run (this is actually less painful than running the race). I noticed that many of the runners not only kept their focus on the steps ahead of them, but turned their heads back from time to time to see how the competition was doing.

In our second reading this weekend, St. Paul talks about the spiritual journey using the language of a long distance runner. St. Paul says, “I have competed well. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” He presses on to the goal of our earthly life—eternity with God in heaven.

This short reading caused me to ask myself a challenging question: Have I competed well?

We get an example of two types of people in our gospel reading. We have the Pharisee who is bragging about what a great person he is, while the tax collector stands off in the distance begging for God’s mercy. While the Pharisee may be able to boast of being a follower of the law, it is the humility of the tax collector with which the Lord finds favor. He reminds us that those who humble themselves will be exalted.

We are nearing the end of our year-long study of the Mass. This has been a period of rich and powerful learning for our faith community. Each week we come to Mass to place our needs before the Lord and to receive from Him the grace that abounds for us in the Eucharist. It is here that we are fed, nourished, and made ready for the “race” that is our earthly life.

If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that, all too often, we have not competed well in some areas of our lives. We all have shortcomings, failures, faults, and vices that challenge us in this earthly life. If we take time to look at our lives carefully, we will see areas of sin that need to be brought into the light, through the sacrament of confession. Having our sins forgiven and being restored through this sacrament makes us ready to be filled with the grace and healing that is available to us at every Mass.

If we take St. Paul’s letter to heart, we might draw some parallels from our daily lives into our spiritual journey.  What are the preparations that I make to get ready for work each day? How do I keep up with the latest technology and learning that will help me do my job? As a student, how do I prepare myself for class each day, and how do I prepare for test days? As a retired person, how do I use my time wisely and balance leisure with other meaningful and service activities? How can we bring these same practices into our spiritual life?

We are all runners in a race. We don’t know how much time we have to finish the race, but we do know that one day we will arrive at the finish line, and our running days will be over. I would like to suggest that each of us spend some time contemplating the question St. Paul puts before us this weekend: Have I competed well? Have I grown in my understanding of the Mass? Has this year of learning changed how I approach my faith and how I worship?

Like the marathon runner, we need to keep our eyes focused on the finish line, but we also need to be looking back, now and again, to see how far we’ve run. St. Paul ends this short reading with these words:

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever.”

We know that evil will always be part of our world and will challenge us on our race to the Kingdom. Let each of us endeavor to run the race well, recognizing that we will fall and fail a hundred times. As runners, we know that we need to get up and continue the race, and that is exactly what God calls us to do. He gives us all the grace and strength we need to run this earthly race and to compete well.

May we all compete well so as to earn the reward of eternal life!

Peace be with you,

Deacon Tim

 

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