I Have Kept the Faith
I’d like to share a few thoughts on the second reading of today’s Mass, Paul’s letter to his friend and disciple Timothy. From Paul’s strange encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus until the day he died Paul cared for nothing else but to know Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. He said of himself, ’for me to live is Christ and he encouraged all of us to grow to full maturity in Christ. Paul’s life as a preacher of the gospel was not an easy life. He tells of the number of times he was whipped, the number of times he was stoned, the number of times he was run out of town, the number of times he was ship wrecked. But nothing could stop him from telling all those who entered his life about Jesus, crucified and risen. “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” When he wrote this letter to Timothy Paul was in prison. He knew his days were numbered. As he wrote, ‘the time of my departure has come.’ If he had any regrets it was that he was given no more time to preach the good news of Jesus’ love for each one of us. Looking back of his life and ministry he said ’I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.’ What a way to sum up one’s life.
I spent some time with a woman the day before she died. She and her family came to Canada from Holland after the Second World War. They suffered severely during the German occupation of Holland. They came to Canada to start a new life. Their first years were not easy but with the help of others they found work and raised a family. She was the housekeeper and her husband was the grounds keeper of a well to do family. Talking about her life she had no regrets, she knew she did the best she could as wife and mother. She was a woman of faith and could honestly say,’ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.’ Death was no fright to her.
A German psychiatrist named Erik Erikson developed a theory of the seven stages of growth through which we live our lives. He named the final stage ‘integrity’. As we grow older we tend to slow down, we are not as productive as we used to be, and we don’t have the energy. It can be that at this time in our lives we look back on the lives we lived, the good we’ve done, the things we’ve left undone, the mistakes we’ve made. Because of good old Catholic guilt this can be a rough time for us. Mistakes, sins and failures blind us to the good things we’ve done in life. In times like this we feel our lives are unproductive and we are dissatisfied by the life we’ve lived, we may even fall into depression.
But if we have trust in the mercy and love of God, a love and mercy made visible for all to see in the passion and death of Christ crucified then, by God’s grace, we can see beyond our faults and weaknesses and acknowledge the good things we’ve done and acknowledge that when all is said and done, we are good people. We can say, ‘I did the best I could’ and look back on our lives with a sense of completeness and accept death without fear.
Paul the Apostle was not a perfect person. I think he would be a difficult person with whom to work. Like the rest of us Paul was a mistake making being trying to be faithful to his vocation as a preacher of the gospel.
Paul faced his imminent death with a sense of his own personal integrity he could truthfully say,’ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course I have kept the faith.’ Paul knew his reward would be great in heaven.
May we pray for one another that we be blessed with that gift of integrity that allows us to truthfully say,’ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race I have kept the faith’ and leave the rest to the mercy and love of God.