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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Finish the Race

Robert Barron - Finish the Race

Robert Barron - Finish the Race

Peace be with you. Friends, our second reading this week is from Paul's Second Letter to Timothy. I think a couple weeks ago, I spoke on First Timothy, and I mentioned to you how the scholars are divided. Some say that Paul wrote these letters, others say he didn't write them. I lean toward the explanation that yes, he did write them. I won't bore you with all the details on both sides of that. But if Paul did indeed write this Second Letter to Timothy, it's one of the last things we have from St. Paul.

So it's a very precious text. There's so many things in this short passage that are worthy of commentary, and I'm just going to say a few things. Here's what Paul says to Timothy. Now, keep in mind, Timothy was his young friend whom he had brought into the faith. We hear that he had placed hands on his head, meaning he ordained him. And he's like an old soldier passing on advice to the young soldier. So he speaks to Timothy. Paul knows that he, Paul, is at the end of his life, and he's passing on wisdom to his young friend. Here's what he says, as our passage for today begins: "I am already being poured out like a libation".

Now, we won't get this right away, but people in the ancient world knew what he meant. So in a Roman context, a libation was a drink offering that you would make at the end of the meal. So as a little tribute to the gods, you would take a bit of wine or something and you'd pour it on the ground. There was a Jewish version, which after a burnt offering, a bit of wine and oil was poured on the altar. So it's a gesture at the end or at the consummation of something. At the end of the meal, at the end of the sacrifice, you would pour out this libation. So, Paul sees himself now at the end of his life in just this way. But I want to focus on the pouring out element. I'm being emptied out.

How did Paul see his life? Well, when he was a young man, like a lot of young men, he probably saw it as a filling up process. Paul was zealous for the traditions of his elders. Paul wanted to accomplish great things within his Jewish context. He probably wanted to fill himself up with fame and with accomplishment and so on. But what did he see once he met Christ? None of that mattered. In fact, didn't he tell us, "I considered all that rubbish compared to my knowledge of Christ". And he saw his life, therefore, as modeled after that of Jesus. "Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God a thing to be grasped at, but rather he emptied himself, being born in the likeness of men".

Christian life is not (listen) a filling up. There's the great lie, by the way, and you see it everywhere in our culture. The great lie is: I'm like this empty cage and I have to just fill it up with stuff. That's how I'll be happy. I'm unhappy, and I'll tell you the reason is I don't have enough of... Now, fill in the blank, whatever it happens to be. It's wealth, it's honor, it's privilege, it's position, it's degrees, it's money, whatever it is. And I just got to fill my cage up with enough; I'll be happy. "Au contraire," as the French say.

That in fact leads you to addiction and deep unhappiness. Rather, I'm being poured out like a libation. The good life is not one that's filled up with stuff, it's one that's emptied out. To love is to will the good of the other. Changes your whole life, your whole perspective when that sinks in. That's exactly what Jesus means by metanoia, going beyond the mind you have. Not filling up the empty cage but emptying out on behalf of the other. I think I've quoted it before, but it's worth quoting again from my mentor, Cardinal George: "The only things we take into heaven are those that we gave away on earth".

Let that sink into your heart. Your whole life will change, your whole life will change. You're not going to take into heaven any of these things that you've gained here below, my money and my prestige and my degrees and my positions, none of it, right? None of it. What I'll take into heaven are the things I gave away. In other words, that my life has become like a libation poured out. Okay. Then he says to Timothy, "The time of my", and I think our translation has "departure", "The time of my departure is near". Some translations have it "dissolution". And the reason is the Greek is an interesting little term. The Greek is "analuseos".

And what that means is the kind of untying or unmooring of a ship. That would be the sense of a ship that's moored by the pier, and now you're going to untie it. You're going to unmoor it and let the ship go forth. That's what Paul's saying; "The time of my unloosing is near". I always think of St. Hippolytus. You know that name? Ancient Church Father. His name in Greek from the word for "horse" and the word for "loosing". It means "a horse let loose".

So Hippolytus must have been a wild guy. His name meant basically wild horse. So Paul's saying that the time of my unmooring is near. Beautiful image. A ship is tied up. It's prepared for a journey. It's loaded with supplies. It's fixed up. It's prepared. The crew goes onto it. They make sure the sails are okay and all that, but the ship's not meant for that. It's not meant to stay moored by the pier with all of its accoutrement in place. No, it's meant to be unloosed, unleashed. It's meant to go out onto the open sea into great adventure. So Paul is saying here now at the end of his life, he's ready for the real journey to begin. Beautiful.

Think of now the whole of your life as a preparation for the real journey, which is the journey now into the infinite love and mercy of God, into the life of heaven. Everything you've experienced here below, all your friendships, all your accomplishments, all that's happened to you, good and bad, think of it as the loading of the supplies onto the ship, the readying of the ship and the sails for the journey. So maybe older people listen to me right now, to identify with this moment in Paul's life. It's not a despairing moment, like saying, "I'm poured out. Oh, my life's over". No, no, that's what life's all about is to be poured out. And the same thing here, the time of my "dissolution".

