There is something in the human spirit that is captivated by this kind of contest which pits people and technology against each other. Maybe it is the outward show of what is happening inside each of us. In each of us there is also this struggle, acknowledged or not, for meaning and purpose and a way of reconciling. Somehow when we see that played out in a contest we seem to be able to live better the inner inconsistencies that we all experience.
The surrounding carnival atmosphere of concerts and other entertainments, together with the ‘villages’ for all sorts of merchandise and other items, created a spectacle that engaged the crowds.
It wasn’t difficult to stop and chat with racegoers. For those I had a chance to speak with, it was the whole event, and being part of something, especially after the COVID hiatus, that was the most important drawcard, more important it would seem than who might actually ‘win’. Being at the event, being part of the event, was the deeper drawcard. In a world seemingly obsessed with competition and looking out for number ‘1’ this was refreshing.
As we begin another civil year, such experiences as these two races reminded me of St Paul’s triple phrase: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have run the race to the end, I have kept the faith.’ 2 Timothy 4:7.
In this short passage, Paul sees the end of his life drawing close, and he is evaluating it from the perspective of his faithfulness to the Lord Jesus. For me it is interesting that Paul does not say ‘I have won the race’, but rather ‘I have run the race to the end…’. Paul knew that divisions could creep into any Christian community when personalities displace the mystery of the Trinity which is at the heart of our faith.
“For when one says ‘I belong to Paul’ and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.” 1 Corinthians 3:4-10
Running the race to the end was what was important to Paul. Being in it, being prophetic was important to Paul, not just any fight, but the ‘good fight’. Keeping the faith was important to him.
Paul knew from what perspective came his engagement that allows him these things: the Kingdom of God. Without it nothing else made sense, the Church would be just another community organisation. The call to be a missionary disciple, at the heart of the Gospel, is summed up beautifully by Paul, when he says, ‘For we are God’s servants, working together’. 1 Corinthians 3:9.
If I were to sum up my hopes for the Archdiocese for 2023 it would be to bring to life in every parish and community, to allow to flourish in the life of every believer, those words of St Paul. For that is why I think, in reflecting on his own life of discipleship, he says ‘I have fought the good fight, I have run the race to the end, I have kept the faith’. In other words, he knew the only way was that of being a servant of God who works together.
In another part of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says ‘Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.’ (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
In a race, only one runner wins. However, in the Kingdom of God ‘race’ everyone who pays the price of being a missionary disciple and a servant who works together can win.
May we be diligent in our ‘race’, may we keep our eyes on the goal, and may we, like Paul, finish strong.
Pope Benedict XVI
The Romans have a saying ‘fat Pope, thin Pope’ by which they mean there is no one model of being a Pope and each will be different from the other. St Paul says ‘the gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’. (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Undoubtably Pope Benedict’s main gift was as a teacher, and for that we thank God and for that we are all the beneficiaries. As he now lays down the burden of the years, he can rightly say with St Paul, the triple phrase: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have run the race to the end, I have kept the faith.’ May he rest in eternal peace.
Unapologetically there is a lot of St Paul in this article. Every renewal of the Church has come through a close reading of him. And let us then not forget that ‘we are God’s servants, working together’.
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