Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. The second Mass reading on this day is a beautiful passage from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, one that always moves me.
At this point, Paul realizes he is “the time of [his] departure is at hand.” Looking back at his life, he writes: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” These words always affect me deeply, and I keep coming back to them.
“I have competed well.” What is Paul saying here? Or, perhaps, more appropriately: What would it take to be able to say, as does Paul, “I have competed well”?
I think the words can mean a lot of different things, depending on the circumstances. Of course we’d all like to be able to say at the end of the day that through our words and deeds we accomplished big things, changed the world in a major way, maybe moved a few mountains. And sometimes we do accomplish big things. Other times, our best efforts may produce small results. The circumstances in which we find ourselves may mean that we have little show for our efforts.
Perhaps the bottom line is that we can not necessarily fairly evaluate our discipleship based on visible results. The relevant question is only whether we acted true to our faith. Whether we followed the course of Christ, bearing witness to Christ and being his love in the world as best as we could. If we do that, then, at the end of the day we can say, as did Paul, “I have competed well…I have kept the faith.