In today’s second Mass reading, which comes from the latter part of Saint Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul evalutes his life, recognizing that the time of his departure “is at hand.” He writes “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”
They are words all of us who call ourselves disciples of Christ want to be able to say as we approach the end of our lives. Having a tendency toward self-evaluation and self-judgment, I ask myself, what will it take to be able to say those words when I near the end of my life? To have confidence that I will hear God say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”?
I know it won’t require that I have lived a perfect life, one lived without mistakes. I’ve made many over the years and doubtless, despite careful discernment and best efforts, I will continue to make many more.
I know it won’t require that I have moved mountains or solved all the world’s great problems.
I know it won’t require that I accomplish more than anyone else did.
Two things come most readily to my mind when I read these words of Paul’s and think about what it would require for me to feel like I’ve “competed well…kept the faith.”
One is the response Thurgood Marshall gave when he retired from the Supreme Court. When asked what was his greatest accomplishment, he replied not that he had argued Brown vs. Board of Education (the Supreme Court decision that resulted in school desegregation) and not that he had served as the first Africa-American member of the Supreme Court. Rather, his response was, “I did the best I could with what I had.”
The second is something an adult friend wrote in my 8th grade graduation albumn that I have always remembered: “When through one man a little more love and goodness, a little more light of the truth, comes into the world, then that man’s life has had meaning. May your life have meaning.”
If I can say I did the best I could with what I had, if I can say I’ve done all I could with what I had to spread some love and goodness and truth in the world, then that will be enough. Maybe others will have done more, maybe others less, but neither matters to how I will stand before God.