Don't read it that way. The time of my departure is here. I'm ready. I'm ready now for the real journey. Then he says to his young friend, Timothy, "I fought the good fight; I finished the race; I have kept the faith". All important. Let me say something about each one of those. "I fought the good fight". Was Paul a fighter? You bet. Read any page of Paul's letters. Read practically any page of the Acts of the Apostles. You're going to find a fighting spirit in this man. Even the young Saul who was filled with murderous energy to persecute the Christians, he was a fighter. And that spirit of energy didn't leave him when he converted. No, no. He continued fighting but now on behalf of Christ.

Think of in the Acts and in the letters of Paul, we hear about shipwreck, beatings, whippings, stonings, the abandonment of his friends, sleepless nights, bitter opposition of his intellectual opponents, and finally death at the hands of the Romans. Paul, all his life, fought. Well, I said this last week when I talked about the Amalekites. Trust me, everybody, when I tell you the spiritual life is always a fight. Not sometimes, not usually, always a fight. Why? Because you're walking the path of Christ. And that is always a path that stands thwart to the path of the world.

And the more surely you walk the path of Christ, trust me when I tell you, the more surely they will come out against you. But you know this, when I was a kid, honestly, I was kind of feisty. My brother and I used to fight all the time. We were very close in age, and I was getting into fights all the time when I was on the basketball court or the baseball field or something. I was kind of a feisty kid. There is something that's exhilarating about a good fight, isn't there? There's something that's exhilarating about it, when you kind of get into the struggle.

Now don't write me letters. I'm not recommending you get into physical fights, but I'm saying in the spiritual order there is something wonderful and exhilarating about getting into a good struggle as Paul did, taking on his opponents, arguing in the public place, putting up with opposition. Okay. "I have fought the good fight," he says. Yep. A fight can be a good fight if it's done for Christ and done in the right spirit. Don't back away from that. Don't feel like, "Oh gosh, I'm a failure because I'm being forced to fight for my faith". No, no, no. It's a good fight. Then he says, "I finished the race".

I'm pretty convinced that Paul was an athlete of some kind, or at the very least that he loved to watch games, because he uses the image of the athlete and the striving and the race a lot in his writings. And he came of age in Tarsus, so he was from Jewish parentage of course, but he was raised in a very Hellenistic culture. So I wouldn't be surprised. That's the culture that gave us the Olympic games, that Paul would've been exposed in some way to that world. But here he uses again, the image of the race.

Now, anyone that's ever been involved in a foot race, in a bike race, maybe, I'd never been in a horse race, but maybe that's true. But there are different stages in a race. The beginning of a race is almost always exciting, even to watch the beginning of a race, the Kentucky Derby or an Olympic sprint or something. The beginning is full of promise and hope and energy and enthusiasm. And then, especially for people who are into long distance, like marathon running or cross country running, there comes a time when it's just kind of a drag. It's just a slog. You're over the excitement of the beginning. Maybe people are passing you up and you're feeling tired and you're like, "I'm never going to finish this darn thing".

And then everyone witnesses to this: there's usually a second wind. Where does that come from? Who knows? But there's this burst of energy where you start running fast again and you're back into it. And then there often comes, and I've spoken about this too before, because it happened to me once in my life; happened on a bike trip I took from Paris to Rome, there's the experience of hitting the wall in a race, where you can't go on. Not like you're just getting tired or you're just getting discouraged. I mean, you can't go on.

Here's my point, everybody. If the spiritual life is like a race, it's got all these same elements. When I was doing counseling and helping people discern their vocation in my seminary years, almost everyone begins the spiritual journey with a lot of excitement. And sometimes that brings people all the way into the seminary. But then, almost invariably, they're going to reach a point in their spiritual journey where they say, "I don't know, Father, I'm just kind of out of energy. It just doesn't do much for me anymore. I can't drag myself out of bed to go to a morning prayer. And the Mass is just not really speaking to me anymore". Well, yeah. Because maybe you're coming to that middle point in the race. Very often in the spiritual order, you get a second wind. Okay, good.

Now you're back on track again. Sometimes, you hit the wall. I know people that in the spiritual journey have just, they can't go on. They're blocked. They're stuck. Okay. That's what it's like. It's like a race. What does Paul say? "I finished the race". Now, mind you, he didn't say, "I won. I was the best one that ever ran the race". But by God, he finished it, and he had, trust me, read them, read the letters, he had all those stages, all those stages, but by God, he finished the race. He finished the race. Well, that's for all of us, it's hugely inspiring, I think. No matter where you are in the race, and everyone listening to me is in a different place, finish it, finish it.

And then lastly, "I kept the faith". Anything more important to Paul than faith? He talks about it all the time: faith, trust, trust in Christ. Once Jesus came into his life, that was everything. Everything else was rubbish, as he said. Faith. What mattered at the end of the day for him? Trusting in the Lord. Wealth and power and pleasure and worldly things, it meant nothing to him, nothing to him. He kept the faith. And again, in season and out.

Were there good times in Paul's life of faith? Sure. Deeply troubling times? Absolutely. Times when he felt like giving up? Yes. But by God, he kept the faith. He kept the faith as he finished the race, as he fought the good fight. So it's beautiful. I don't care what stage of life you're at. Maybe I'm talking to people at the very beginning of the race. Okay good. Maybe people who are in the middle of it and you're hitting the wall. Maybe people toward the end of it. These words are valuable for every one of us. Fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith. And God bless you.
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